Episode 9

Learning to lead with Dave Martin

Dave Martin of Right to Left and the Problem Busters talk leadership and how to do it right. Whether you are a first-time leader or an old hand at it, there is plenty to learn here from Dave's experiences as a Software Engineer, Product Leader and eventually, as an Executive coach.

Dave shares plenty of practical advice for remote working, running effective meetings, the styles of leadership and of course his own model for Product leadership: The Product Leader Map.

About the show:

Problem Busters is a show that explores solutions to the biggest and the smallest of problems. Hosts Jonathan Goodwin and Oliver Happy discuss making the world a better place with guests from far and wide.

About our guest:

Dave Martin is an Executive coach with a background in Engineering, Product and as an Executive himself. Dave coaches leaders to grow SaaS companies with Product Led Growth, via his Consultancy Right to left.

Show mentions:

  • Starting as a Software engineer in the days of C++
  • A couple of decades in Product leadership, even before it was called product
  • 15 years in roles of transformation from the old world to becoming product-led (and unlocking product growth)
  • Tes global (Times Education Supplement) and time spent helping Tes transition to a subscription-based revenue model.
  • 03:00 Moving Tes global from a transaction-based business to a subscription-based business.
  • 04:20 The decision to move into Executive coaching - as the thing I enjoyed the most.
  • The first job, at 16, teaching windsurfing and sailing - and loving that the most.
  • 05:00 enjoying watching individuals grow and prosper. Learning a new skill and controlling a boat on their own. Teaching people and helping people grow and reach their ambition being the biggest kick.
  • 07:00 Today we develop our skills and are measured individually. As you become an expert, the journey to leadership eventually emerges as the way to grow your income and your impact. <------
  • 08:00 Having to relearn your job when you become a leader. To delegate and yet still be responsible <-----
  • 09:30 The key mistakes many make when moving from doing to leading <----
  • It's hard when your message isn't landing, that you aren't communicating well and that folks haven't heard what you said.
  • There is too much pressure on the word "great" and being a "great leader". We are not all going to be charismatic leaders who will change the world, but we can all help people achieve their goals and the business along with them.
  • 11:00 Give yourself permission to not be the very, very best. Be open to don't knowing everything. To being vulnerable and accepting you'll get some things wrong.
  • The best leaders don't protect their teams like some sort of military leader.
  • Empowering teams to fill the gaps you leave with your own ability and limited time.
  • 12:00 You are not a leader just because people have to follow you. That's a Manager. If people choose to follow you, then you are a leader.
  • What makes a competent leader? What about a competent coach?
  • 14:30 Leaders of leaders and the Situational leadership model. The first box is about telling. Be clear when you have to tell non-negotiable things to your team (quality, core principles, contractuals). The next box is supporting. Supporting is helping individuals with their tasks, their problem to solve. Helping, showing, and knowing when to stop supporting. Coaching is guiding them to work it out for themselves. Finally delegating is sharing a task, making it clear and stepping back to let them do it.
  • Coaching in it's truest form is questioning and helping people work it out for themselves. Guiding, but not telling or supporting.
  • 19:00 As a leader the key is to know when you need to step in, or step back and which situation needs which type of leadership.
  • Too often the more immature leader gets stuck in a box and forget to switch style when necessary.
  • 20:00 What is the goal for a leader? To get the most out of your team. Sometimes this will mean putting them in challenging situations and letting them have a go at it. <------
  • It's important to push people outside their comfort zones, but in a safe and supportive environment.
  • If you create a culture that feels a safe space to make mistakes, they will push themselves out of their comfort zones more and will lead to a more performant team. <------
  • What goes into building a high performing team?
  • 22:00 Autonomy and being an empowering leader as the key to developing high performing teams in technology businesses. <------
  • 23:00 How to help teams focus, three big things; Be clear on big strategic bets (define them, explain them clearly and prioritise them), have great team objectives (individual contributors propose these), run healthy meetings.
  • Engineers are problem solvers, that's their job. Empowering them to come up with solutions to deliver on strategic bets is part and parcel to success.
  • As a rule, as you become a leader with more responsibility, you want to become less and less a cog in the workings.
  • 26:30 How to run a healthy team meeting. Start in the same way - launch control (especially remotely) - go around the room, everyone gives FOE (focus, openness and energy level 0-5). This can start before everyone arrives. This gets the team in the room and creates a supporting environment. Avoid status updates (they just aren't helpful). What help is needed (go around the room asking for help). Celebrate successes and celebrate together. Plan where shared resources should be (do they need to move?). This gives you all the information you need as a leader to help, focus, re-focus the team. <--------
  • If your meeting is a status update, you may as well put it in an email.
  • There isn't enough celebrating of success in most organisations and this is absolutely critical in a remote environment.
  • Having an established meeting template is helpful as the team can run through it with or without you.
  • 33:00 Take control over your time. There are several keys to getting control over your diary. Have a roadmap for improving how the team functions - driving your priorities and what you focus on. <-----
  • A roadmap, even one for your own priorities, helps you know what you say no to.
  • Time management is the one thing leaders often forget when under strain.
  • 36:00 How to build a business to have a healthy profit and secondly how to build a business to sell at some point.
  • When you are thinking about building a business to sell, you have to focus a lot more on what the multiplier is.
  • Doubling down on monthly revenue and demonstrating a roadmap to lead to future growth as factors to improve the multiplier.
  • Revenue multiplier as a way to value an organisation. E.g. take profit and multiply by 6 is a common one.
  • To achieve product-led growth, the importance of demonstrating product-led growth. Either via introducing new products and cross selling, or introducing new capabilities, or entering new markets.
  • Some conflict between Product and Engineering being healthy.
  • Product need to bring the problem to the table, so the engineers can solve it, and they can evaluate the fit between them.
  • When engineers are empowered to solve problems, then growth is unlocked.
  • Agile in it's original form, where Product orders work to be done, rather than presenting problems, created a spoon-feeding of engineers, instead of product finding the most valuable problems to solve and letting engineers get on with it.
  • Marty Cagan: If engineers are not given the space to solve problems, you are losing 50% of the value of engineers.
  • 44:30 Don't bring solutions to your team, bring problems that need to be solved. Bring good strategic bets in the form of problem areas we want to solve but leave the how to the team. <------
  • A good strategic bet defines a problem, a solution space with guardrails and then empowers the teams to do the amazing work to solve it.
  • 48:30 The Product Leader Map. There are 3 circles; Products, Culture and Team. You want a team that's empowered, cross-functional and capable. You want products that deliver value to the business and are sustainable. You want a culture that is supportive, can-do and a positive place to be.
  • The Product Leader Map helps you evaluate where you are, and pick an area of Product, Culture and Team you want to improve next.
  • As a leader, you can't just focus on one thing at a time, but keep your eye on several
  • Organisation - Mind the product
  • Article: The Product Leader Map on Mind the product
  • When to disconnect from daily involvement and to step back and let the team run. Knowing when to delegate and to empower the team to go and find answers themselves is really important.
  • There is a transition point in training where I ask a question back - "what would you do" and help the team member come up with a solution as a way to learn.
  • 55:00 When in coaching mode with your team, remember to ask questions and don't tell them how to do it. Avoid questions starting with "why" - a judgemental word. Focus on "what" and "how" questions and actively listen. Listen hard and talk less. Help them consider their options, then help them select an option proceed with. <-----
  • Listen hard when coaching and reflect back what you are hearing to help trigger their solving of the problem.
  • Book: Gallop - First break all the rules (https://store.gallup.com/p/en-us/10286/first-break-all-the-rules)
  • Know when to support your team in growing out of your team and on to other things.
  • It's important to realise when an individual is not aligned to the team or their position and to helping them to identify what they would rather be doing.
  • Authenticity is absolutely critical on your path to becoming a competent leader.
  • Book - Chris Foss: Never split the difference
  • A brilliant writing style when talking about negotiation and running the negotiation department for the FBI. Not only is the process he describes really interesting, and full of integrity. Not only do they seek a win-win, Chris describes how he was exposed to very sophisticated negotiators (particularly Lawyers). He had none of that background, but through trial and error, his process won hands down when under pressure.
  • Chris foss has a lean approach to negotiation and found the best ways through in a very pragmatic way.
  • A shout out to Tes (Times Education Supplement) and their ed tech work.
  • Movement: Made by Dyslexics
  • 01:05:00 Made by Dyslexics as a movement that talks about all the super successful who are dyslexic and how this disability doesn't need to stop anyone.
  • Covid has driven us to all be more remote. For some that won't be an improvement but for me, that means a much better work life balance. Spending fewer hours a day stuck on trains.
  • Health tech - Apple watch and the biometrics it generates. Making us more aware of what we are up to, eating and doing.
  • Technology in mountain bikes and composites and suspension as taking the sport further. The child-like fun of cycling.
  • E bikes - Electric mountain bikes and the purity of avoiding the battery-assisted ride to ensure you get the pain of accomplishment and getting the most out of mountain biking.
  • The lead singer of Iron Maiden as a person to look up to. He's still the singer of a band from the 80s, what a legend to still be doing it. But in the middle of his career, he learned to fence and fenced for Britain. He went to Sarajevo and performed for people to raise spirits. He became a pilot for British Airways, owns a jet plane company. He's made a career he really enjoys and hasn't harmed anyone along the way.
  • Idea: To make career politicians illegal. Career politicians being a conflict of interest. If you could only be a politician for 8 years, you'd probably be in it for the right reasons, before ending up in positions of power and doing thing to win the vote.
  • Righttoleft.io - Dave's business.

Logo and concept by Christy O'Connor

About the Podcast

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Problem Busters
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About your hosts

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Oliver Happy

Oliver works in tech and builds things that help improve people’s lives. He hosts indie podcasts Old Fox Young Fox, Problem Busters and Gone Workabout. Oliver is a Kiwi, travels a lot, eats a lot and loves sharing good ideas. He is determined to leave the world in a better state than he found it.
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Jon Goodwin

Jon Goodwin works in financial tech implementing clever solutions that help simplify business processes every day. His passions include science, engineering and dreaming up solutions to common problems. In his spare time he is a multimedia producer & friendly co-host of two podcasts the Bouyon Boys and Problem Busters.