Becoming a leader

Being a leader is a lot different than being a manager.  A manager is an operator, they follow processes and are expected to produce the desired output.  

A leader is not necessarily a manager.  Individual contributors can be great leaders.  Leaders are people who have strong values, exemplify those values, attract a following or inspire others to do the same.  People work for a manager because they are expected to.  People follow a leader because they want to. 

Leaders are inspirational people, have a vision, the will and ability to make it happen.  Of course, they can’t do it alone.  In a casual conversation, Mike Katchen mentioned to his friend that I got a slew of people at the office to start doing HIIT workouts and intermittent fasting.  His friend noted, “you’re like a cult-leader!” I chuckled and replied, “being a CTO is kind-of-like a cult-leader, but it’s also good for them”.  Post, I realized there’s some truth to his statement, people follow because they want to, I didn’t have to force them to.  

We live in an inter-subjective world.  Values are what we as individuals deem to be valuable.  As a leader, we create a narrative around why we value a way of doing things, why something is worth doing, and communicating potential benefits in the far-off distance.  We don’t have all the solutions.  As a leader, we want others to be inspired by our vision, follow us and come up with solutions that aid in achieving our vision.

As a technical leader, we live in a world where there’s endless chaos, no matter where we look there’s the opportunity for things to be better.  The most important aspect of being a strong leader is to acknowledge this chaos, embrace it and provide a vision and plan for how to achieve the end-goal.  I remember a quote from Bruce Lee, “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”


It’s been a few years since I’ve been to Asia.  I’ve never handled jetlag well, when I go to the west coast, I don’t bother switching time zones, I just wake up at 4:30am every day and go to bed at 8pm. 

I recently got back from Hong Kong on a Sunday evening and went to work the next day.  First day back at the office was fine, but the rest of the week was beyond horrible.  I powered through and stayed up till 11pm but I’d wake up at 3am and find myself unable to sleep and eventually giving up hope.  I took short power naps in the office to get through the rest of the day, but also slept through a meeting.

By Friday, I finally had a good night’s rest.  But that night I stayed out late, woke up early the next day.  By 1pm I couldn’t stay awake anymore, so I figured I’d take a short nap but then didn’t wake up till 8pm.  Now I’m re-living my week of jet lag hell all over again.  

How my brain works

My fiancé complains I never remember anything that she tells me, like the friends she’s meeting, where she’s going, important dates, errands I need to run, etc.  Sometimes I honestly don’t even recall ever hearing it, but most of the time I’ve legitimately forgotten.  I can’t remember, not because I don’t care, but because I actually can’t remember.  I never argue; I’m actually a pretty forgetful person.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve misplaced my keys, wallet or even wandered into a room and had no idea why I was there.  I’ve lost countless pairs of gloves, shown up at an airport without my passport, left my wallet on a plane and my Kindle on a train.  I used to get frustrated looking for things, but now I’ve grown more accepting that I’m just forgetful.  As far as I can remember, I’ve always been like this.  My memory sometimes eludes me in the silliest situations, so I rely on routines.

I could never really learn to read Chinese no matter how hard I tried and wanted to.  In fight-or-flight moments, I can force my memory to serve me on exams, but a week later I won’t be able to recall any questions or the material.  I can’t really remember streets or names of people very well either.

I rely a lot on first principles and tend to reason out things.  I rely on my calendar instead of my memory.  I rely on knowing how to find an answer instead of memorizing answers.  The most important or urgent things always rise to top-of-mind and the less important things usually sink lower.  I think my lack of memory actually helps me compartmentalize and prioritize information.    I know that if a task is important and quick, I do it right away otherwise it might never get done.  I’ve learned how my memory works and learned to cope.

I believe this lack of memory has had some really interesting effects on my personality.  I don’t get too attached to ideas, I’m willing to re-evaluate with the new information at hand, sometimes this manifests itself as being right a lot or forces me to be pragmatic instead of stubbornly hard-headed.   Since I know I’m forgetful, I’m also very understanding of others, especially they forget.  It also means I treat things with high urgency if deemed important, otherwise I might forget to do it!   

At this point, I’ve stopped fretting and I’ve grown to look past the problems associated with my forgetfulness and appreciate the positive benefits it’s had on me.  Honestly, I forget if I ever had a good memory, to begin with.