Success diary – a simple tool with multiple powers

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

TLDR; Are you lacking confidence? Don’t feel satisfied with your daily progress? Struggling with providing positive feedback to your reports, peers, or managers? You should try success diary practice! Every day, even the tough one, has positive moments and elements of success. Training yourself to spot it can help you in many ways!

Some time ago I was reading Bodo Shaeffer’s book “A dog called Money”. Despite being a very good book for kids and adults about dealing with money it mentions a fantastic tool called “success diary”. You need to write down at least 5 elements of success every day and that’s it. The idea sounds simple, isn’t it? But the power is huge, especially for leaders.  In the book, the diary was aiming to improve the self-confidence of a person, but after practicing it myself for almost a year I’m pretty sure it gives much more than that.

Success diary powers

Reflection 

Reflection is a great practice helping to increase awareness, performance and boost growth. While doing exercise you create a space for yourself to step back, look at your day and observe it in a different way. I was surprised how many great things could go unnoticed in the flow of tasks without such a reflection. 

Positive focus

Since you’re intentionally looking for success you tune your brain to search for it and filter out everything not matching “your request”. By doing so you train the brain to spot success even in small things.

Acknowledgment

By writing items down you consciously recognize and acknowledge your success. If you’re familiar with git it’s like committing new items to a success repository inside your brain. As an outcome, your satisfaction, confidence, and motivation are growing.  

Satisfaction

The third inborn intention is Sense of Accomplishment.

mentalhealthstrength.com

It feels good to accomplish something, right? Every item in your daily success list is an accomplishment. No matter if it is small or huge, it positively contributes to the sense of accomplishment and maintains it with time. If you look back in the diary after 30 days you’ll get at least 150 items. Do it for a year and you’ll be successful at least 1825 times! 

Confidence

Have you heard of Impostor syndrome? It’s very common in tech and often can lead to lower self-confidence and belief in own abilities. The success diary helps here by building a positive track of records. When feeling a lack of confidence or fear of failure just open the diary on the last page and start reading back until the feeling goes away, it should help 😉

Motivation 

You did the exercise yesterday and you know you’ll do it again today, tomorrow, and so on. This habit motivates you to prepare for success! So you might take some extra effort or plan some wins for the days ahead.

How does it help leaders?

There are few more bonuses for leaders making their life easier at work.

First of all, for yourself, it helps to fight the lack of immediate accomplishments after transitioning from an Individual contributor role. I wrote a bit about it in my previous post.

Secondly, as a leader, it’s your responsibility to acknowledge and celebrate team success as well as to provide feedback, including positive ones, to your direct reports, peers, and managers. The success diary trains your muscles to spot success not only in yourself but around you too! So it will be much easier to provide positive feedback or recognize the achievements of others and will lead to better team morale.

My experience

I practiced the success diary for almost a year, every day, and stopped only when I felt I don’t need it anymore because I noticed I started doing it automatically in my mind. In the beginning, I was struggling to spot success. Sometimes I was staring at a blank page for minutes or stuck after 2-3 items. The key mistake was to look for huge or big wins only and to neglect smaller ones. After some time it got to the habit and I could easily write 5 – 10 items within several minutes. Moreover, I started noticing signs of success around me and noticed I have a better mood in general.


Is it cheating or gaming? No, I don’t think so, at least if you are being honest with yourself. It doesn’t mitigate mistakes or failures, it doesn’t keep you always positive either, but it supports you in stormy and good days as well as gives powers to support people around you. 

Tune your mind for success and enjoy it!

Mind shift: from engineer to lead

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

TLDR; There is a significant difference between individual contributor and team lead roles. The lead’s focus is on multiplying a compound value delivered by the team, rather than accomplishing something on their own. So the mind shift is necessary to transition into a leadership role successfully. 

Have you been thinking about stepping into a leadership role or just get “promoted” to team lead? That’s great, congratulations! The leadership role is great and has lots of fun, challenges, and interesting cases, but it requires a different mindset compared to the engineering role.

Note: further I’ll use the terms engineer, developer, and individual contributor interchangeably. Although it’s debatable and some people prefer one title over the other, however, the difference is not so important in the context of this post.

Promotion or not?

Apparently, the transition from individual contributor to team lead is a big change, but let’s take a look if it is a promotion at all? 

It has some elements of promotion. E.g. you’ll have direct reports, some of them even might be your previous peers or you could get a compensation raise (happens pretty often, but not always). Also, there are many talks in the industry stating that team leadership is an obvious next career step for any senior-level developer. 

I can’t agree with the last statement because the leadership role implies a significant change in expectations from the candidate, responsibilities, and skills necessary to be good at it. On top of that, I truly believe stepping into a leadership role requires a significant mind shift. This makes the whole change closer to career path switch rather than promotion.

So you can decide for yourself if it’s a promotion or not, but the size of the change remains significant no matter what you decide 🙂

How successful team lead looks like?

When I was considering a team lead role the coach asked me: “How successful team lead looks like in your mind?”. I was absolutely sure how a good developer looks like – they write high-quality code, do great code reviews, decompose complex problems into simple ones, know a bunch of tech tools and fundamentals, mentor more junior peers, are able to drive complex feature development, communicate well with stakeholders, etc. But at the same time, I didn’t have a good answer for the same question about a team lead, only a bunch of random ideas. I was surprised, I thought it must be obvious, but it wasn’t.

After that, I started searching the Internet for possible answers, asked a few people in the company, including my lead, and was very much surprised by the range of answers I got. Some answers were overlapping but the priority of them was different 🤔 At the same time, I noticed the definition of the lead role, its key responsibilities, and even titles were different from post to post. Team leads, tech leads, engineering managers, all had interleaving descriptions and similarities as well as significant differences in their scope. Later I came across this post describing five engineering manager archetypes and that was a very good explanation of the observed answers range.

At the same time, there were common patterns among all the answers. Success was defined at the group level, rather than at the individual level. The leader was considered successful when the team is successful as a group. The leader is focused on multiplying team effect by supporting team members in different ways: setting focus and vision, fostering tech decisions, recruiting the best people, helping each team member to grow, creating a safe environment, establishing and improving processes, supporting team morale and so on. You see there is no mention of working on features, crafting architecture, or learning the latest fancy tech. It’s a completely different role compared to engineering with its own different focus.

What about the code?

What about writing the code then?! I am good at it, does it mean I have to stop and don’t code anymore? Well, the reality is that you shouldn’t write the code anymore. It is not your focus anymore, it’s your team focus. There are a couple of exceptions though – if you’re in a pure tech lead role with somebody else wrangling the remaining responsibilities or if the team you lead is relatively small (up to 4 people) so you might have some time left for working on code. I also know a few leads with full-size teams who are able to book the slot in their calendar for coding work while keep doing all the rest, but the size of the slot is never above 10% and according to their words it’s really hard to fit in.

Does it mean all the experience you got about the code, architecture, patterns, and a ton of other things not needed anymore? Of course not! It’s tremendously helpful for understanding the essence of software development, the process, and the way engineers think.

The shift from writing the code to doing many other things but not code also has a very interesting side effect – it’s harder to sense the feeling of accomplishment. When writing the code it’s obvious – you fixed the bug or shipped PR you got that feeling immediately! With a leadership role it’s different. The impact of your words, actions, and inactions may become noticeable long after you made them or even be left unnoticed (at least without explicit acknowledgment). So as a leader you’d need to adjust your brain to cope with the absence of that immediate accomplishment feeling and find your own ways of validating you’re on the right track, but that’s a topic for another post story.


There are many more differences between leadership and engineering, and I’ve only scratched the surface of that iceberg. However, it should be enough to see that successful transition requires a shift in the mindset. The shift takes time no matter how well you are prepared in theory, so if you’re in the middle of a transition give yourself time to become a better leader for your team and you won’t regret it! If you’re only about to dive into leadership just know, it’s doable and it’s much better to step in being aware of the mind shift. 

Good luck and happy leading!

Book review: A higher standard

TLDR; In the book, Ann Dunwoody describes her journey within the US Army starting from the very beginning to the highest rank ever achieved by a female person at times of her service. Along the way, she shares a great number of thoughts and examples of both good and poor leadership encountered during the years of an outstanding career. 

The book is written by Ann Dunwoody –  the first four-star female general in the history of the US Army, and subtitled “Leadership strategies from America’s first female four-star general”. I’m not very familiar with US army ranks but four stars sound like a significant achievement for anyone in the army. However, the fact that Ann achieved this being a female person in the very male-dominant system (at least that was my perception of the military before reading the book) makes it an outstanding achievement. I was curious about the story of Ann on its own but the leadership strategies part in the subtitle increased my team lead’s interest. 

While reading the book it was obvious and impressive how Ann is very proud of her country and US army. Sometimes I even thought it couldn’t be ideal like that in reality, luckily there were moments in the book describing very tough challenges physical and mental, how arrogant male officers would try to put her down or obstruct personal growth and fail in their attempts. I admire how Ann overcome those challenges and changed the perception of many about what a strong leader can achieve no matter what their gender is.

At times it was a bit hard to read the book due to multiple references to military ranks. Without understanding them the difficulty of a particular choice, the importance of new opportunity, or the overall context of the described cases wasn’t fully clear. However, it wasn’t too much trouble, I was able to get the essence of leadership examples and as a bonus got a better picture of how the US Army operates.

Speaking of leadership advice and examples, there were plenty of them along the lines and I found them very useful and inspiring. My quotes list from the book got too long to publish in a single post, moreover, some of the quotes cover pretty broad topics deserving their own post. That’s why I’m sharing only some of my top picks.

You train people so they don’t flail or fail – you train them to succeed.

In my opinion, that’s a great mindset for leaders to have – focus on what needs to happen or to be done for success, rather than making minimum to escape failure. Despite the quote mentions people training, I think it applies to success in general as well, no matter if it is your success, direct report’s success, team’s success, company success, etc. Once the leader is aware of the success definition for each individual case they can work towards it.

The most important leadership lessons I learned throughout my career came directly from someone who took the time to teach, coach, and share ideas with me.

This is so true and I fully agree. What I also like in this quote is that one could receive and give support at the same time. I really appreciate the intention, time, and knowledge of people who mentors and coaches me, and at the same time, I’m doing my best to pay back and forward.

Never walk by a mistake

That rule might sound arguable and I think even be harmful if applied at the extreme level, but the idea is very powerful. An unaddressed mistake sets a lower standard by giving a signal to a person or a group that a particular level of quality/behavior is acceptable. After a few confirmations (unactioned mistakes) the lower standard transforms into the implicit culture. That’s why spotting, acknowledging, and working with mistakes helps to update the standard and support the culture. 

So this rule should be considered in the context of the culture you’re supporting. Never walk by a mistake disrupting your culture. Even if it’s small enough it’s way easier to fix it until it grows into something huge like a snowball.

Do the right thing for the right reason

Courage is defined in the book as “Having the guts to do the right thing for the right reasons”. This is so true, whether it’s speaking up, having a tough conversation, letting the person go, stepping back, or anything else, leaders need the courage to get out of their comfort zone and “Just Do It” :trademark: It may look like something easy to do in theory but very hard in practice at times.

To maximize potential – … – leaders need to look in the mirror and at their immediate surroundings to figure out what’s missing. Those courageous enough to embrace the power of diversity will thrive.

People are different, everyone has their own unique background – the mix of history, knowledge, culture, environment, and experience. It applies to people you work with and people you create products and services for. So our background inevitably affects any opinions, thoughts, or biases we have and limits our ability to see a bigger picture. That’s where the power of diversity is needed to look at the problem from various perspectives, assemble the pieces of the puzzle, and make better decisions.

Everybody is replaceable – kings and queens, generals, CEOs, Hall of Fame athletes. Great leaders should be prepared to fire themselves and help find their heir apparent.

No comments here, just fully agree and love that idea.


I got the book more than a year ago as part of the employee welcome pack at Automattic and it spent some time on the bookshelf before I finally read it. I enjoyed the book a lot and recommend reading it with a pencil, notebook, or any other tool of your choice to collect the leadership wisdom dimes and bring them to life for the win.