Leadership essentials: Inspiration, Balance, and Courage

The time has come to dive into a refreshingly candid exploration of leadership in this article by Cristian Bodnar, our Director of Engineering, that takes a light-hearted approach to a familiar topic. With a dash of humor and a sprinkle of self-awareness, Cristi shares insights that challenge conventional wisdom.

Discover how simple yet impactful characteristics can shape leadership effectiveness, all delivered with a touch of wit and authenticity. Explore leadership in a new light and uncover the subtle nuances that make a difference.

Yet another one about leadership

There is this sudden impulse, especially after some major events or accomplishments, where you feel like it’s absolutely mandatory to make sure your wisdom is not lost. Instead you store it safely in some cloud provider database, just to be forgotten and deleted a few years later. Because let’s face it: we are not all Lencioni or Sinek to have something insightful to say. Looks like the impulse is too strong this time, and it’s my turn to contribute to the never-ending stream of articles on this topic with my babbling brilliance nonsense.

My drive is not related to an accomplishment or major event, but rather to a couple of questions one of my colleagues asked me: What kind of leadership do you encourage? Is it different in any way from the norm? Is it special? The short answer is no, I’m not proposing a new leadership style or anything sophisticated, but there are a few characteristics that I believe can make a difference and I’d like to write about them. So bear with me and my impulse for the next few lines:

There are many skills and traits that make someone a leader, but let me start with the one that doesn’t. This is important because it’s one of the most common pitfalls: the role. You don’t become a leader overnight just because you have been promoted. The role is nothing more than a formalization of a set of responsibilities you accept, and of course, it will give you some tools to do the job. But this doesn’t mean it will automatically make you good at it. Furthermore, an exacerbated exercise of authority, a “do it because I’m the boss and I said so” type of attitude will make you a successful leader rather on a Roman galley, playing maestro to the rowing rhythm, than in a respectful and healthy organization.

Without pretending to rank the successful leadership skills, I highly appreciate the following three behavioral characteristics:


We all know the concepts of “Inspiring leader” and “Lead by example”. They’re widely described in the professional literature, and make up a good percentage of the never-ending stream I was talking about. And for a good reason: we naturally (sometimes automatically without even realizing it) follow the people we respect and value. We respect and value people who know how to create a meaningful relationship with us, who help us grow, and who work side by side with us, hands-on. We value leaders who can create strong, cohesive teams that can accomplish amazing things, in which each team member has a sense of accomplishment and belonging. They are able to create these high-performing teams because they inspire the members to be the best versions of themselves. 

We follow people who can motivate us and pull us out of procrastination, who can create a path for us when we feel stuck and helpless.

There are those days when everything feels bleak, when we are struggling to gather ourselves, when our energy feels depleted and nothing seems to be going right. And then there is this person who walks into the room and brings a sense of calm and reassurance. They don’t give you direct instructions on how to deal with whatever is troubling you; rather, they somehow pull you out of your lethargy, prompting you to find your own solutions. Put simply, they inspire you.


One of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to create a healthy work environment. My definition of a healthy work environment is one that is professional enough to enable us to perform at our best, and personal enough to feel safe, friendly, and supportive. Some people prefer to keep their professional life completely separate from their personal one, with no interference between the two and that’s fine. Others will want more interaction, valuing the relationships that continue outside of work. You, the leader of those people, have a certain preference regarding work-life balance and interference. With all these moving parts and a variety of preferences, your job remains the same: to build a healthy work environment for your team.

But how, you may ask?

By finding that sweet and balanced spot in the way you position yourself such that you are respected and recognized as a leader, while still being empathetic and supportive, without compromising your core values.

Let’s add a layer of complexity to our story: so you are leading this team, and of course, the team members have their own needs and growth aspirations, their own delivery pace, experience, and their own expectations. You are all working with a customer that has its own business stance, budget constraints, and time-to-market pressures. In most cases, this translates into a typical situation in the intersection of technology and business: the team wants to do challenging work, using the latest technologies, designing state-of-the-art architecture that covers every corner case, while the customer wants a solid product that can be delivered as fast as possible so that it can start generating business value. 

In essence, both the team and the customer want the same thing, which is building a good product. Except that, as per usual, the devil is in the details. The two parties might be tempted to take different paths focused on their area of interest. 

This is where the balance kicks in and you as a leader have to create and maintain an equilibrium between the business world and the technical world, shifting the focus from one to the other based on context and business needs. It requires a finely tuned balance to guide the team to understand the business context in-depth so it can craft the appropriately architectured product within the right time frame. All this while gaining the customer trust to treat them as partners so they get to the point in which they work together in a fully integrated way. The result is worth all the effort: a true partnership.

For some roles, there is a third component to the balance fun party, and that is the company. The company has its objectives and KPIs, which are also important because we all want to be part of a healthy and stable company. So you have to manage budgets in such a way that you satisfy your team’s needs in a long-term, sustainable way. Balancing the focus and effort between the team, the customer, and the company in a way that meets everyone’s needs, is the sweet spot every leader should strive for: happy team – happy customer – healthy company, right?


You’ll need a lot of it, and not the hero type of courage, but more the responsibility and ownership type. Almost every day you’ll have to make decisions that will have a high impact on your customers, products, company, and of course, your team. Not making a decision, acts like a decision and will produce an impact, usually one that you will no longer have the chance to steer.

On the business side, we all know the old saying “no risk, no gain”, and actually implementing it usually means taking a risk by embracing innovation. Innovation is a tedious process, it’s not like you wake up one day and have a golden idea, it’s about hard work and perseverance. It takes courage to propose ideas, have them rejected, go back to the whiteboard and prepare a new proposal, and do this over and over again until you succeed, overcoming the fear of failure. Innovation comes from experimentation and experiments have an inevitable failure rate. The courage to take a calculated risk is essential to a forward-thinking culture. 

Continuing with the team side, here’s a familiar scenario: a junior joins your team, it’s his first job ever in a professional environment, he’s eager to learn, ready to absorb knowledge, ready to adopt a mindset. You, as his first leader, have the opportunity to shape his mindset, set him on the growth path, make him understand the importance of teamwork and business focus, and guide him in developing into a mature, balanced, and highly skilled professional.

Let me rephrase “you have the opportunity” and turn it into “you have the responsibility”. And you must feel accountable for this. You need to have the courage to give the right feedback, even if it’s not always easy, the last thing you want is to shape a procrastinating, always complaining, unaccountable, no business understanding or interest type of engineer.

Without making it a goal, we all want to be liked, to be popular but as a leader you have a high probability of having to make decisions that will do the opposite. It takes courage to make unpopular decisions. It’s not always easy to explain why a certain budget can’t be approved,  why a raise needs to be tempered, or even, if the context demands it, to cut some budgets that may affect the team’s morale. Based on experience and maturity, one may or may not understand how a company works and why it should be kept healthy, “the company” is sometimes seen as an abstract entity with unlimited resources that should do everything for its employees. And that’s partially true, the company should do everything for its people, while remaining healthy and solid, allowing itself to continue to exist, so it can do things for its people.

I know, circularity, LOL. Remember the “happy team – happy customer – healthy company”? This is the magic sweet spot for a leader to be: at the midpoint, right at the intersection of the team, the customer, and the company.

If you’ve made it this far, let me extend my sincerest congratulations for possessing patience forged from the fires of Mount Doom. Fear not, I’m almost done. As I said, this is not a “top three leadership skills” list. Rather, it’s an expression of my own perspective, shaped by personal experiences in which the above qualities have proven to be critical to a leader’s effectiveness. Finally, I’d like to emphasize the fact that if you possess some of the qualities above (among others), you don’t need an official title to play the role of leader for your colleagues, to inspire them, and help them excel; all you need is a behavior driven by the right mindset and the willingness to serve others.

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