Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why Most Leadership Sucks and What You Can Do About It - Part IV

I ended Part III with this observation, a.k.a. Observation Three:

The skill set that brought you to the leadership table in not the same skill set that will enable you to succeed.

To fully appreciate Observation Three, you have to ask yourself, “How did I get to this point in my career? What was I doing before I claimed a seat at the leadership table?”

Chances are, you were working, doing something well enough to keep your job; well enough to be recognized as someone with potential.

Maybe it was your first job out of college when you were making enough money to afford a real car, one that didn’t smell like other people’s lives, and other nice stuff. Perhaps, it was a job you stumbled into as you tried to find something that paid better than the last job and you found you had a knack for the work; were you enjoyed it enough to think, “This isn’t too hateful, I could do this for a little while longer, maybe even make it a career.” Or, it could be that you woke up one morning and discovered that you weren’t 19 anymore and realized you needed to get off your ass and get your act together or you would be spending the rest of your life living in a two-bedroom apartment with four of your friends who weren’t doing anything with their lives.

What ever it was you were doing, chance are you were doing the “good work” as in the technical stuff where your time and effort converts raw material into something more organized, something that a customer was willing to pay for, something that created value.

Further and more importantly, chances are, you were doing something that made you stick out. Maybe you were the best craftsman that ever worked at your organization; maybe you took the time to figured out how to apply a new technology to an old problem; maybe you managed to deliver just the right project to just the right client at just the right time to get noticed.

If technicians are the people that represent where the rubber meets the road, you were a master technician. Chances are you got that way by putting in extra hours, developing a better understanding, trying new things often times failing some times succeeding until you perfected your craft and made it look easy and life was good.

Then the company grew, or a position became vacant and the next thing you know, they were asking you if you were interested in taking on greater responsibility, having more control, making more money. Then they promoted you to lead programmer with four guys working on your team and you were on a roll.

You sought out the best talent, and then you and your team continued to investigate and applied new technology, tried out new things, accepted failure as a learning experience and pressed on with your remarkable work and life was good.

Then one day, one of your team members comes to you with a problem. Another team member, Steve, it seems is not completing integration testing before releasing his components for use. Of course, you already knew that, but it was no big deal; Steve, like you, is a perfectionist, his stuff always works so you didn’t worry about it.

However, this time, Steve’s components aren’t working. Worse yet, they are corrupting data.

The next day, after a marathon, coding sessions your team was able to fix the problem, Steve said he would do a better job of integration testing and everyone was happy, if not a little tired and life was good; until it happened again, and again and again…

At which point, you began to realize that running a team was different than doing your own work writ large; that you were going to have to do something more.

With that, I will leave you to think about what that “something more” might be.

Here’s a hint, being a technician, even a great technician is different from being a leader.

Put some thought into it, leave me a comment or send me an e-mail and we’ll talk more next time.

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