Category: Business of Software

Business of Software


Worker Bee.  Image from time, I talked about Management vs Leadership. Management seems to be a specific position in an organizational chart which demands a very special set of skills that not all people – even leaders – possess. We want our managers to be leaders, but at the same time people lead from a myriad of positions and by definition, you can’t be a leader if no one is following you.

Many different corporate initiatives and self-help guides encourage everyone to be a leader. However, if that goal is reached and everyone is a leader… who is following? I think there are two distinct answers to this conundrum. The first is that some people aren’t really cut out to be leaders. I have a friend named Mark who does not like to be in charge. He doesn’t like to lead anything. He is (by his own admission and definition) a worker bee. He likes to quote the problem of having “too many cooks in the kitchen” to say that not everyone should be in charge and some people need to be followers. I agree with this wholeheartedly.

It could be that the follower’s giftings and personal desires lead them to serve others and follow a direction outside of the spotlight. It could also be that this person is a leader-in-training who will someday lead others, but for a season this individual needs to sit at the feet of the master and learn the trade. Applying this to software, this future leader could be following in the steps and instruction of the mentor, modeling out what I described in this blog post.

There is another possibility for who will make up this group of followers. It could be that a leader is leading a group of leaders. This isn’t such a foreign concept. The president is Commander-in-Chief over his Generals who are over other officers who are over other officers on down the row. Even in our industry, we have maybe an Architect who leads the design of a system, a Team Lead who leads the implementation of that design, a Senior Developer who guides and shepherds Junior Developers. It is even possible that that group of Junior Devs might contain an individual whom the others look to for leadership. Maybe any one of these individuals is strictly a follower at work, but they are leaders on an open source project or in the community at large.

I believe that it all comes down to knowing when to lead. A great philosopher once told us to “Know Your Role” and I think that is particularly appropriate here. A great leader will always be looking for opportunities to lead, but if someone else has “got this”, then they can and should allow themselves to be led. There is always an opportunity to learn something from another leader, even if some of those lessons are what *not* to do.

Do not look down on following – it doesn’t make you a weaker person, it makes you a useful one. I’m not talking about “just following orders”, I’m talking about willfully giving yourself in service to a task, a cause, or another individual. Often, people want to confuse followers with something like what happened in Jonestown, and make “follow” a dirty word. Nothing could be further from the truth. Egos aside, by allowing themselves to be led, followers are the ones that get things done.

If you are someone who always has to lead, take it as an experiment to find a capable leader and allow yourself to be led. Learn from that leader’s style. Concern yourself with accomplishing your specific goals and not directing the greater vision – there is great freedom in that. You may even find that you are even more well-suited to this behavior. Even if you don’t, it will certainly improve your leadership skills and make you a more well-rounded person.

Business of Software

Management Vs Leadership

Leadership, from is a topic that has come up several times in my life. I have a Type-A personality and I like to excel and I like to be a leader. The problem is that a few times in my career that has landed me in a management position.

I have actually been slightly surprised to find that so much has already been written on this topic. Not because I thought that I had some original idea, it was that I was actually surprised that I didn’t know any of this literature existed until I actively went looking for it. More people in business need to understand this distinction between a manager and a leader.

My definition of “Management Position” means that some portion of the job is to write reviews, handle HR issues, balance departmental budgets, alot raises, and answer to someone about the productivity of your charges individually and your department as a whole.

Good managers who do all of this well are hard to find. Unfortunately, too many management positions are manned by people who were the best at whatever their department was responsible for doing. Often, the individual only took the job because it was the only decent way to get a raise and not because they had a passion to improve things through administration.

This is extremely unfortunate. What this company has just done is remove the person who is likely their most productive individual and put them in a position (VERY LIKELY without proper training) that Peter Principle’s them.

As I alluded to earlier, I am not speaking from the sidelines, but as one who was in the game. I wanted to make more money and I like to be a leader, so when a position opened up to be a supervisor at a place where I used to work, I leapt at it. I was one of the most (if not the most) productive worker in the building and one who didn’t shy away from doing what was right so I got the job.

That began my problems. My manager was removed from his position shortly afterward and I was named interim manager – a position that lasted for three months. My style of management was to “get in there and do the work”. If someone was falling behind, I didn’t coach them up… I bailed them out. If we had a big work day ahead, I came in early and got things started and prepared (or even done) for everyone else instead of trying to plan a schedule for others to help. That may sound great or heroic, but the problem was that a) I wasn’t doing anyone any favors and b) Pete don’t scale. This worked for one building and 20 employees, but if our workload or staff increased, I couldn’t bail everyone out at once. If someone quit one of the “higher responsibility” positions below me, no one had been trained up to replace them. I was blowing it, but I had no idea.

Fortunately, I did not get the permanent management position. They were prepared to give it to me, but another manager from Dallas, TX was looking to transfer and company policy gave him first dibs at the job. They apologized to me and thanked me for my efforts being both manager and supervisor for three months. The truth is that they did me a huge favor. The man who came in was a M A N A G E R.

He knew how to delegate. He knew how to schedule. He knew how to train. He knew how to discipline. The man was skilled at his craft and I began to see how I had been failing. I learned a lot about the right way to be a manager. At the same time, it also made me see that I didn’t want to be a manager though I liked being a leader.

I love setting an example. I love sharing my knowledge with others and setting a precedent, but I don’t like disciplining them if they fail to learn or improve. I love performing technical interviews for positions and giving input for hiring decisions, but I hate negotiating salary, benefits, and schedules. I love when things get busy and that means that I can be super productive while attending less meetings (that my manager has to attend in my stead). I don’t like playing politics to get my department what it needs, I like to occasionally rely on the fact that it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission. I definitely don’t like to play the game where you have to make other managers of other departments or divisions feel like they were involved in the decision so they can feel useful. I’d much rather hear the facts, decide the course, and take my troops into battle.

It seems that I have a very definite idea of what a manager does and I’ve now written much more about that portion than I had originally intended, but it feels good to get it out. What is unique about a manager is that you can (or should) only have one per spot and they can only exist in certain conditions. However, a leader can exist anywhere in your organization. You can have a leader in the receptionist’s chair, the custodial team, the accounting division, or in your auditing department. He (gender neutral from here on out) can be a software architect, a lead developer, junior developer, business analyst, or QA guy. I’m not even creating a dichotomy that says that managers can’t be leaders, too. You can have managers and executives that are leaders, too (in fact, I *pray* that you do!).

What matters is that he has a vision, acts on it and causes others to follow him to act on that vision. In finding other literature on this topic, I came across these two quotes which best sum up what I’ve been trying to say:

“The manager’s job is to plan, organize and coordinate. The leader’s job is to inspire and motivate.” (WSJ)

“Managers have subordinates. Leaders have followers.” (Changing Minds)

I hope that this is some food for thought for other Type-A’s out there as to maybe how you can best use your energies depending on what portions of the above got you excited. Not everyone can be *the* leader though, and I will be writing very soon about the importance of learning how to follow.