Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Is Leadership a Programming Skill?

August 15, 2007

The other day I posted an article on leadership to programming.reddit.com.  Within minutes it had been voted down.  The article was popular elsewhere so it wasn’t the article.  Apparently the consensus is that leadership doesn’t fit with programming.  I disagree.  Here’s why leaderships *IS* a programming skill:

1) The Trend Towards Integration
The days of isolated systems that don’t communicate with other systems disappeared years ago.  We are often called upon to write code that forms the glue between various systems—and various groups of people.

In my own job I often find myself working directly or indirectly with dozens of people.  The social integration task may be as much of a challenge as the technical task.  Programmers must be able to effectively work with different people in different roles. 

2) Projects are Bigger than One Person – And Include non IT members
One day I learned of a system problem and went to talk to with the clerk who reported the problem to get more information.  To my surprise the problem had started days before, but it wasn’t a big enough to bother his boss about.  I didn’t hear about it until it had reached the minor crisis level.  I immediately made a mental note to add this clerk to my “team”.  From then on I regularly checked back to find out if any new issues had come up.  It didn’t take long for him to learn the scenarios that indicated potential problems and he would report anything strange that came his way.  The result of this team: timely first-hand information and some good PR for IT.

Programmers tend to see their team as only fellow coders.  The many programs that poorly fill user needs are evidence enough of the harm this causes.  Effective programmers draw the user community into the “team” and together work towards common goals.  Tactfully overcoming geographic and organizational hurtles are as much a part of a programmer’s job as design patterns and class hierarchies.

3) Effective Leaders Know How to be Good Followers
Good leaders know how to organize and focus efforts on the task at hand.  Those skills make it easier to contribute to any project—regardless of who is leading.  If you don’t have the humility to be a good follower, you won’t be a good leader.  People don’t voluntarily choose to follow someone on an ego trip!

4) The Ego Problem
Let’s face it—a large percentage of the people in IT are in it to feed oversized egos.  (From time to time that has included me!)  The results are devastating.  Leadership contrasts self absorption by focusing energies on improving the community.  Over the last few years I’ve seen a lot of positive growth in this area.  The growing strength of the open source movement is a powerful testimony to great attitudes of so many programmers.

Summary
In university I decided not to be a programmer because I enjoy people too much to stand the idea of spending 100% of my time staring at a computer screen.  Thankfully, that detour didn’t last too long.  How misinformed I was—I can’t remember the last time I spent 100% of my day starting at the computer screen without some break to work with a colleague, answer a question, discuss a design, etc.  Computers were built by people and for people.  The human factor can never (and should never) be removed from that equation.


Jeff Staddon is a full time software developer living near Chattanooga, TN. USA


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Jeff’s Book Recommendations:

Probably due to it’s title, The Effective Executive, this book is amost unknown inside of IT. However, I found it to be very useful. (It’s really about being a effective knowledge worker.) While aimed at management most of the content is applicable to any IT role.

 

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How to Become a Powerless Leader

August 9, 2007

In high school I overheard some adults talk about leadership.  It was repulsive.  The words “power” and “ego” would have fit right in.  In the years since I’ve learned something about true leadership: It’s rare.  Like the demotivator reads:  “Leaders are like Eagles. We don’t have either of them.”  Here are some hints on becoming a *REAL* leader. 

 1) Grab a Vision – It doesn’t have to be original with you, but it has to be significant and you have to believe in it.  Work on it.  Develop it.  Stick with it.  Great leaders use momentum to build their vision.  The clarity of a real leader’s vision grows with time.

 2) Carry the Cost – People won’t follow a leader who doesn’t invest in a vision.  Not just money, but time, energy and commitment.  Great leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela were willing to rot in jail rather than compromise on their vision.  People don’t want to be “used” by some ego deprived flunky, but they will flock to committed leaders who will pay the cost of leading the charge for change. 

 3) Share the Reward – The reward of leadership is not power, but a fulfilled vision.  Thanking followers can erode power, but popularizes the vision.  Reward followers as often (and publically) as possible.

Following these steps will put you well on the road to becoming a powerless leader.  A leader people follow because they want to, not because they have to. 

The Irony: Powerless leaders are never short of power.