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Leaders and Followers

2015.03.11 - Posted in Career Suicide Posted by:

(The following sentence was the last but I think I should front load it so…)

My apologies to anyone I’ve failed to lead and to all the leaders I failed to appreciate. Thank you for the opportunity to grow and learn.

While it can certainly be said that an individual should learn to manage themselves and are therefore both manager and resource we cannot allow verbiage to distract us from reality. Managing oneself is similar to managing a project but they are certainly not the same skill. Therefore, we should not consider it to be prudent to think that a worker can also rise to be a manager while still maintaining themselves as a resource.

Managing a team means being a resource to the team and all the project’s dependencies (clients, consultants, etc.) which is an ethereal task that easily fills in the gaps of any schedule. Coming out of a meeting to be confronted by e-mails from a client (always urgent) while facing a sea of problems from your higher-ups and your subordinates is a common occurrence. Certainly there are days when things are going well in a project and quickly we forget why this responsibility is such a serious one; it’s because you cannot delay in putting out a fire when it arrises (often out of nowhere).

However, especially as a newly minted manager (as I was when I felt this first hand) many are tempted to dive into the trenches and take on some responsibility as well. It feels good because you’re showing the team you’re still a cog and not just an operator of the machine. Perhaps those who put you in charge have convinced you that this is an intelligent decision. Perhaps it is but in my opinion only in the best of circumstances and still only with the most ideal of candidates; your milage may vary.

As a developer you can never be sure if a task will take a moment or ages. A small bug can take all day as your machine crashes and you need to reinstall the OS. A quick refactor leaves you lost as your colleagues pull you aside for help on an unrelated matter. Be prepared to be surprised is the name of the game in development.

Regardless, to truly do any work worth doing you will often need to focus on the task at hand. To manage a project is not something you can do on the side;¬†IT WILL BE IN YOUR FACE AT ALL TIMES AND IF YOU DON’T SEE IT THEN YOU’RE NOT LOOKING!!!

When I was young I had the privilege of going to a JROTC summer camp where we were run through the Leadership Reaction Course. A group of 5 people (or “squad”) will be given a task such as traversing an obstacle using limited tools and other special conditions. For each course a different team member will become the leader of the squad. I failed when I was given the chance to lead then and when I returned a decade later as a chaperone saw others fail for similar reasons: they want to help so badly they forget their role or often times they don’t trust their team to follow their directions. I was the former but regardless the result is the same: you cannot see the big picture when you are so close to the action.