Random Acts of IT Project Management

Project Management for Information Technology

Manager and Leadership Training, Anyone?

Posted by iammarchhare on 17 August 2009

Last time, I blogged about “I Am Not a Specialist, I Am a Manager” and got some really good feedback.  I want to dig into it a little more and bring it down to a more personal level.

Indeed, why make such a fuss about it at all?  Because, IMO, companies do a poor job of preparing people for management and leadership positions.  Most seem to have the attitude that a good programmer naturally moves up and becomes either a good development manager or a good software architect.  They expect to move the person into these new roles many times without consideration of the additional skills needed.

For example, how many companies really push the people skills necessary for these positions?  Even the architect needs some skills at leadership and influencing, or they just become an overpaid developer.

How many companies really groom their people to move up any more?  Do they introduce junior team members to members in other parts of the organization?  Do they have lunches with managers and executives?  It has been my experience that building cohesion between various people in different departments and different roles tears down the “us vs. them” mentality that predominates in so many corporate cultures.

You know, it doesn’t have to be one of those silly “team building” deals, either.  It could be that a manager steps back on a non-critical portion of a project and lets a senior developer run that portion of the show.  It could be as simple as a sack lunch in a conference room.

If companies won’t look out for themselves, then the least that individuals can do is to take it upon themselves to find a business mentor.  Find someone who will take an interest in you.  Find someone who has been in your shoes.  Find someone who will introduce you to other parts of the organization.  Find someone you whose judgment you respect.  Find someone who is respected by those over, under and at the same level as they are.

One important note is to find someone who is accessible.  This has to be someone who you can contact when the chips are down.

The details will vary, but general areas that technical people really should be looking at are:

Communication: One of the most talked and written about areas and also one of the most neglected is communication.  Writing is obvious for a technical person, but oral communication is also a must.  You need to get used to communicating with a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds in formal and informal settings.  You need the ability to approach a topic on their level of understanding without talking down to them (after all, they are experts in their own areas).

Presentation skills: Closely related are skills standing up in front of a formal group and holding their attention for a predetermined amount of time.  You may need additional skills such as persuasion, logic and building an argument (in a factual manner, not being argumentative!).

Accounting skills: It is difficult to be persuasive if you cannot show the return in value for a given investment.  You don’t need to be a financial wiz, but you may need to rely upon something like net present value (NPV) for some presentations.  It will undoubtedly vary company to company and situation to situation, but you at least need to think “What is the financial benefit to the company?”

Leadership skills: How you motivate people on a daily basis sets managers apart from leaders.

  • Managers may have authority derived from a variety of sources.  Fear and intimidation have been and probably will continue to be used to motivate people to do things they otherwise would not want to do.  However, that is not a long term strategy.  Neither is “because I am the manager/expert and I said so”.  Sooner or later people will rebel, either overtly or in a passive-aggressive manner.  At best, you will wind up with people who are there to do their 40 hours and don’t care much about either the quality or the quantity of their work.
  • Leaders are often able to influence someone to not only do something but give them a positive reason to want to do it.  In fact, the best leader often taps into an individual’s creativity and has them come up with the best solution.

Networking: How well do you know who reports to whom in Marketing?  I have had this difficulty, and it caused pain on a particular project!  Do you know what they do there?  I mean, do you know any specific campaigns going on?  What about infrastructure (if you are a developer) or about development (if you are in infrastructure)?  What’s going on in those departments?

Business about the business:  How much do you, as a technical person, know about the business side of things?  IT does not exist in a vacuum.  If you are working for a manufacturing plant, how well do you know the products your company produces?  If you are working in healthcare, how well do you know the services your company or division supplies?

There are many other areas I could list: Emotional Intelligence, Federal Regulations and ISO just to name a few.  All of these will vary in importance from individual to individual, company to company and industry to industry.

On the one hand, I hope this all seems like common sense.  However, I am often surprised at how little effort is made by individuals who have been at companies for years to reach outside of their comfort zone.  Yet, this points to one of the most distinguishing characteristics of leadership: Initiative.  You cannot wait for others to give you “what you deserve”.  You’ll be setting yourself up for failure if you do that.

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