Project Manager or Tech Leader?
Yesterday I had the privilege of watching Hillary Clinton speak at UB. Ms. Clinton spoke on various issues related to national and international affairs, and while this speech was delivered by a political figure, many points could well be projected into IT organizations, as long as it goes about the leadership part. I’ll share some of my musings here. Now, this is not a pump-up post about passion and being a leader in anything. I just want to highlight some practical advantages that having a distinguished leader brings to an IT organization.
If we look at the names of authority positions in IT, which one do you think would come across most often? Right, it’s a manager. Or a supervisor. Project manager, product manager (or owner) and many other managers. What could be wrong about this setup, with managers in the positions of authority? There’s one crucial distinction. A manager is someone who is in charge of tasks. Managers and supervisors are fine if their job is to supervise people who would drill rocks for “room+food+$12 per month” :
Obviously, things are very different in today’s world. IT professionals are far from being starved, so with their basic needs met they want to give a larger meaning to their lives. They would want to find a delight in seeing how their work helps other people. When one has so much income, a steady job and a family, but there’s no feeling of serving others it would come to a burnout with such accompanying thoughts: “What good is it that I work here? Is there something that I’d be proud of the day I’m gonna die?” If a manager would focus on the “get done” part, a leader would put his main focus on “get those individuals inspired” part. We tend to overlook the inspiration aspect in tech organizations thinking that it’s something that would just care of itself. No, no and no. It’s for a reason that a vision & mission statement comes first for any organization. Some might believe that there’s no need to inspire high-gear professionals, as they are supposed to run on their own fuel. It’s not that black-and-white. Some individuals do have a strong sense of meaning for what they do at work every day, but such people come across quite rarely. They are the leaders, actually. The indispensable ones because they feel the inner urge to take on the lead, and set the path for this organization, so the others would feel as they are a part of something larger than themselves.
It might seem presumptuous to make a parallel between working in an IT organization and being in public service. However, some renowned companies such as Steve Jobs’ Apple, Yahoo, Google, 37 Signals are great to work for exactly because of that. They instill a sense of honorable service in their employees, making them feel they are a part of a very special organization. IT industry is a service industry, in that it is supposed to bring value to people. Tech leaders work as beacons of that fundamental belief, and light the path for others.
As a seasoned IT professional what would you choose: working in an organization filled with managers, with no vision and mission, or for one of the above, given that your salary and benefits are more than fine? Companies with strong visions and strong leaders attract those best-of-breed professionals, with the expertise that they bring along, including the quality of technical solutions and designs, and the culture of caring about customers in every tiny detail. That’s the key difference between leadership-driven and manager-driven organizations.