LECA Philosophy on Leadership

Becoming a great leader doesn’t happen by accident.

Leadership vs. Management

We at Leader’s Edge CA are often asked why we speak in terms of “leadership” rather than in terms of “management”. This is primarily because we consider management to be only one manifestation of leadership. In brief, all managers should be leaders, but not everyone who leads is a manager. The differences between these concepts are subtle, yet important. In his book, On Becoming a Leader, Warren G. Bennis differentiates leadership and management as follows:

Leader Manager
Innovates Administers
Is an original Is a copy
Develops Maintains
Focuses on people Focuses on systems and structures
Inspires trust Relies on control
Has a long-range perspective Has a short-range view
Asks why Asks how and when
Has his [or her] eye on the horizon Has his [or her] eye on the bottom line
Originates Imitates
Challenges the status quo Accepts the status quo

Whether you agree with Mr. Bennis or not, his list of differentiators certainly provides food for thought. We, at Leader’s Edge CA, tend to use these terms within the context of the following definitions:

Leadership is influencing and encouraging a group of followers to collectively achieve common goals, and work towards reaching their full potential both individually and as a group.

SOURCE: Yvonne T. Ryan, Techies on the Rise

Management is the organization and coordination of the activities of a business in order to achieve defined objectives. Classically, Management consists of the interlocking functions of creating corporate policy and organizing, planning, controlling, and directing an organization’s resources in order to achieve the objectives of that policy.

SOURCE: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/management.html

In our experience, technical people do not respond well to the “command and control” tactics of “classic” management; they respond much better to more collaborative and creative approaches. That is, they prefer to follow a leader, who values their input and involves them in the process, rather than being solely directed by the classic manager. Therefore, as we try to provide you with the best advice and guidance as to how to develop into an exceptional leader, we ask you to keep the following in mind.

Consideration #1

The majority of middle managers and team leaders in most technical organizations are, themselves, technical people. Since it is a common practice to promote experienced technical people to lead and manage other technical people, this is hardly surprising. In some lucky cases, the individuals who assume these leadership roles are “natural leaders”, but most are not.

Whatever an individual’s native abilities are, experience has shown that effective leaders (whether they be technical or administrative) are those who:

  • Maintain a positive, proactive outlook
  • Have strong incentive(s)
  • Receive and give regular support
  • Have good people skills
  • Effectively employ coordination skills (including the ability to make priority-based decisions)

All of these characteristics are based on learned skills that take time, conscious effort, and practice.

Consideration #2

It is also important to note that technical professionals (engineers, scientists, and technicians) tend to push their leaders beyond the confines of conventional, accepted management wisdom and practice. By the very nature of their work, technical people often require “special handling.” In order for a technical leader or manager to be successful, she or he must have a clear understanding of the culture within which a technical group functions in addition to what makes technical professionals “tick.”

Consideration #3

Leading technical people is not the sole purview of management. Leadership is required in two distinct areas:

  • administrative (i.e., resources, processes, program and project management, customer service, etc.), and
  • technical (i.e., research and development, verification, quality assurance, documentation, maintenance, etc.).

Many technical managers are asked to tackle both of these areas simultaneously with little or no preparation and very little support. In such cases, whether or not they are successful leaders in both areas often becomes a matter of serendipity rather than design.

Contrary to popular belief among non-technical people and some executive managers, the administrative manager of a group is not always the technical leader of the group. The technical leader of a group is usually the person who: 1) has in-depth knowledge pertaining to the focus area of the group’s work, and 2) is willing to share that knowledge. If that person also happens to have good people and organizational skills, she or he has a much better chance of bringing a project to a successful conclusion.

Consideration #4

When given the choice, technical people move into administrative leadership (management) roles for a variety of reasons: a unique expertise, seniority, career opportunity (next step on the promotion ladder), and/or a desire to control the design and direction of company products or services — just to name a few. However, regardless of the type of leadership required, or the reasons technical professionals choose to move into leadership roles, the question remains:

How prepared are technical professionals to assume the roles and responsibilities
of technical managers or team leaders?

Sadly, many technical degree and certification programs fail to include instruction in numerous areas that are essential to leader survival in today’s business environment. For example,

  • Leadership
  • Communication Skills
  • Team Development
  • Project/Program Management
  • Product Development and Lifecycle
  • Process and Organizational Development
  • People Coordination
  • Change Management
  • Conflict Management

It has been left to the business schools to provide such instruction to those starting out on the management track. Unfortunately, this educational strategy generally produces…

  • technical people with few management or people skills; and
  • business people with few technical skills and little understanding of the special needs associated with technical people and their environments.

Technical organizations require leaders and managers who, to varying degrees, excel in both technical understanding and modern leadership skills (communication, coordination, and people skills).