In the previous post about “Theory about technical leadership” I just gave an overview of what I listened in a couple of courses on LinkedIn. I guess most of those opinions are correct, in the ideal World. I say that because they started from the principle that people want to do the right thing, care about creating an environment that is working both from technical and cultural points of view, etc etc
The issue with that is that this is not always correct. I still think that most of the people want to do a good job, but among those who think that doing a good job does not mean following those principles and those who prefer to not do a good job or to just look at their own advantages, a good percentage of people are not at all prone to do their best when they work.

In particular, there are some scenarios that are impacting the success of the technical leadership:

  • power: we all know that the difference between a leader and a boss is the attitude against the direct reports. Thinking at the leader role as a way to exercise power over some poor employees is probably the main reason why most of the bosses will never be a leader. And this starts when a person is not a leader yet: I know many many people who want to become managers only for “being the boss“, even people with no attitude to the role of leader at all (I mean, people who hate meetings, interactions with other human beings, extremely criticising on everything, with bad culture…), or maybe for getting other benefits, like salary, but who are considering the role in the wrong way. On top of that there are those who have no idea of the work that engineers do, and for some magic they became leaders of engineers and they brought all their hatred for the category in their role (like if they had some frustration because they never studied anything or they never did some work requiring a specialisation and all of a sudden they become team leaders and they start bullying people)
  • politics: the higher the seniority in the leadership career, the more some people thinks that they should not care at all about results, but only about the company politics. This usually means circulating only partial, or wrong, information, showing off, pushing the wrong people because you don’t care about the quality anymore, but you care about having someone that simplifies your game. Let’s be clear: some huge companies in particular conditions (like IT companies in which developers are not really important because most of the earnings are coming from the ability of stipulating contracts, not from the quality of the product) may spread a similar culture in all levels because if the quality is not important at the top level, it is not important at any level. But other huge IT companies put in place very complex tools to avoid quality loss due to bad culture. And I have seen not big IT companies in which senior managers were fired all of a sudden because they thought they were untouchable and they were focused 100% on politics, but then at the first mistake the board was pissed off and they recognised the responsibility of those people.
  • lack of skills: there are some basic skills required to manage people. Like empathy, communication, being able to make your voice be heard, listen to others, technical skills… I have seen bosses not being able to take a position when it was required. When you are an employee, silence may mean absence of a position, but a leader, or anything even more senior, cannot do that, because it is leaving his direct reports in the hands of the most aggressive or stubborn ones. I may understand that sometimes some people are more skilled in manipulating a conversation, and during a meeting you may lose what is happening, but you should be aware of it later, or when others report it to you, or when things fail, or… Anyway, at one point you should act accordingly. Making a mistake is acceptable, not trying to solve it at all it is not acceptable.
  • prejudices: sometimes they are open (in France one of my team leaders didn’t like anyone who was not native France and it was clearly said, obviously not with those terms, but he literally was not explaining stuff to us, he was sometime communicating in French when I was not yet able to speak French even if the company was English speaking, he was joking hard on cultural stuff, he was promoting even bad French engineers and not good ones coming from other countries…), other times they are just a bit more hidden (in UK they joke a lot about the accent, or the cooking culture, but there are also people that thinks Italians are more vulgar or they harass people, this based on cultural diversities like stories about Berlusconi or the fact that we hug and touch each other much more).

Therefore, when you try to manage your manager, your first question is “what is he really aiming to?” and consider the following answer: power, dodge work, dodge responsibilities, do politics, survive in the company… If in no way he wants to do the good of the company, I think that most of the things I said (and I learnt in those courses) cannot be applied.

Better to find a more adequate strategy. Stay tuned!