Steve McConnell, of Construx and Code Complete fame, gave a webinar on this topic earlier today. He started by observing that there's no shortage of number-based leadership advice, from the One Minute Manager, to The 30 Management Principles of the US Marines and nearly everything in between.
He argued that leaders of Software organizations must articulate a
vision for the future of the organization - be sure that you're actually
going somewhere where people might want to follow. What might the
future of work in our organization look like? What kinds of improvements
do we want to see in our work? How will we get there?
Steve then observed that the more successful leaders of software
organizations don't just expect responsibility to be parceled out to
them - they claim it. They don't "play the victim card", saying things
like "my boss won't let me do X". Instead, they take an active role in
explaining great ideas and initiatives, with tenacity and tireless
determination. In other words, don't expect to be "assigned" or
"allowed" to do something valuable or useful. Jump in, and make it
happen as fast as you can.
In software, there's no "perfect" fore-knowledge. That's why great
software leaders must figure out how to make viable decisions even in
ambiguous circumstances. Figuring out what's the "last responsible moment" to make a decision is a critical art to master.
You also have to put the organization first - which means you might
need to take some hard decisions, provided they contribute to the
long-term health and viability of the organization. Some people observed
that there's an apparent conflict of rule 4 with rule 7, "Treat Your
Staff as Volunteers"- the astute leader will find a good balance of
decisive decision-making and community engagement, possibly through
habits like nemawashi and Gemba walks.
The trouble with lack of "passion" or engagement is that no business
leader wants a software leader that's lackadaisical about their
business. While discussing the need to find passion for your company's
business, Steve offered the personal experience that although you might
not feel particularly passionate about a topic at first (like he didn't
feel particularly passionate about software engineering when he started
writing the first version of Code Complete), you might find yourself
develop an intense passion over time (like he did by the time he
finished writing the 900+ pages of that tome).
Habits can inspire
emotion. Even if you don't feel particularly joyful and you smile, the
body will tend to release "happy" chemicals in your blood-stream. Pretty
soon, you might notice you feel better. Similarly, if you should need
to "fake" passion in your business for a while, that's OK - after a
spell, you may well get swept in the excitement and your passion may
just become "real".
Becoming a student of communication means
that great software leaders must master the art of adapting their
communication style to the needs of their audience. A CFO might want
numbers. A marketing executive will want stories of exciting features.
Developers may want exciting new tech. This may seem obvious for sales
or marketing professionals, but it looks like it needs to be spelled out
explicitly for software leads.
And finally, Steve concluded by
observing that command-and-control is essentially dead. You can't afford not to
treat your staff like volunteers, doing your best to give them purpose, autonomy and chances to practice mastery in their work.
What do you think of these seven rules?