Leading People, Managing Things

By Jeff Gainer

Jeff Gainer

It had been a exhausting three days, partly from my athletic lecturing style, but mostly from the fact that buildings in Vietnam are not cooled to the lower temperatures that I am accustomed. I was in Ho Chi Minh City, sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development, concluding of a series of lectures and consultations with companies in the growing South East Asian software industry. After three days of technical discussion of quality assurance, testing and general process improvement concepts, I turned the final minutes to a more nebulous topic: leadership. It was certainly hard enough to define, I noted, but agreed with Tom DeMarco, as he pointed out in Slack, that if leadership could be taught, we would certainly see a lot more of it. Perhaps we see even less of it in the IT industry, I proposed, since the majority of people in the profession tend to be introverts-but leadership requires people skills, the soft, ill-defined, touchy-feely aspects that most introverts would rather avoid. I asked my otherwise very responsive audience a difficult question: how many could do this, I asked, indicating myself: stand before fifty IT managers and talk nine hours a day? Not one hand went up, but there were a few self-conscious chuckles. In the front row, a young man was smiling and shaking his head. "No way," he said quietly. "Absolutely no way."

"I'd like to leave you with just one more thought," I concluded. I switched to the final slide with the words of Admiral Grace Hopper: "You cannot manage men into battle: You manage things... you lead people." This said, I thanked my hosts, thanked the students. I was given applause, a few gifts, and individual thanks as the seminar attendees filed out the door.

Outside, in the sweltering heat that passes for winter in Vietnam, I reflected on this thought as I waited for the taxi to return me to the hotel. Sheer force of personality-and again, paraphrasing Tom DeMarco--the ability to enlist others into your agenda, moves revolutions, wins battles and elections, and makes projects succeed. Is it possible that because so many IT managers are, at their core, introverts, and that no amount of training or coaching can make them into successful negotiators, successful politicians of business? No, I decided, thinking of Richard Nixon, the most awkward sort of introverted social misfit one could imagine, who legitimately won at least some elections. As always, clients sought answers to their technical questions; I gave as many answers as possible, promised to research those I could not answer immediately, but as always, I left with a few questions that I could never answer. Why is it that IT teams willingly go on "death marches" with unrealistic deadlines? Are we used to merely being told what to do and how quickly we are going to do it-and we meekly comply? Just how much leadership do we see in these all-too-common death marches? I wondered. Or do we merely march forth, managing schedules, managing quality, negotiating and compromising both?

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Mr. Gainer is a software process management consultant and writer. His management and technical articles have appeared in numerous publications and he is a frequent contributor to Cutter IT Journal, and the Cutter IT Journal email Advisor. He can be reached at gainerj@jeffgainer.com or on the Web at http://www.jeffgainer.com. Mr. Gainer lives in Grand Junction, Colorado, and Menton, France.

(c)2003 Cutter Information Corp. All rights reserved. This article has been reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Cutter Information Corp., provider information resources for IT professionals worldwide.

This article originally appeared in the Cutter IT E-Mail Advisor, a supplement to Cutter IT Journal. www.cutter.com/itjournal.


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