The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Revisiting technical leadership

leadership2.pngIn yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I was talking to folks about their career goals… Recently, I ran into a situation where some technical leaders were behaving in ways that were inexplicable to me. This caused me to take a bit of time over the weekend and reevaluate my approach.


In the process of talking with them I mentioned a few rules that I think are key to being a good technical leader (something I last wrote about way back in 2008):

1)      Don’t discourage them: We need to encourage new ideas and little successes. Don’t let perfection get in the way of goodness. Good enough is often enough at least for now.

2)      If you want personal recognition – go into sales: Technologists work on efforts many times because they are hard problems. We need to celebrate the success of teams, more than individuals, since it usually takes the heavy lifting of teams to actually make things real. I am not saying we should never recognize individuals but don’t be one of those people who expects it.

3)      Rarely is it the technology: There are many things that can cause problem and technologists usually like to lean on technical solutions that is not the case. There are a couple of sub-rules to keep in mind:

a) Err on the side of ignorance rather than animosity – meaning that sometimes behaviors may seem subversive, but usually it is because people don’t know expectations outside their context.

b) You are only as impactful as your network – having a support network with specialists in a wide range of topics is critical to your success.

4)      Be an example: I almost left this one off, since it was so obvious. I include it because of the need to be aware that others are watching and others will note where attention is focused. If you’re an introvert, this may be outside your contextual view of the world.


Way back in 1986, Gerald Weinberg wrote a book called Becoming a Technical Leader that I’ve always found helpful. Even though it was written before the age of the Internet, the material still hold true.


I am anxious to see what leadership principles are brought out in the up-coming movie Ender’s Game, since the book and its companion Ender’s Shadow were filled with leadership concepts.


Are there other rules-of-thumb you view are important??

Labels: Context| Leadership
Ravi Ramakrishnan | ‎10-21-2013 12:13 AM

- If someone is smart, hungry and has a can-do attitude, discouraging brings out the best in them. I would try to gauge their hunger level rather than just encouraging.

- If you want personal recognition – go into sales - Thats the first time I am hearing that. I had seen some of the smartest people that dont necessarily work well in teams. Expecting personal recognition should not be held against them. I would argue that a mentor or manager should identify those unique traits and expectations and work with them accordingly.

- softer skills are equally important, including the cultural fit, the chemistry fit, personality traits, and level of optimism.

- Part of that conversation is about what they’re looking for, and their goals for the next step of their career. Understanding that helps create a picture of whether they’re going to be a good fit.


PS: I joined DEC in 95 and left HP in 2013. I see so much has changed in the way we recruit and nurture talent.



| ‎10-21-2013 07:43 PM

The personal recognition rule is more focused on the expectation of recognition. Yes, everyone wants to be recognized, I don't dispute it. Many times technologists (in particular) need to generate that recognition internally. Hard problem solved -- rejoice -- but don't expect a parade. It could just be me though.

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