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

Leadership – what matters… a comparison?

leadership2.pngI’ve written a few posts about technical leadership and haven’t commented on the topic in a couple of years. As I came across the McKinsey post titled Decoding leadership: What really matters it made me wonder, how close the two perspectives were.


The McKinsey article stated that there were 4 prime factors for successful leadership:

  1. Solving problems effectively
  2. Operating with a strong results orientation
  3. Seeking different perspectives
  4. Supporting others

Back in 2013, in a post called Revisiting Technical Leadership the four main factors for technical leadership were (using less than four word summaries):

  1. Don’t discourage them (similar to #4 above)
  2. Solution not recognition (a combination of #1 and #2)
  3. It’s about people (similar to #3)
  4. Be an example

There is definitely significant overlap. The one thing that is missing from both these lists is that a leader needs to have a vision (and followers). Without a vision to structure the leadership around you are just an effective manager.


One other thing that technologists need to do is communicate to get things done. When we fail to communicate, it just frustrates everyone involved.

Labels: Leadership| Vision

Even more on technical leadership

leadership.pngLast month I wrote a brief post titled Revisiting technical leadership. I actually got quite a bit of interaction around it so it made me think that people want more of this kind of material.


Here is a presentation titled The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader that may be of interest. Twenty one is a bit far past anyone’s hrair limit, but is still useful. Technical leaders can have broad influence far beyond just what they do, since they are an example for others.

Labels: Context| Leadership

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

Failure to communicate

direction.jpgI have been talking with several technologists lately about influencing leadership. They’ve been frustrated because they feel their concerns are never heard.


I have a fairly simple check list that I try to use in correspondence. When I need someone’s help, I try and focus on the steps that need to be taken now:

1)      Define what you need

2)      Share the facts that the hypothesis is based on

3)      Identify who needs to do the work (dependencies)

4)      Determine what can be measured to prove that the change had the desired impact (validation)


And naturally try and get #1 described in the first sentence or two, because many times that is all the time you have to get your point across.


As I read through an analysis (that someone spent a great deal of time gathering) I feel sad whenever the real call to action is at the very end. I tell them that it is their role as the person making the request to ensure that the reader can consume the information and actually make a decision -- quickly.


Closely related to this is the issue of answering questions (via email or in person). Depending on the personal style of the leader, when a question requiring a one word answer (e.g., “yes”, “no”, “10”) is asked, individuals need to attempt to answer that question first – and then go into the detail only if needed. If they don’t get that answer, it can cause the person asking the question to ignore everything being said, essentially defeating the purpose of the conversation.


Are there behaviors you see where others could benefit from your perspective? Have you shared it with them??

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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