Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A global approach

You may have noticed a drift from tech posts, to management posts, to "personal development" posts in this blog.

It is not intentional and I have been thinking about this, trying to figure why.


The reason is that I am convinced that there is a wider gain in thinking globally than in focusing on one particular area.

I think that you will agree with me that leadership is a common skill for all managers. By manager, I mean any kind of guy (gal) who leads people. I am pretty much certain that a platoon leader, a software development manager, the head of a police department all share common qualities that define them as leaders, and I am more interested in developing these qualities than focusing on something that will impact only an area of my life: my job.

Seems pretty confusing, can you explain?

To explain my point I am going to make an analogy. Have you ever heard those tales about Japanese martial arts Masters? One common trait in all these stories are that the Masters are not only awesome in their domain (combat), but pretty much in every area of their life and would be for example amazing painters. They sought to apply what they learned through their practice to every area of their life.

Since you are maybe not very familiar with this kind of stories, here is a more practical analogy, still using martial arts. It is fairly obvious that if you are a fit person, with a good balance, flexible and strong, it is going to help any martial art you are going to practice. As long as your body has "qualities", the rest is just about learning some techniques. However if you know a lot of techniques but your body is weak, you are going to be a crappy fighter.

The nice thing is that those body qualities are going to be useful for every other aspects of your life: you won't be tired when your wife drags you along with her bags when she is on a shopping spree (what kind of an example is that ^^), you'll be in better health, etc.

Back to management

Management involves taking risks, stepping in the unknown (being able to surpass one's fear), being socially aware, being able to assess people at a glance, being resilient to change, to name a few.

They are qualities that will benefit all aspects of your life, and that can be practiced not only at work, but everywhere in your life. If you develop this corpus of qualities, learning the specifics of managing a type of team and the intricacies of making status reports will be a whole lot easier.

Since I wrote a post about Leadership in video games, let's talk about that some more. For you WoW players out there: are you able to take charge of a group of 40 players, organize a raid, and successfully make the raid happen so that everybody is satisfied in the end? Stupid example I know, but you should be. In fact you shouldn't even have to think about it. The skills you learned at work should be a part of you and you should be doing this without even thinking about it. See what I mean?

It may seem trivial but I have seen players who were managers and weren't able to do this, at all. They might have been awesome managers, I don't know. But frankly, I have serious doubts when I watched how they handled a bunch of players. BTW, as a player, I would very rarely lead. I wanted to play, not do what I do at work everyday. But I know (because I tried) that I could switch in work mode and take charge if I wanted. I also know that it wasn't as easy at it seemed and it actually taught me a lot about my deficiencies.

Another example, a (little) more serious. Throw a software development manager in a crowd of unknown people, preferably with a lot of girls. Does he stand there talking to nobody, or is he able to connect with people? I'm not saying that he should be hitting on every girl. But he is supposed to be the social guy of his team. He should have a clue on how to interact with random strangers. If he does not (and if he is your manager), sorry dude.

Some time to rest

I am not saying that you should always be "on", managing everybody in your life. There is a time for resting, and sometimes I like not to be social, not to take charge, etc. But what I learn at work, I try to apply in my life. Conversely, what life teaches me, I take to work with me.

So how do you develop "qualities" instead of learning brain dead skills that you can't apply elsewhere? I don't have a definitive answer. In fact I think that it just lays in this ability to connect the dots, to think globally.

You need to be aware of the ultimate goal of what you are doing (building qualities), but you can pretty much forget about it and start training. It's a mindset, more than anything.

Let's conclude

Woops, I got carried away. So yeah, I'm drifting from management topics to personal development topics, and why? Because I think that reading every management book on the planet accumulating pointless knowledge doesn't lead anywhere. At one point you have to internalize your knowledge, and it's what I am trying to convey in the "personal development" posts.


Stéphane Zuckerman said...

Hey Loïc,

I'll just react to one thing (I find your point of view interesting, although I don't share it). When it comes to management, the most important thing is to avoid having the guys you manage think you don't know what you're doing. It also means you have to understand the nature of the work of the members of your team.

A very interesting approach concerning I.T. is described in "The mythical man-month" by Frederick P. Brooks Jr. It tells the story of one of the biggest 1960 I.T. projects : IBM's OS/360. More than a thousand people worked on the beast. And one of the things it tells about is how IBM had this way of putting technical leaders and managers on the same level, asking them to regularly switch places. Both salary ladders were equally paid, and you HAD to switch from time to time if you were more than a mere technician, so you would not "forget" how it is on the "other side".

Loïc said...


What exactly don't you share in my point of view? Cause, although your comment is interesting, I don't feel my post and your comment are related in any way ;) Maybe I wasn't clear enough.

One remark: "It also means you have to understand the nature of the work of the members of your team"

To me this is so normal that I didn't even bother writing it down. It is like saying that to speak, you have to open your mouth. But you are right. Not every manager does, come to think of it.

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