“It is something to make yourself better, but it is really something when you make those around you better” – Russell Wilson, QB Seattle Seahawks
Leadership, and ultimately management, are topics usually written and spoken about in the context of business. This shouldn’t be surprising, since the very success of any enterprise is predicated on two things: investing in the team and investing in the individual. Many of the blogs we post on the Ivy Softworks website do a tremendous job of articulating our cultural values and their importance to our company’s success. We have not, however, discussed the important role that leadership plays within our company – or as we like to call it, “Management Mojo.”
The topic of leadership is easily demonstrated in a LinkedIn search, where one post can net over 30,000 results - underscoring the importance of effective leadership to a lot of people. Believe it or not, most people in leadership or management roles were all individual contributors in the beginning. Their skills got them noticed and eventually put them on the path to management. From my own experience, there were a few great managers that shared the journey with me, and who invested in me as a person. It was precisely those managers who inspired me to take on missions greater than myself.
I distinctly remember the day I felt challenged to become something more than an individual contributor. I was just raising my head from a deep coding task - the source was checked in, and I was finally done. I should have felt accomplishment at the completion, but instead I felt frustrated at the mundanity of the work and the absence of a real impact. After reflection, I came to realize I was being treated as a faceless resource, caught in the middle of an all too common political game between the corporate head office and the branches.
We should have been celebrating, but instead our small team had become a victim of its own success. Our small systems team was providing the branches with cheaper and rapidly deployable PC-based applications, while the head office was betting big on a £60M mainframe project. This quickly led the branches to question the value of the larger, more expensive project. Corporate leadership’s immediate response was to deprioritize the branches’ projects - my team fell quickly into the doldrums, and my own level of engagement with the firm plummeted to an all-time low.
I could not understand why our corporate leadership was missing the bigger opportunity represented by client-server applications (bear in mind this was the early nineties). I even raised the issue with my direct team lead and his supervisor. Their response was to tell me to stop being so strong-willed, and to get back in line. I resigned from the firm a few weeks later because it was clear the leadership didn’t value innovation, and was never going to listen to me.
That was a lesson that has stayed with me to this day: the best ideas most often come from the team executing on the ground with the customers, rather than from management up in their ivory tower. This is what ultimately drove me to seek out leadership roles: to elevate nascent great ideas to the fore, and provide them the investment and influence necessary for them to grow and deliver value to an organization. Maintaining this perspective in my journey became doubly important once I discovered the true complexity of blending the various competing interests into an aligned vision for any given organization.
The thrill of seeing people come together around a common goal is hard to beat. This thrill challenges you to the core as you deal with the needs of the individual, while driving the team on a path of successful execution. Let’s be honest - people are messy and frustrating sometimes. When working with knowledge workers, the effort to get them aligned around a common goal is significantly harder, because you’re dealing with people’s intellect and, (un)fortunately, we all think differently.
This means you have to communicate at much higher levels than is usual, as you strive to find common ground upon which you can bring a team together to deliver. You need to be comfortable with seeing others’ ideas and approaches being presented to solve the problem, often in lieu of your own. Many managers make this mistake, often early on in their careers, to own all aspects of the decision making process. Quite simply, this is wasted effort that usually results in execution failure.
Instead, embrace the diversity of the team and leverage its capability to solve a well-defined problem. In return, these teammates will become engaged in your environment, where they will feel cherished, nurtured and challenged. That means that, as the leader, you are required to demonstrate trust, integrity and personal consideration towards everyone on your team. Let’s explore these three ideas:
Trust. Great managers build trust through transparency, and accountability through action. When you do what you say you are going to do, and stand by your commitments, those around you will feel safe to do the same, modeling the behavior and standing by theirs. When you expose those around you to your process, they will expose you to theirs. Both of these actions work in conjunction to rapidly develop a team’s productivity.
I recall my first day at Quote.com, when two members of my team asked to meet with me. It was my first interaction with both individuals, and their first act was to tell me that they were resigning! They were spent, frustrated at the lack of leadership and wanted nothing more to do with the company. Wow! How do you stop two talented individuals walking out the door, before you have even warmed up the seat?
I looked at them both and calmly asked them to hold off on their decision for one month. My commitment to them was that if they did not see any improvement, then they were free to go and they could count on a good reference from me. It was then up to me to repay that trust - which I did. They both ended up staying with the company for several years afterwards, and we are still connected even to this today. The simple fact is that I kept my word and these two amazing individuals rewarded me with commitment to the mission.
Integrity. This requires a deep commitment to ethical practices, to know what the right thing is, and to do it, no matter how hard the circumstances. This also requires incredible courage from every leader. How does one resist the inexorable drive to achieve revenue, often at any cost? It’s common and even appealing to go after the almighty dollar, but if you do this at the expense of what is right, you will quickly find yourself on a very slippery slope indeed.
I have worked at companies who have gotten themselves into trouble, mainly because they chase revenue at the expense of the vision, business model or employees. There is a reason why I am probably no longer with these companies, because there comes a point when you need to stand up and be counted. Ahh, easier said than done, when each of us are faced with this choice, because we have bills to pay and families to support! But remember: a leader who lacks integrity is a hollow soul and is unlikely to share with their team or invest in its individuals. In short, they lack Management Mojo.
Personal Consideration. A good manager invests directly in their team and works toward building rich emotional connections. They coach, they hold people accountable to the mission and, most importantly, they treat everyone as a person and not as some “faceless resource” who appears on a chart. The good manager is the one who wants to know what makes you tick on a personal level, while a bad manager prefers to sit in the corner office avoiding human contact, making little effort to create the bonds ultimately necessary to bind the team together when times get tough. At Ivy Softworks, you won’t find a single corner office; instead you will find a like-minded group of people committed to building an extraordinary experience together.
At Ivy Softworks, our leadership are the ones who, tinged with pride, will smile as they see a person outgrow them to take on new challenges and opportunities - this is what we truly want for everyone.
Are you ready to rise up and be invested in? Good!! Check out our opportunities at www.IvySoftworks.com/Careers.