A few years ago my friend Bill from Rebar Business Builders recommended me the book The One Thing You Need to Know...About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success by Marcus Buckingham. For a while I hesitated to buy this book, initially the title about "the one thing" kind of put me off but I ended up buying it and reading it.
Back then I knew I had enjoyed the book but until recently I didn't realize how much I took from it.
The first thing that the book helped me clarify was the difference between managing and leading. Not only are these two roles (and the talents needed to perform them) different but they are opposite. Marcus points that the main focus of great managers are his/her employees while the main focus of great leaders is a better future.
Here is how Marcus puts it in regards to management [p. 83]
The One Thing that all great managers know about great managing is this:
Discovery What Is Unique About Each Person and Capitalize on It
and in regard to leadership [p. 132]
The One Thing every great leader knows he must do is:
Discover What Is Universal and Capitalize on It
Marcus provides several examples on how great managers "see people as an end unto themselves" and "derive satisfaction from seeing tiny increments of growth in someone else". Their focus is to serve their employees first, find what is unique about each of them, care for them, and put them in situations where their individual talents shine. Great managers will go above and beyond to "rearrange the world" to take advantage of each employee's individual strengths. This in turn tends to drive productivity in employees and teams which is why companies need great managers.
The two most important talents that allow great managers to perform their role is the ability to coach people and perceive their individual differences.
On the other hand leaders have a different role. Great leaders "perform [their] role well only when they find a way to make many people, regardless of each person's uniqueness, excited by and confident in [a] better future" Leaders tend to be fascinated by the future and they believe they have what it takes to take people to this better future.
The two talents that all great leaders have are optimism and ego. Optimism because they are convinced they can overcome present challenges and that there is a better way to do something. Marcus points that the opposite of a leader is a pessimistic. Ego because they believe they have what it takes to get there. As Marcus puts it, "they are not humble in their assessment of their own abilities" -- yet, this does not mean they are brash or abrasive, as a matter of fact most of them are quite reserved. [p. 66-68]
On the Agile Management Blog, David Anderson has an interesting post on Lead Well and Prosper that echoes some of these thoughts on optimism and leadership.
I think having a clear idea of the different roles and talents needed for managing and leading is very important in software development teams, particularly as developers start getting promoted to positions in which they are expected to lead and/or manage. Each company has a different expectation on what a senior or lead developer should do. Make sure you know what your role is, what your skills are, and how to make sure you are in a position that you enjoy, can perform, and is the best for the team.
Some people are very good at managing but not at leading, and vice-versa. Some people are good at both, some are not good at either. This is something applies to you, your peers, the people that report to you, and also to the people that you report to.
Marcus goes as far as to claim that leaders are born, not made [p 69] He bases this claim on the fact that optimism and ego is something that people are born with, not something that leaders learn. I am not sure I agree (or disagree) with his statement -- it's an uncomfortable thought, but I am not sure it's wrong.
The book is very good in general and I highly recommend it to people that are getting into management or leadership positions.