Bill Gates is perhaps a good example in this sense: Microsoft during the early 70s was but a mixture of their programmers, but they selected Bill Gates to coordinate and organize their efforts because they saw him as the best prepared among them. This is also what named him chief software architect at Microsoft (besides the fact that he owned the company at that point) and he retained the respective function even after he was no longer CEO.
There are other particularities of leadership in the software development industry as well.
Because the work activity is based on the existence of development teams that generally incorporate developers, testers and writers and which are led by a team leader or project manager, there is a distinctive importance attributed to the project manager or team leader. His or her job is many folded, which means that he probably needs to have all the traits identified with the trait theory.
He needs to be not only technical and intelligent, to understand specifications and clarify any additional misunderstandings that the developers might have, but he also needs to have the entire social and collaboration background that is required. Even if at a smaller scale, he is still a very important leader in the activity of the organization and, as previously mentioned, he also assured the connectivity with the upper management. Finally, one of the particularities of the software industry is also related to the fact that this industry tends to be a very collaborative one, with the developers generally exchanging ideas about their activities, about how things can be completed, about the new developments on the market and in programming theory etc.
II. In order to discuss the different proposals for developing leadership competences in the software development organization I have investigated and referred to previously, it is important to emphasize some of the particularities of leadership in the 21st century, on a wider scale, not necessary just in the software industry.
First of all, some of the characteristics that leaders will need are less likely to change in time. A leader will still have to be intelligent and sociable, to communicate with people and use different sources in the decision making process, to identify the appropriate ways by which the followers can be stimulated, etc. At the same time, the 21st century organization is probably going to emphasize more the social leader rather than the one where intelligence background matters most.
The explanation for this perhaps best resides in the characteristics of the labor market in the 21st century. This is much more volatile than in the past decades and people are much more likely to move around and change jobs with an easiness that was not characteristic in the past. You also have a greater competition on the labor market, which means that people are more willing to change jobs, to move around and find better condition and better pay.
With this also comes the fact that there is now a vast and diversified portfolio of needs that has to be taken into consideration in order to have a satisfied employee. Money is no longer the only motivational factor for an individual. More and more employees now look at additional motivational factors such as the working environment, the way the leader expresses himself in the working environment etc. This is why the leader is no longer revolving around similar motivational factors: he has to expand his horizon in order to include all these new different elements.
Following this introduction and still taking into consideration that usually very little of the theoretical background taught in a class will actually be used as a leader, it is still important, in my opinion, to have some leadership classes in the organization. However, these can be adapted to the needs of our organization. First of all, it does not have to be a college management/leadership course – it needs to present leader personalities, the way they acted and made decisions in certain situations etc.
Second, this can be an interactive class which would mean that there would be certain case studies based on different presented actions that can be solved within the team and that the participants in this seminar can practically exercise their leadership skills. Third, it would also be interesting to have speeches and presentations from other leaders in the software industry, people who have succeeded etc.
The seminar can also have a strong motivational, but also social goal. From a motivational perspective, this would be an opportunity for would-be leader to be selected in an inner circle of potential future leaders. On the other hand, from a social perspective, it will also be an excellent framework in which future leaders can interact with their followers or with other future leaders whom they will come across in the future. Such a seminar will help develop leaders at an individual, but also collective levels.
Part of this interactive approach to building leadership capacity and capabilities in the organization can also include discussion groups following assigned readings from some of the great business leaders (or not necessarily) of the past centuries. In this sense, the reading activity, that could sometimes be considered as boring and not very involving, can be doubled by an activity where interaction plays the best part, where new ideas can be investigated among the participants, etc.
The upper management (CEO, COO, chief software architect etc.) also plays an important role in leadership development. Top executives can provide a strategic perspective on things and, additionally, can also share their great expertise with the future leaders. This can also be important in selecting successors and grooming them for the new position.
The role of the manager/leader as coach is likely to become more and more important in terms of leadership building in all organizations in the future and our company will be no exception in this sense.
The fact that the executives can double their other responsibilities with this very important one will mean that building leadership capacities will be considered a strategic objective within the company and it will receive the appropriate attention.
The role of the upper management in the whole learning process is also to transform the executives from their positional and hierarchical superiority to teachers and participants in the entire process of building leadership capabilities. The organization will thus appear more and more as a learning organization, one where skills, including leadership skills, are nurtured and encouraged at all levels of the organization.
Case studies in the seminar mentioned are a way of transforming the theoretical approach into a practical one. On the other hand, this can be taken higher up and made even more practical by assigning, under the supervision of an existing leader, a certain short-term project to the future leader.
Following our example of the software company, the short-term project could be the coordination of the development of a certain small module for the application. With such an approach, the future leader can (1) gain the confidence that he will be able to complete similar real tasks in the future as well and (2) see how the theoretical background is actually applied in the real organization. These types of on-the-job experiences will ensure that the respective employee will be ready to take that responsibility at a certain date in the future. Empowerment is probably the key term that can describe this proposal and is gaining quite a lot of ground in leadership theory throughout the different business sectors.
Including future selected leaders in current day-to-day decision making process in our software development organization is also a proposal to build leadership capacity in the company. The management meets with the project managers and team leaders every day at 10 am in order to review any potential change in client specification and requirements and to discuss any potential problems that might delay the final release date. In order to get a closer feel of these discussions and be prepared to assume future project management duties, selected individual can participate at these meetings. Additionally, they can also be taken to client meetings and meetings with partners in order to build on their knowledge of the activity of the company and, additionally, be able to perform successfully as leaders when time comes.
It is also important to build an environment where the future leader can feel included. This will be important in the way he or she develops as a future successful leader and how open he will be to the feedback he receives from the different individuals within the organization.
Following the traits theory, it is also my opinion that some of the important traits that a leader needs can be build in time. One of these is sociability.
If you have a potential leader that has all the other leadership characteristics, the…