Wednesday, April 17, 2013

On Leadership

It's been a year since I accepted my "stretch" assignment to Asia! I'm certainly stretching. It's 3:15AM, and I'm still up, after taking two hours of Mandarin classes and working with our US team for a few hours. I believe that I've reached my "capacity" for work. In a given month, I can focus my efforts and attention in only a couple of places. Out of our seven separate teams, that means that a couple will languish without my attention.

I sense some friction from one of my US colleagues, also on assignment. I can tell that he's giving me the "cold shoulder." I know why; my team is faltering, and I've yet to course-correct effectively. One of our engineers, who we were grooming into a leader, quit last week, leaving a significant gap. This happened to coincide with a trip for his peers to the US, leaving us without skills in a key area. In addition, our project is quickly entering a "crunch" mode.

My immediate reaction to his dismissal is sadness / anger / frustration. I know that there is nothing to discuss; talking it out will do nothing. I think it's something I need to handle alone by reallocating people within our teams. Of course the managers that report to me disagree. :-)

It's time for me to start kicking ass. My Mandarin instructor informed me that in Chinese culture, a leader must be dominant and assertive. If someone brokers deals, negotiates, or in other ways is "soft," he is viewed as a bad leader, and loses credibility with his organization. I'm wondering if that happened to me.

My style of leadership has matured over the last year. When I started, I would make suggestions for things that should change. In my previous team, these suggestions were accepted as good ideas (where appropriate, or refined into even better ideas). In this team, any suggestion I give is ignored. Any order I give is followed, even if it's a bad idea.

I have only two trusted lieutenants, and I need at least two more.

Gay Careerist Tip: Surround yourself with those you trust. Don't try to do everything; when your team grows to a certain size, it is impossible to "save the day." As much as it sucks, they have to fail.

To summarize: It's easy to lead a motivated and smart team. How do you deal with the rest of the population?


  1. It sounds as if you've figured out at least some of what you need to do. That's a whole lot better than not having a clue.

  2. @naturgesetz: Yeah. We shall see! I'm trying targeted training of specific people now. It's obvious that our team members are nodding their heads in training classes, but very few actually "get it."

  3. I work a lot in India with Indian engineers. Their subject oriented engineering skills don't lag compared to ours, however, I think what still gives us competitive advantage is that in Europe/US we are allowed to discuss the ideas and decisions of higher echelons with them. It just leads faster to better results.

  4. by great coincidence i just had this same conversation with my boss as i an unable to effectively teach and lead those that dont relate to learning as i do. let me know if you figure out the secret

  5. @Urs: Nothing prevents us from discussing things or questioning or challenging... but we still have trouble with significant portions of this team actually doing anything. My job, right now, is to "Ungate" the team from any minor thing that takes their hands off the keyboards.

    @PlanetX: I tried simply showing case-by-case as we stumble through problems. Some cases are getting it. Some cases aren't.