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Leadership, Management and Complexity

I recently came across this article in my LinkedIn feed from Brigette Hyacinth contrasting the observation that many managers insist on creating complexity to expand the scope of their command and control models with the observation that leaders make things simpler.

I would say that this is particularly true for the IT industry, having worked in that field for over 20 years. There is a certain level of innate complexity that comes “out of the box” in the IT field. Many management professionals find it difficult to place trust in individuals who have a more intimate knowledge of process and knowledge domains that are rich in complexity. Placing trust in the knowledge of others is something that many managers instinctively mistrust, as they feel that they are setting themselves up in a position of weakness where their own lack of knowledge can be easily surfaced and/or exploited. As such, those kinds of managers will go to great lengths to introduce “fly-by-wire” process controls and output measurement to ensure that they at least have some form of visibility on the impacts of complexity on IT work.

Unfortunately, the end-result of this is that the “controls” they implement actually compound the complexity in delivering IT work, which in turn compounds the risk of making necessary decisions. That risk then leads many managers to a place where they then feel obliged to not do meaningful IT work, and instead keep their resources busy on less consequential activities that tend to increase the amount of technical debt carried by the organisation, and put important compliance and systems modernisation activities on the back-burner. Change rapidly becomes the enemy of the management team, which then drags the IT organisations they manage to a stand-still.

Leaders – as observed by Brigette – will trust in the expertise of their subordinates, and place them in a position to succeed. Leaders can do this because they build narratives that pull other along with them, setting up the circumstances under which everyone can deliver the required level of functionality, but also do so in a way that is sustainable and easily maintained. Leaders do not compel – they convince. They do not command – they spell out requirements and inspire others to meet them. Leaders do not penny-pinch and demand full insight into every element of risk in the work their teams do. They instead trust their crew to let them know about important risks in a timely manner.

With all this said: Yes. It’s possible for effective leaders to get bitten by a bad break where nobody expected a particular obstacle to arise, or failed to realise that their leader would be receptive to hearing about it at a point in time where they could mitigate the impact of the issue. Unlike a professional manager, a leader will take responsibility for the failure of the team, because they will see that they failed to convey the trust they placed in their team appropriately. Rather than playing blame games, an effective leader will reinforce their narrative of trust and common benefit, focus on their relationships with teams still operating on the defensive, and dedicate themselves back to the task of pulling the rest of the team along in the wake of their own enthusiasm. The successes that great leaders achieve are worth the occasional failure, because leaders aren’t restricted by what is manageable. They are barely even restrained by what is achievable. For a great leader, vision comes first, because that’s the foundation stone upon which their team’s success is built.

So… are you a manager or a leader? Are you more comfortable with trusting people to understand the complexities of their roles better than you? Or are you the kind of person who wraps so much process and measurement around every piece of work that their resources spend more time on process conformance than delivering meaningful work?

Categories: Business Articles Leadership Management Process

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Jemma Hooper

IT Professional, Writer and multimedia producer

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