Gerald Weinberg “Becoming a Technical Leader”

I read Becoming a Technical Leader because of a recommendation on the Coding Horror blog. 

What did I get out of it?

Mr. Weinberg has a lovely, charismatic dog (German Sheperd?) pictured with him on the back cover.  I decided he is believable based on his dog alone.

This is not a book about management – at least, not MBA style management.  It is about developing and leading from innate authority, not authority designated by your job description. 

His writing style is chatty and amusing.  It is also very casual.  It reads like a collection of related essays, rather than structured chapters.

The two main messages I extracted from the book are learning from failure and congruence.

Learning from failure:  He has a great graph – sorry I can’t draw it here – of his progress at improving his pinball game – an analogy for learning anything.  On one level, the graph is a series of rising steps, showing that improvement occurs in leaps, not steady increments.  Looking closer, the graph shows that just before each step up is a little dip.  I think this is when newly learned techniques are being applied, but are not yet succesful.  The message to take away (for me, at least) is PERSERVERANCE.  When you are trying to learn something, pegging away and not seeing any improvement – KEEP GOING! 

 Congruence:  This is the consistency between the thoughts/feelings/impulses going on inside a person and what they display to the outside world.  To be congruent, you need to have self-awareness:  How do you feel? What is it you want?  Mr. Weinberg suggests writing in a journal for 5 minutes a day.  I think this is a way of exploring your own thoughts with the structure and reflection imposed by writing them down.

Miles Vorkosigan (Komarr, Lois McMaster Bujold) talking about speaking out loud, not writing, but the idea is similar:  “Besides, I like to think out loud.  It slows it down so  I can get a good look at it. ”

Mark Vorkosigan (Mirror Dance, Lois McMaster Bujold) thinking about congruence:  What he did not feel, he realized as he caught his breath again after the coughing jag, was afraid.  Not of the Count and Countess, anyway.  Their public faces and their private ones were … unexpectedly congruent.  It seemed he could trust them, not so much not to hurt him, but to be what they were, what they appeared.  He could not at first put a word to it, this sense of personal unity.  Then it came to him.  Oh.  So that’s what integrity looks like.  I didn’t know.

What I would like to have read more of:  A central theme is the discomfort that technical people have in leadership roles.  Why?  How is technical leadership different than leadership in other fields – or is it?

Would I recommend this book?  Yes.


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