Good Manager or a Great Leader

Posted: September 22, 2011 in Career, SQLServerPedia Syndication

Here is another article that I did about 6 years or so ago.  I liked the premise of the article so I thought that I would put it here on my blog. There are a few edits in here but the majority of the article remains the same. If you have any questions or comments please let me know.

I sat through an interview recently and listened carefully as they explained how the company supported its employees.  There were the standard questions about health benefits, 401k, company information and the like.  But I pondered how the Leaders managed their people.  It’s a difficult question to get answered and a difficult one to ask.  After taking some time to think about how I would phrase the question, I also began an internal assessment on my criteria for a good Leader.  I have given thought to this before but not like this, not in this situation. The first step was defining what a good Leader is to me.  I was asked a question by the interviewer that made me think.  The question was: “I used the term Manager and the term Leader.  Do you see the difference between them and if so what is it?”  After some thought I came up with a simple, yet what I believe to be an effective, difference between the two.

There are many people who can be Managers. You can point to most anyone of competence and organization and make that person a Manager.  But a Leader is someone who is followed voluntarily by his or her subordinates.  A Leader is a team member and not someone who considers themselves “above” the rest of the team. A Leader is someone who leads by example and inspires people to try to do the same.

A Leader is someone who inspires his or her team to achieve a mutual goal by sharing the same goal as the team.  Many times I have heard the term “managing up”.  What does this mean?  Let’s say that you are a Manager of a group of DBAs.  Do you spend more time talking and working with your Manager or director, or do you spend time working with your team to make them better at what they do?  A person who “manages up” spends more time talking to the bosses than to the team.  This is not always a bad thing because often a Manager that is more focused on the team is considered a micro-Manager and those that manage up can also “manage” the bosses to create positive changes for the team. This is not always the case though.  A micro-Manager is watching every step of the project and wants to be involved in every discussion and decision in a hands-on way.  In my opinion, a Leader is someone who helps the staff reach their goals by equipping them to be able to accomplish the tasks that need to be completed by the team for the company. Most great Leaders can be Managers but just because a person is a Manager does not mean that person is a Leader.

Think of it this way.  Let’s say that I have a staff member who wants to move into SQL Server Integration Services, yet the staff member is a much better performance optimizer.  If a good Leader can find a way where the staff member can improve their skills with SSIS, while expanding their resume and keeping up on their current tasks, the employee will be much happier. Chances are they are going to stay with the company longer because they know their Leader is supporting them in learning something new.  Even better – if the Leader can find a way to utilize the staff member’s performance optimization skills in the process, then he or she can benefit from those skills and the staff member can learn something new.

At one time I was given a project to incorporate a new SAN in our environment.  I had a DBA who worked for me that really enjoyed taking machines and loading tools on them that would allow older hardware to be used in new ways. I used to joke that he could load Linux on a toaster oven. This person was assigned to learn all he could about the SAN and ended up treating it like it was his baby.  With proper training, which the company paid for, this person became a much more dedicated employee because he was getting the skills that he liked and wanted to learn. In my opinion, everyone should have goals, both long term and short term.  The short term goals are set to help you achieve the long term goals.  If a Leader can get a list of these goals from an employee and help the employee reach them, the situation becomes one of mutual respect.  When this respect level is reached, the employee can become a more contributing member of the team while feeling satisfaction in the job. A job becomes a career or some place that they want to be; not just a place to collect a pay check.

On the flip side, a Manager could have taken that same situation and turned it over to an employee that had more experience, but did not want to be in that area, or they could have assigned it to anyone at random without thought to who would learn the most and be motivated the most.  The Manager could have spent time justifying why they need to hire an expert in the area.  However, the expert may have had different goals.  Most people can be taught most of the aspects of the area in which they work.  What can’t be taught is desire or attitude.  I have known many good DBAs who just have a bad attitude and it is very difficult to motivate them.

A great Leader is someone who makes themselves replaceable.  I have worked with more than one person who has built a moat around what they know. They will not cross-train or document.  I do not know if they do this because they are looking for job security or they want to have that feeling that the company could not survive without them.  The secret here is, and it really is not a secret at all, anyone and everyone can be replaced whether you like it or not.  Sometimes it may be more difficult with some people but everyone is replaceable.  The people that make it difficult to be replaced end up having a difficult time taking vacations, being sick or even being promoted.

If a Leader has trained his or her staff so they can fill his or her shoes they have created an effective team.

When I have a new team member I make sure that I start with an open honesty policy.  I make a couple of requests from them.

         It is ok to make a mistake. Learn from it and try to avoid doing it in the future.

         If they make a mistake I prefer to hear about it from them, not my boss.  There is nothing worse than being on a 4 hour flight and to hear from your boss that someone has done something and you are not aware of it.

         I have them show me their goal list.  If they don’t have it written down then I have them do that. We then review the list and figure out where their goals can help meet the company’s needs.

         I let them know what my job is.  My job as a Leader is to take the heat for the mistakes that are made and help the person who made them avoid them in the future.  The other half of that is to lift up those on our team that have succeeded; they get the credit, not me.

I know that I have spent a lot of time trying to work my way up the ladder.  I have been a Manager and I hope now that the people that have worked for me in the past would call me a Leader. I do however know that my opinion comes from making many mistakes; I hope I have learned from them.

A great Leader is an umbrella; they provide cover when it rains and when the sun is shining they get out of the way.  One of the best Leaders in my career once told me that you should always hire people that are smarter then you are, and you should have to hire someone in your career that makes more money than you do, at least once.


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