Book: Becoming A Technical Leader

Becoming a Technical Leader “Becoming A Technical Leader: An Organic Problem-solving Approach” by Gerald M. Weinberg

This is another book published over 20 years ago. There are still some useful information. Here are a few highlights:

“Leadership is the process of creating an environment in which people become empowered.”

  • “Instead of leading people, as in the threat/reward model, organic leadership leads the process. Leading the process is responsive to people, giving them choices and leaving them in control.”
  • MOI model of leadership:
    • “M: motivation–the trophies or trouble, the push or pull that moves the people involved”
    • “O: organization–the existing structure that enables the ideas to be worked through into practice”
    • “I: ideas or innovation–the seeds, the image of what will become”
  • “Leaders are leaders of change — change in other people, change in working groups, and change in organization. Above all, leaders are leaders of change in themselves.”
  • Learning Curve: “There are plateaus, but you don’t really leap, you climb. In order to climb, you must leave the sure footing, letting go of what you already do well and possibly slipping downward into a ravine. If you never let go of what you already do well, you may continue to make steady progress, but you’ll never get off the plateau.”


“as leaders grow older, they often add a second type of leadership to their repertoire. Instead of simply charging out at the head of the troops, they organize the troops so that when the time comes for battle, they’ll charge off by themselves.”

  • “No-Problem Syndrome”: “a condition in which the ears are not properly connected to the brain. The sounds enter all rights, but they trigger a stereotyped response that has nothing to do with their meaning. One person describes a terribly vexing problem, but the other merely responds with a callous, ‘No problem.'”
    1. “You describe your very difficult problem.”
    2. “The respondent says, ‘No problem!'”
    3. “You say, ‘Oh, that’s terrific! could you please describe my problem that you’re going to solve?'”
    4. “If the respondent then describes your problem, even erroneously, that’s not a case of NPS but only a case of Enthusiasm.”
    5. “If the respondent describes a proposed solution to your problem rather than the problem itself, then sadly it’s NPS. The kindest thing you can do for all concerned is smile and walk briskly to the nearest exist.”
  • “According to the MOI theory, you’ll need three things to succeed at transforming yourself into a more effective problem-solving leader: motivation, organization, and ideas”
  • “copulation: putting together two ideas to form a new one that’s better than either of its parents.”
  • “The first big lesson from studying careers is this: It’s not the event that matters, but your reaction to the event”
  • “Everybody has failures, if only because their success leads them to fail.”
  • “People don’t become leaders because they never fail. They become leaders because of the way they react to failure.”
  • “The first great obstacle to motivation is a different kind of blindness: the inability to see yourself as others see you…. We simply have no reliable way of anticipating the reactions of other people.”
  • “Incongruent communication is deadly to motivation, which depends on the free and accurate flow of information about how we respond to one another.”
  • “My gift-giving technique can almost be reduced to a formula: Tell them what you perceive, how you feel about what you perceive, and if possible how you feel about that feeling.”
  • “If the job isn’t highly technical, the leader need not be competent, but can lead by fear.”
  • “People with strong technical backgrounds can convert any task into a technical task, thus avoiding work they don’t want to do.”
  • “Leaders who don’t care about people don’t have anyone to lead, unless their followers don’t have a choice.”
  • “No amount of caring for people will hold your audience if you have nothing to offer but pretend you do.”
  • “Task-oriented leaders tend to overestimate their own accomplishments”
  • “Very little work we do is really so important that it justifies sacrificing the future possibilities of the people doing the work.”
  • “When the work is complex, no leader can be absolutely sure that plans won’t ‘gang aft agley.'”
  • “In a complex environment, even the most task-oriented leader is forced to put people first, or the task won’t get done.”
  • “To be a successful problem-solving leader, you must keep everybody’s humanness at the forefront.”
  • “If you are a leader, the people are your work. There is no other work worth doing.”
  • Helping
    • “Wanting to help people may be a noble motive but that doesn’t make it any easier.”
    • “If people don’t want your help, you’ll never succeed in helping them, no matter how smart or wonderful you are.”
    • “Effective help can only start with mutual agreement on a clear definition of the problem.”
    • “Always check whether they want your help.”
    • “Even when people agree that they want your help, that agreement is not usually a lifetime contract.”
    • “People who want to help other people generally expect to get something for themselves, though they may not be aware of it.”
    • “Most people understand that helpers are selfish, but also thing they are exceptions to the rule.”
    • “Attempts to help are often interpreted as attempts to interfere.”
    • “The ability to love others–and thus to help others, and thus to lead others–starts with the ability to love yourself.”
  • “If your whole team consists of novice programmers, your expertise will give you considerable power; but if the other team members are also experts, they will attach less importance to your technical expertise. In that case, they’ll pay more attention to organizational power, like the power to acquire an extra terminal, to extend the schedule, or to capture a more interesting assignment.”
  • “If you don’t know what you want, power is as useless to you as a Ferrari to a blind driver. You might accidentally steer along the track, but you’ll probably crash somewhere.”
  • “So, when you see a chance for power, ask yourself what you want power for. If you don’t know that, you’re sure to falter and lose your way when your old power starts to crumble, as it must before your new power starts to grow.”
  • Maturity
    • “be clear when they deal with others”
    • “be aware of their own thoughts and feelings.”
    • “be able to see and hear what is outside themselves.”
    • “behave toward other people as separate from themselves and unique.”
    • “treat differentness as an opportunity to learn and explore rather than as a threat or a signal for conflict.”
    • “deal with persons and situations in their context, in terms of how it is rather than how they wish it were or expect it to be.”
    • “accept responsibility for what they feel, think, hear, and see, rather than denying it or attributing it to others.”
    • “have open techniques for giving, receiving, and checking meaning with others.”
    • “the first step in creating a problem-solving environment is to work on your own maturity, but this can’t be accomplished through gimmicks.”
  • “power conversion: You use power you have in one form to gain power in some other form you want more.”
  • “They’re all doing the best they can, under the circumstances. If I don’t think they are doing the best they can, then I don’t understand the circumstances.”
  • “With new powers comes the responsibility to learn new ways to use those powers. Paradoxically, the greater the power you have, the harder it becomes to do what you have to do to learn those new ways.”
  • “In the real world, you shouldn’t get graded on your job by adding up all the parts, but by multiplying.”
  • “The person at the top makes the rules, which is another way of saying, breaks the old rules. Cowardly conformists don’t make it to the top, but then neither do blind rebels.”
  • “By and large, technical workers tend to be stronger on the planning side than the personality side. They often complain that they know how things should be run, if they could only get someone to listen. That’s why computer programmers are so happy working with their machines: Personality doesn’t influence computers.
    At the higher levels of management, planning strengths also count heavily, so computer programmers might make terrific top executive, if only they had the personality strengths to get them through the intermediate ranks. Mostly, though, they just get shoved out the door.”
  • “By practicing many small achievements, I learn how to deal with the unfamiliar feelings that might hamper me when I try for some big achievement.”
  • “Don’t redo work you’ve assigned to others. When you do, you pay several times for the same work: first with the time to explain it to them, then with the time to take it back without hurting their feelings (which really won’t work), then the time to repair any damage they’d done, and finally the time to do it yourself… I’ve finally learned that you must let them make mistakes. It’s part of the price you pay, and it’s more efficient in the long run.”
  • “Avoid trivial technical arguments to prove your technical superiority. ‘As your career advances,’ Dirk said, ‘you have to let go of certain things.'”
  • “Choose your own priorities and don’t wait for a crisis to organize your activities.”
  • “Pay attention to what you do when there’s nothing to do.”
  • “Listen to what other people have already learned.”
  • “Let other people show you how smart they are.”
  • “Some people in my support system want me to stay the same; these I call my Conservatives. Others want me to change; these are my Radicals.”
  • “Change in your support system are seldom painless, but if you intend to grow, you cannot avoid some pain. Several times in my life, I’ve had a particularly wonderful relationship that I wanted to freeze, so it would never change. Each time I did that, I killed the relationship: The best relationships have been the ones with people who wanted both of us to grow, even if it was sometimes difficult.”
  • “The paradox of problem-solving leadership is that you have to change in order to remain the same.”

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