In general, technical people don’t seem to make great managers (unless they’ve been trying to become great). A result of that is what Reifer says in his IEEE Software (May/June 2004) column Catching the Brass Ring: “software professionals aren’t often tapped for top corporate leadership positions.” He goes on to say “executives of my acquaintance say that they (software folks) are ill-equipped to address anything but software or that they might be smart technically, but lack the systems knowledge and business acumen to take charge and make the organization successful.” Reifer suggest changing the graduate level curricula to change things. It’s not clear to me post-graduate education is necessary. Instead, take a look at this list from Peter Drucker’s June 2004 HBR article, What Makes an Effective Executive:
- They asked “What needs to be done?”
- They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?” (JR note: Project managers may have to focus on the project rather than the enterprise)
- They developed action plans.
- They took responsibility for decisions.
- They took responsibility for communicating.
- They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
- They ran productive meetings.
- They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”
None of this is taught in graduate (or undergraduate) school. This list comes from knowing how your company makes money, how your part of the organization helps the total organization, how to develop tactics from strategy, and operational excellence in implementing those tactics. You don’t have to be an executive to practice these skills. In fact, I argue that successful agile teams work like this now. No matter what kind of a manager you are, if you use this list as a checklist against your skills, and continually improve those skills, you’re on your way to being effective, whether you want to be an executive or not.