UPDATED 25 April 2009 to fix the link to Jimmy’s blog
As a consequence of my recent ascension to Twitterato-hood (follow me @sqltwit), I’ve made several new SQL friends over the last couple of weeks. One of those is Jorge Segarra (a/k/a @SQLChicken in the Twitterverse), a SQL DBA and Systems administrator with University Community Hospital in Tampa. Here in the woods, that makes us neighbors.
Who has been a great leader in your career and what made them a great leader?
This is a great question. Jorge notes in his discussion that, at 26, he hasn’t had much time to evaluate leadership styles. Well, I’ve had the great fortune to work for a number of great leaders over the last (gulp) 30 years (yes, Jorge, any older siblings you might have were likely gleams in your parents’ eyes when I got started):
- Joachim “John” Stier, my first boss in the computer business, had me forced on him by nepotism but never treated me that way. He taught me what I needed to know and set ambitious but achievable goals, I learned and applied, and in the end I completed a 437-FORTRAN-component conversion project in eight weeks when I didn’t know FORTRAN six days before I started. John taught me that I didn’t need my dad’s help to get a job in this business. I haven’t spoken with John in 25 years, and that makes me sad.
- Gary London was my second boss in the computer business, and he proved to me that I didn’t need my dad’s help to get a job. He also taught me the value of making and executing a plan rather than working randomly. He and I did some pretty amazing things on an Apple IIe with a DRM CP/M card.
- Matthew Sargent, my third boss in the computer business, ran a consulting shop I worked in for three years in Los Angeles. He taught me the value of communicating with non-technical people in plain English, a skill he possessed in spades. Matthew also gave me my first opportunity to manage people in a technical environment, an experience which renders a second opportunity unpursued. Matthew passed in the late ‘80s and is greatly missed by all who knew and worked with him.
- Wes Contryman was one of my Project Managers during my tenure at the Los Angeles-based oil company I worked at for fifteen years. Wes taught me that it was fun to take on big and/or sensitive projects, and make them succeed in creative ways. In Wes’ world, playing it safe was inconceivable, and the day was incomplete unless three co-workers groaned from his puns (he once pulled off a three-level, bilingual pun that must’ve taken him a week to put together). Wes taught me that the key to being a happy, successful geek was to be a happy geek who was comfortable in his own skin. Towards that end he allowed me to drive his Triumph TR7 several times, which rekindled my own passion for British
clunkersroadsters. Wes passed in 1991 from pancreatic cancer and I cried like a baby. My son Zach was born less than 18 months later; one of his middle names is Wesley.
- Jim Higgins was a director in the oil company who fostered my transfer from Los Angeles to Tulsa (that may not sound like a favor, but it set in motion the chain of events which led me to Microsoft, so we’ll give Jim a mulligan on the Tulsa thing). Jim and I first crossed paths when we were working on the same project despite the fact that he worked in a division in Buffalo and I worked at Corporate in Los Angeles. Jim made an incredible effort to stay in touch with me over a number of years, and his rising path led him to a position in Tulsa where he could hire a guy like me, which he did. Jim’s greatest gift is his ability to take a room full of people ready to choke each other and lead them to consensus in such a manner that everyone in the room thinks it was their idea. Those of us on staff saw this so often we called it, “The Higgins Effect.”
- Brian Shive gives Wes Contryman a run for “Most Brilliant Technician Who’s Ever Managed Me.” After working with Codd and Dade early in his career, he was “lucky” enough to be my manager at a time when my reputation was at something of a low ebb. He didn’t believe the gossip about me, but rather treated me as a capable human being who wanted to do a good job. Brian is one of the people who’s directly responsible for the fact that I’m approaching my 10-year anniversary at Microsoft (and he will have to live with that guilt *g*). Candidates from the first four MCA:Database rotations will recall my homage to Brian in the classes’ data modeling exercises: the client was the Shive Community Music School.
- Mark Pohto was the best I’ve ever seen at letting senior technical people run on a long leash. Of course, as a senior technical guy himself, it would make sense that he’d understand how to do that.. but many senior technical people who become managers seem to forget the mindsets that got them there. Mark remembered so well that his passion drew him back to the technical side, which is good for him but sad for senior technical people craving compassionate management.
- Tim Wolff managed the transition from colleague to manager better than any of the many colleagues I’ve watched get “promoted” over me (no bitterness here whatsoever.. remember, Matthew Sargent taught me twenty-five years ago that I don’t want direct reports). He does what he needs to do without ever “big leaguing” his team. He’s another example of “not forgetting what got you there.”
One common thread in my relationships with these leaders is that they all became my friends. I’m not sure if that’s central to leadership in a technical arena or something which I require of people to “lead” me in a professional environment (and make no mistake, I would not want to be my boss), but the best managers and leaders I’ve had are the ones who’ve allowed their staff members to get close to them.
High risk? Maybe, I suppose, if you squint your eyes and tilt your head. High reward? In my experience, absolutely.
To keep the meme going, I’ll tag..
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