This book tells stories of my experiences and lessons learned over the past three decades. The stories are meant to encourage you to think of related experiences and draw out your own set of lessons. The decades covered by the stories include periods of ‘chaotic economic fluctuations’ which challenged individuals and corporations alike. You will see that difficult times define who you are more clearly than in other times of your career.
You may conclude from some of the stories' lessons that I didn’t really learn what I should learn from my experience. That is okay… as long as you reflect on your already real experiences and put them in context with your own growth as managers or leaders. I will be successful if any part of the book is useful in your own management and leadership journey and especially successful if it helps you through your challenging times.
The book is not a managerial or leadership how-to textbook. There are many books, articles, seminars and workshops on management approaches and leadership characteristics. I refer to material I found useful in my career throughout the book and in the selected reading section.
There are some misdirected expectations that leadership is only about ‘calling the shots’ and ‘having the power’. Effective leaders do not shirk their responsibilities and they do make decisions and often are in powerful positions. However if you are reading this to learn how to ‘call the shots’ and get ‘the power’, then find another book; I have little to offer in this one. Read this for the opportunities it presents to recognizing your insights in growing your leadership skills.
I considered a number of different ways to present the lessons. One approach is to organize by a theme and then provide a story or stories that demonstrate the lessons from the theme. However, borrowing from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, I decided to follow the King’s instruction to Alice, “Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
“Life’s experiences are stepping stones in a journey” to use an old cliché. What you learn and remember will help to determine how dry you remain along your path. Slipping and getting wet along the way is not bad and in fact it is necessary. It's more how quickly you dry yourself off, remember the experience, and continue your journey. The approach taken in this book is to go chronological where possible with the belief that you learn along the way. I fully expect and hope you will read a maturing in my stories and lessons as you follow my path. Some of the earlier lessons are re-enforced and previous sections are referenced.
Several of the stories are about times of adversity. Some are during the chaotic economic times every person in their career experiences. At these times I believe you will discover and hone your leadership abilities and have your management skills tested. They are times I learned the most; good and bad. I have seen too many poor management decisions or the lack of necessary decisions mask bad leadership while business is good. It is during stressful times that you quickly discover the true strength of your foundation and whether it can survive stormy times.
As with any attempt to organize experiences and present then in a meaningful way, some do not fit any single story yet are equally important to remember. These will be presented as influential ideas with some explanation to why they are important either in the lessons learned sections, the “Final Thoughts” chapter or in the appendices.
The companies or establishments mentioned in the book are real, as they are a matter of public record, but full personnel names are not used and even first names are sometimes changed. This should not diminish the stories told. Any former employees reading the stories may identify themselves and others but I hope they accept my attempt to be as anonymous as possible while providing the context for the lessons learned. I also try to strike a balance between too much background detail in a story that take away from the lessons and not enough context to appreciate the story. I am sure I have failed to strike a correct balance in every story for all readers but hope that, in most cases, it has been achieved.
It has been said and written that leadership cannot be taught; ‘leaders are born’. While I believe you cannot suddenly say ‘I am a leader, follow me’, I do believe you can be taught to be a good manager. You will be called a leader if you then manage well, are thoughtful in your approach to people and problems and learn from experience how to effectively perform in stressful situations.
“Lessons Learned” provides a collection of my experiences from thirty years of management and leadership roles. How do you recognize if you are a good manager or leader? Certainly there is recognition from outside and from bosses or peers but the most satisfying means of recognition is reflected in your relationship with your employees. This is not to say managers and leaders have to be liked. Being liked does not directly correlate to being effective in your role. It is nice to be liked but not critical for a leader or good manager. A much more important factor is how effective your employees become under your direction.
Upon reflection I have been very fortunate to have had the consistent nucleus of a software development team together for more than twenty of the thirty plus years covered in this book. I have had the privilege as well of leading an even larger core team of software developers for over ten years. They have not always liked me but we have gone through both high and low points and we have accomplished much together. I am very proud of them and who they have become.
I have participated in numerous workshops and seminars, been given books, and taken studies, all to become a better manager / leader. Each company has their own favorite techniques and what is promoted is heavily influenced by the CEO of the day. Unfortunately, I have too often seen executives gleam out of context what they want from their courses / studies and then continue the way they always have. They use the course / book to justify what they do, or at best to superficially follow what they read / learn. They do not learn from the lessons presented and have a hard time relating it to their daily work. As you continue to read this book, I re-emphasize, please reflect on your experiences and learn from your past to excel in the future.