Yes, I’m a trekkie.  I’m also a student of leadership. 

A good friend once asked me how I can get a particular manager to take up a challenge that he wasn’t taking on.  Both of us thought that he should.  To us, it was obvious. To him, it was not.  He was basically staring at the opportunity, doing nothing.  At one point, I even privately criticized him to a peer.  I regret that.  I hope to learn from that mistake and never repeat it.

What’s going on here, you ask?  Why not get the incompetent people out of the way, so the rest of us can get our jobs done?  Why?  Because there, but for the grace of God, goes I.

Every day this happens.  It has happened to you, at some point.  Possibly many times.  You (or someone you know) has been placed into a role where you have no experience.  Complicate this with a sadly common correlary: you have no support to learn the role well.  Sink or Swim.  That’s what happened to this manager.  He was a good man in a bad spot. 

Whose responsible?  That person’s manager, perhaps.  That person himself?  A little of both, methinks, but no matter how he got in, leadership is the only way out.  You don’t have to be that person’s manager to lead them.  We all challenge each other, every day.   I could have led him out.  I did not.  Another regret, unfortunately.  Another lesson to learn.

If you place a challenge in front of someone, and it is a challenge that they have not done, and you have not done and no one they know has done, you are asking that person to demonstrate a combination of creativity, leadership, and sheer chutzpah.  A very very very rare combination that is even more rare among techies.   Music, we are good at.  Math, sure.  Leadership and guts?  Pass the pizza.

Even if you are experienced, you can’t do another person’s job for them.  Not for long, anyway.  So how do you get a person, in an unfamiliar role, to take up a challenge and do the things that you think need to be done to solve for that challenge?

I have one answer.  I’m sure there are others, but the answer I have is this: give them a specific problem to solve… and convince them of the value of solving it… Let it be a problem that leads to other problems, until the student see the end goal: solve all problems of this sort.  Get their head in the game. 

“To boldly go where no one has gone before” is a good “trekkie” motto, but that isn’t leadership.  That’s blind faith.

Leadership is to ask someone to go one step towards an attainable (short-term) goal they understand, even if it is not a goal they have ever sought before.  As a leader, you give them a reason to go there, criteria for knowing when they are there, and rewards for getting there.

And whatever you do, leave the sharp wit at home.  This stuff is hard enough as it is.