Leadership and strategic planning are considered essential soft skills for a successful CTO. Some are naturals, some learn through experience how to smooth the edges to make the most of their natural inclinations, and others may be good at either one but not both. And then there are developers who possess other important qualities that usually make a good CTO but lack these two. The challenge is to fill the gap and find a balance.
To explore this rather complicated topic, we’ve gathered a few questions, spiced it up with some much-needed humour and think we’ve cooked a meal worth consuming for any CTO who needs to hear it. Let’s go!
Why is leadership important to a CTO?
Well, a CTO is simply a manager by a fancy name. And ideally, a manager should lead.
Opinions often differ on how this leading should be done.
The more uncertain individuals tend to lean towards things like management by fear, micromanaging or some evil combination of the two, along with a little backstabbing sprinkled on top. All this to mask their lack of leadership qualities.
Of course, what goes around comes around. So expect to live in some evil alternate universe where you can’t trust anybody if you decide to go full dark side.
On the other end of the scale are managers who believe in guiding responsible, self-reliant people who can do their jobs without hand-holding. To pull this off, you’ll need to be a manager who supports their team in the best way possible. This little thing called “trust” is important.
If you do this right, you will have a way easier job managing your team. Also, you’re building your own fanbase within the company. That doesn’t hurt if you want to grow beyond CTO later on.
Different types of leadership
Like we mentioned before, ideally, a manager leads. We say “ideally” because a lot of managers can’t even decide on what to wear to the (home) office, let alone make any business decisions.
“Is a white shirt + tie, boxers and white tennis socks too formal for the home office? Also, white socks in 2020? Gotta ask the partner!”
“Wait, you’re asking me to move the office stapler to Ian’s desk or Victoria’s? Gotta ask Amy, that’s a decision for the CEO!”
You get the idea.
Yet other managers do a variation of this. They make sure they are only accountable for certain decisions. They deflect the rest to their superiors or underlings. Their favourite saying? “It wasn’t me!”
“Hey, Matt from Sales here. Office productivity has crashed and so have our sales. We’re looking at a new quarter-over-quarter low of 20% vs 90% prior to moving the office stapler to Ian’s desk. Who’s idea was that?”
A: “It was all Amy’s idea. Yeah, I know—the rest of the board won’t be pleased either. I bet I could do a better job!”
Yet others do the micromanaging routine.
‘Harry?! Harry! HARRY!!! You’re doing it all wrong! How many times do I have to tell you, when you’re stapling more than two sheets of A4 at the same time, you have to order them properly first! Look at this TPS report: the second, third and fourth sheet don’t align properly. This is not professional and a waste of resources! I’ll make sure to enrol you once again in our Stapling For Dummies course. Pff, do I have to do everything myself?’
Then there are the more reasonable, helpful managers.
“So what you’re saying, Harry, is that we should go paperless? Can you put together a small deck with the pros and cons so I can look it over? Thanks, Harry!”
And lastly, some of the more nefarious managers don’t mind a little vicious elbowing to get ahead.
“No, Shaun, again, I’m telling you: putting the office stapler on Ian’s desk was Amy’s idea. Harry said what about going paperless? Don’t listen to what some intern says. Do you think that will help? Let’s just move the office stapler to Victoria’s desk. Ask yourself, what was behind Amy’s decision to move it to Ian’s desk in the first place? Is she cheating on Hugh with Ian? Maybe she has a stake in his Twitch channel! OMG, this is turning into a soap!”
Now we could go on for ages since there are so many variations on this theme. Let’s not even go into the purely incapable managers who somehow got there by accident. For example, they weren’t a good specialist, so they were put on the manager track to see if that would work for both parties. Or because they were a good specialist who was promoted into management, but it turns out they can’t manage people at all. Usually, the latter are micromanagers.
What type of manager are you?
All in all, there are as many management or leadership styles as there are managers.
Which one suits you best?
Easy, the type of leadership you want to aspire to. What type of person are you or do you want to be? How do you want to treat people? How do you want people to treat you?
To some people, nothing matters—or at least they want people to believe that nothing matters to them. They either lack empathy or ignore every ounce of it and tread all over anyone unlucky enough to have to work for them. Bullying underlings into submission is their MO. They’re classified by experts under that name that starts with arse and ends with holes. They’re also usually extremely insecure little people. So maybe this is you. But you’ll have to face the consequences that go with it.
That’s not to say the other end of the spectrum always works. There’s that little thing called office politics, which has mauled many people with the right attitude, intentions and qualities to lead. Meaning, it’s not recommended that you be too gullible in your quest for righteous management for the benefit of all.
So, before you start a new hashtag #fordoingeverythingrightthemovement just look around at the equivalent of the (Asian killer) hornet’s nest you probably find yourself in and act accordingly. It’s called being pragmatic.
We have to mention the library’s worth of books written on management and leadership. So, if you’re serious about making your preferred method work, there’s plenty of knowledge around that you can do a deep-dive into. We suggest you do this ASAP as it will help you find your bearings in this big old corporate world of ours.
Why is strategic planning important to a CTO?
Strategic planning is always important to anyone for everything. That ranges from strategically choosing your time to go shopping for toilet roll and hand gel to finding out what your partner wants for their birthday to carefully planning your IT department or your way up the ladder of the corporate behemoth you find yourself in at this very moment.
In fact, it’s best not to do anything without strategically planning it. Just wise up on how this planning game can work for you.
Methods for strategic planning
Despite the romanticism involved with displaying XL whiteboards that visualise your cunning way to the top in some secret hideout for all your henchmen and women to see—preferably a hollowed-out volcano on a remote island somewhere in the Pacific—it works a little different in real life.
That means you have to know a raft of different models and methods that are relevant for your organisation. But let’s be honest, most of them revolve around formulating a strategy, implementing it and evaluating if it worked in the first place. We all know that infamous SWOT analysis, but it works just as well now as it did when they coined it years ago.
So it’s not that hard either. Since anyone with an Amazon account can self-publish a new method tomorrow (for free), it would be a bit over the top to list them all. And that list would probably be out of date before this very day is done.
For those Dr Evils who might be wondering: yes—you can still have the XL whiteboard if you must, but at least use an online version so you don’t have to lug the damn thing around wherever you go. Also, it allows your henchmen and women to work remotely, too! Just saying, as it might help with recruitment efforts from HR.
The goal is to make a plan, but don’t bother with an extremely detailed one. State a few clear, attainable goals and go make them a reality. Be prepared for things not to go as planned—they usually don’t in life, and that’s why they must be broad enough but not too broad. In short, it’s about finding that balance.
You, dear reader, probably know how to best strike this balance for yourself. So there’s soul-searching to do, but that will help you find the right priorities in life and work.
Tools for strategic planning
Although we haven’t disqualified the XL whiteboard in the hollowed-out volcano scenario and might have cheered on the online version of it, we’re the first ones to admit it’s not a realistic scenario. For example, will an army of virtual assistants qualify as proper henchmen and women? We’re still debating the issue here.
But there’s plenty of other tools to use, of course. Just hop on the Internet, search for online whiteboards, for instance, and you’ll find yourself with (too) many options to choose from.
So you’re thinking like any sound manager who is in a bit of a pickle and plan on reverting to spreadsheets.
Spreadsheets for strategic planning? Nay!
Everybody knows spreadsheets, right? Yes, most of the population of this big wide world of ours has become aware of the existence of (online) spreadsheets. But not so many people know they cause a lot of errors. They’re so ridiculously error-prone that they’re responsible for all kinds of costly, horrible mishaps. Some estimates from credible (actual) researchers go as far as claiming 95% of all spreadsheets contain errors.
Meaning, don’t revert back to spreadsheets—ever. Do your research, check out those Gartner Quadrants and other comparison sites (but know how these come to be) for reference, but dig deep to find something that suits your team and company. It’s there, just put in a little effort.
We use spreadsheets for simple planning and reporting, avoiding intricate functions like pivots and automations just to save ourselves from the domino effect anyone of us could start with one simple mistake!
So there you go. Leadership is important to anyone who is a manager. Since a CTO is simply a manager by another name, it means this applies to you, too. On how to lead, the opinions differ. There are the plain evil or wannabe evil variants, as well as the more pragmatic and realistic ones who realise that we’re all just human beings trying to make the most of this world. Best to make this journey a little less hard for everyone involved, hey?
This revolutionary thinking about giving a damn, being trusting and respectful will win you friends and help you influence people like you’re the Dale Carnegie of 2020.
We’ve listed a few different types or styles of leadership with hypothetical examples to go with them. We encourage you to read them thoroughly as they contain important facts about how (not) to act, the strategic use of office staplers, and the equally strategic wearing of white tennis socks.
After you’ve studied these important facts, you’ll come to the conclusion that one of these styles suits you. Choose wisely, though, as this will have severe consequences. Just be pragmatic about it is the best answer we can give you.
When it comes to strategic planning and the proper methods or tools, simply use the ones that work best for you. SWOT is usually enough for most cases. Don’t rely on spreadsheets for planning. They’re error-prone and create a mess. Just do your research to find a proper tool that works for your situation. It’s out there.