Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Part 4 - Humans are highly illogical.

(This is part 4 in a series of 16 posts about IT leadership in higher education titled Everything I Need to Know about IT Management I Learned from Star Trek. See Part 0 - Introduction for the full list.)

Mr. Spock, the Starship Enterprise's First Officer, was a Vulcan. He came from a culture that prized pure rationality. He was a logician who found human emotions sometimes amusing and always perplexing. Since humans may not always be logical, they are an interesting management challenge.

As Spock would say, humans are highly illogical. That characteristic is what makes managing them and designing systems for them so very interesting. People are more complex than computers and managing people is particularly challenging in an IT shop.

Several years ago I did a Myers-Briggs personality assessment of a software development team. I had recently assumed responsibility for managing an organization with a lot of interpersonal conflict and it had become dysfunctional. I hired an external facilitator and brought a roomful of 30 IT people together to spend a day going through the assessment process. I came in at the end of the session to ask them about their experiences during the day and what they thought about the results.

Standing in front of the whole room I asked them for their opinion. No one said a word ... not a peep! So I flipped over the chart that mapped out the personality types of everyone in the room to get the conversation going. Myers-Briggs has 16 classes of personality. But this entire software development department, and I mean everyone, was classified as “INTJ.” Basically they were introverted, shy, risk-adverse perfectionists. So of course no one was willing to publicly volunteer an opinion.

The key point to the story is that the kind of people attracted to IT jobs tends to be similar. There is a tendency for introverts to migrate towards IT careers. That makes them a different management challenge from a marketing department. You need to be creative about how you motivate and encourage them to get out of their offices and comfort zones and go talk to their customers. 

Your job as a leader is to mentor and coach them on relationship building, bridge building, and open continuous communications. Look for opportunities to pry your introverts away from their computers and help them see the value in socializing with their clients. In IT, leadership means managing humans' highly illogical nature. 


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