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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Being a Leader


Recently a subject of leadership pops up on Software Project Management pretty often, but usually I look at it from manager’s perspective. After all that’s something I do for living – managing teams. So yes, being a leader is the first and probably the most important role of manager (by the way, the post on role of manager turned into full-blown presentation which causes some buzz every time I deliver it). But leadership isn’t exclusively attached to management.

We are leaders in our workplaces, but we lead in different communities and informal groups as well. And even if we stick to our professional lives we can lead in technical areas or be typical people leaders. Leadership has many names. This was exactly the theme of my recent presentation on the subject which I delivered as a guest on Toastmasters contest.

A very interesting discussion followed the session. I used leadership definition I’ve heard from Mary Poppendieck: “Ability to attract followers is exactly what makes you a leader.” The definition neatly covers all sorts of tech leads – if I believe you’re knowledgeable and experienced person in a specific area I will come to pester you every time I need help with that matter. In other words I will follow you, which according to definition makes you a leader.

The argument against that approach is that we call it authority and not leadership and leadership is/should be discussed from a perspective of leading teams/groups. I can’t say I agree with this point of view as we’d have to cross out many leaders who build their follower base thanks to extraordinary knowledge and technical skills. What do you think?

By the way, after criticism I faced on my slides from AgileEE I built this slide deck differently. Happy now?

in: personal development, team management

11 comments… add one

  • Monika November 2, 2010, 1:19 pm

    Inspiring :)
    which part of leadership is the toughest one (from your perspective)?

  • Pawel Brodzinski November 2, 2010, 2:29 pm

    One which we suck at. It would differ depending on a person. For example I believe I deal with people pretty well, but I’m pretty weak when it comes to technical stuff. And I’m scared to death about being a parent someday but that’s totally different story.

    I believe that when it comes to leadership we should focus on our strengths. That’s pretty different than I’d advise anyone when it comes to personal development in general. However with leadership you can’t be jack of all trades, master of none. But then it means that sometimes your leadership style won’t fit. There’s no use of general Grant in the middle of Afghan desert (to use one of examples from the presentation).

  • Glen B Alleman November 2, 2010, 10:46 pm

    Some interesting ideas, but some troubling ones as well. Mary’s quote of “The ability to attract followers is exactly what makes you a leader.” Nazi Germany attracted many followers, so did Jim Jones, and David Karesh of Waco Texas fame.

    See if the US Army Leadership manual informs the conversation around “leadership,” http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/repository/materials/FM6_22.pdf.

    See page 2-7, Figure 2.3 as a starting point

  • Piotr Leszczynski November 3, 2010, 12:11 am

    I agree that some people may be leaders on one field and it will be harder for them on another one. However I believe that if you are natural leader the field doesn’t matter. You’ll become a leader even unwittingly. Going further I’m sure that there are skills which you can learn and which would be helpful in leadership no matter the field.

  • Pawel Brodzinski November 3, 2010, 3:05 am


    I’ve never said that leadership can be used for good purposes only. Hitler was elected democratically, so yes people considered him as a leader who can change the situation in Germany in thirties. Osama bin Laden is/was a leader as well. They would suit to vast majority of leadership definitions, even though they are considered as pure evil by most of the world.

    Document from US Army is interesting but it is very biased. Army is a very specific organization where you are expected to obey orders. Then, there are numerous references to specifics of the US which don’t work universally all over the world (US Constitution bears different value for you than it does for me as I’m not US citizen).

    Of course you’d find there some common things which are shared among many leadership theories/definitions and this is what I tried to address with the presentation. After all, there is no such thing as a single universal approach to leadership. What more I believe that even in US Army there are different models in place. You expect different style of leadership from the scout in the desert and different one from a general co-leading whole war.

  • Pawel Brodzinski November 3, 2010, 3:17 am


    I can’t agree. What is “natural leader” after all? Was Einstein charismatic? Was Martin Luther King extraordinarily knowledgeable? They chose different traits to build their leadership on, even if they did it unwittingly. And I believe neither one would be able to follow the path of another.

    Of course there are skills which help you to be a leader. If you find yourself well in ever-changing situation, if you learn constantly, if you are capable to build trust relationship with the group you’re way closer to be considered as a leader than someone who fails to answer positively to those answers.

    On the other hand I’m not sure one can learn intelligence or charisma and in vast majority of cases leadership base on either of those.

  • Michał Paluchowski November 3, 2010, 3:56 am

    I think we usually know intuitively how to distinguish a leader and Mary’s definition has the best wording on this I ever heard.

    The difficult part is in deciding how much of leadership is inborn and how much is learned. I tend to think lately that leadership is predominantly inborn, like many other talents. One can learn a lot on top of that, too, but if it’s not “inside” then perhaps using one’s energy in different areas becomes more profitable.

  • Piotr Leszczynski November 3, 2010, 4:54 am

    As a natural leader I recognize a person who becomes one in a group of people without specified leader/manager. And as you’ve said rising as a leader in such group may happen according to different skill/abilities – you can show your knowledge about the project, you can show your passion, you can become a leader by showing that you know how to plan the project. There are many ways.
    Why do you think Martin Luther King wasn’t natural leader. I think he was. He was extraordinarily charismatic.

  • Pawel Brodzinski November 3, 2010, 9:26 am


    I saw enough people who shown leadership pretty late in their life, to believe it is more than something we’re simply born with. They were far from trying to lead anything at school, university or even during first years of their professional lives and then something changed and they started showing leadership. I’m such person by the way.

    But then without some basic traits you won’t become a true leader. It’s like everyone has something like leadership potential (or however you want to define it), but it doesn’t mean everyone would live up to that potential. From this perspective we have hell lot to learn about leadership.

  • Pawel Brodzinski November 3, 2010, 9:38 am


    Exactly, this is the point – MLK was charismatic and he built his leadership on that (never said he wasn’t a leader). But at the same he wasn’t the most intelligent person around. There are many ways to show leadership but not every of these ways would work in a specific situation.

    Einstein is cited probably more often than MLK but he never led such social movement as MLK and I think he wouldn’t become one of leaders if he happened to be priest and not scientist. Leadership isn’t that universal.

    Of course in our everyday lives it happens that the same person is a leader in different situations but it usually happens on pretty basic level. Like in the example from a presentation – one person, different roles in different situations.

  • Rachel May 16, 2012, 1:55 am

    All of us can be good leaders. As a matter of fact, we are all leaders in our own ways. We may not be the president of a company or the team leader in a group, but we lead our own lives. The thing that separates brilliant leaders from the mere followers or members is their skills, including excellent communication skills. Leaders always know what to say and how to say it in a proper manner.

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