.. and when not.
I wouldn’t exaggerate if I say that intensity is the most appraised quality of a tech leader. There’s a very valid reason for that: one can hardly accomplish a lot with a lax attitude to a plethora of tasks that have to be just done. When a tech leader exercises the attitude of intensity to the things they do, it is picked up by the whole team. I’m leaving off the part about organizational culture that breeds such leaders and followers in an organization. That’s something I’ve written about previously in the Project Manager or Tech Leader? article.
This time I want to highlight a flip side of intensity. This focus can be a blessing, but it can also be a curse. Think about it: what if a tech leader is putting all their ardor into actions that don’t seem to be attuned to the changing organizational or market dynamics? The actions that don’t feel in sync with the changes? As an example, might be that the decision-making mechanics is not working well in the company, but one still sticks to it. Or the business environment has changed, but too much focus on the actions originating from the expired mindset is holding the organization back.
What I’m trying to say: there’s a subtle balance between being intense and being loose. Yes, one won’t go far if things that need to get done float at a leisurely pace. Actionable initiatives have to be pursued with ruthless intensity and focus. In my humble opinion, there’s no other way to do meaningful things. However, if one is overly immersed in the planned actions, they might lose sensitivity and ignore some alarming signs. Such a leader might think to themselves: “Hmm, I feel something is wrong. But I don’t have time to think about it now. I need to act.” That’s where the catch is.
If a thought like that pops up in one’s mind, it’s time to get loose. A moment of looseness will create the space to think about what’s not going well. Wear another hat, in a way. One can go meditate, or just take some relaxed calm time to contemplate and decide what has to be done about this alarming symptom. If there’s even a slight feeling of misalignment between an organizational practice and the expected outcome, the more time will elapse going on with the intense actions, the more it will cost to the company. Tech leaders have to develop this feel of just-in-time switch from intensity to looseness. Too bad if this switch is not working. The rigid intensity blocks seeing the signs. Looseness here is about the ability to come to a halt and to look at those intensely pursued actions from a new perspective.
Taking a shift from intensity to such looseness just in time is the trademark quality of a star tech leader. It’s quite easy to follow through and to be confident about the things that one already knows. It’s much harder to be sensitive and attuned to the things that one isn’t yet aware of. However, being able to do so is one of the components of lifelong learning — and one of the essential traits of a tech leader.