Over the last decade, I’ve had to explain way too often the difference between leadership, management, and being a boss. There are people with training that will disagree with some of what I write, if not all of it, but you can notice my level of concern with what they think by the fact that I’m publishing this.
Leadership is the ability to lead – and it requires a few ingredients that can vary across cultures and groups. Probably the most important aspect of leadership is trust.
People have to trust the leader, which is the constant political debacle of humanity. How that trust is formed varies around the world (When Culture Collide: Leading Across Cultures is a good resource, though the Caribbean suffered some laziness). That trust in someone as a leader is the most important aspect.
Regardless, that trust hopefully comes from some demonstrated ability, as well as a communicated vision that people agree on. The leader, as it is, doesn’t have to come up with the vision – this is a common misconception; visionaries aren’t always leaders and leaders aren’t always visionaries. The leader simply has to lead toward the common vision.
To continue leading, the leader has to retain the trust of those following – which is really the trickiest part of it all – while adjusting for changes in the vision and allowing for what people are willing to accept and sacrifice. People may take off their shoes a while to swim, but they are unlikely to be willing to have their feet amputated and fins installed.
We could get into the fine points of how to retain trust and so forth, but that varies from group to group and leader to leader. There’s no real school that can make everyone a leader, there is no book that will allow people to magically become leaders, and there’s absolutely nothing you can read on the Internet that will make you a leader.
It gets even more interesting. In different times, different skills and abilities – perhaps even talents – are needed to become a leader. In business, it’s rare to find a CEO that transitions from startup company to mature company. In complex technology products and services, different people lead different aspects of the project and hopefully some people at the top steer everything the right way with a common vision across the projects.
I’m not sure how it works in governments because I’m fairly certain it doesn’t.
So, that covers leadership.
Management, on the other hand, is not really leading. Management is simply a matter of making sure that the leaders are at their most effective. If someone has written that somewhere before, please let me know – I’ve yet to hear someone with ‘management training’ say it.
This does not mean a manager cannot be a leader. Traditionally, managers are expected to be leaders to some degree, but it’s just not necessary – they have to empower those that they manage to attain the common vision of a business, and that is really not so much about getting people to agree to a common vision but making sure that they work toward it for the pay that they get. In this, a manager is a boss – and a boss is not necessarily a leader, either. In fact, I’ve encountered bosses who were neither managers nor leaders – they’re more prevalent than you might think.
A boss is basically the person that can hire and fire people. Hopefully they have some management ability. Hopefully they have some leadership ability.
In writing an upcoming post on KnowProSE.com related to information theory and an unannounced software project I’m fiddling with, I found that there was a need to explain reasons why I see the world differently than others.
So, some of the key things that allow me to see the world differently:
I’m a Third Culture Kid. I had to define my identity instead of simply having a hand-me-down identity.
I’m an atheist who became one by exploring multiple religions and, after weighing merits so forth, consciously decided none were for me. I’m not an anti-theist. I believe religion does have a use for people, I just have no use for it, and I only mock religion when it’s being used as an excuse to do disagreeable things.
I’m better traveled than most.
I’m largely self-educated and have not stopped that self-education.
My life has not been one of constants but variables – until lately, no ‘home’, periods of ‘regular’ work offset with the majority as a contractor. In the words of someone who came dangerously close to knowing me, “you lead a non-linear life”.
Worked in multiple fields, ranging from medicine to software engineering, tangible work to intangible work.
I have little sense of permanence.
I’m much more interested in the best path, or the truth, than being right.
I read a lot, but sometimes well off the path of what is popular, and consider everything in multiple contexts.
I’m not worried about what is popular.
I’m rigorously pragmatic.
All of this means a few key things about me that confuse a lot of people when they deal with me because I’m not something formed in cookie-cutters of culture. This means that sometimes, I have to appear a chameleon to move things forward, but largely I’m just someone who…
I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about communications, information, and how one can weave ideas into the fabric of other people’s minds.
Writing has always come easy, and for a long time was something I took for granted because it simply helped me or hindered me. If someone didn’t understand what I said or wrote, I took it upon myself to get better at communicating. Lately, though, I find myself feeling less responsible for what people don’t understand or misunderstand – no one likes a pedant, not even other pedants, and there are some people who are simply unreasonable and unreachable. I turned to writing long ago because shouting at walls makes no sense.
Yesterday, two people took issue with this article about the digitized paper processes of Trinidad and Tobago, and it was a little revealing. To understand this, you have to understand that getting a credit or debit card in Trinidad and Tobago is a daunting process that many people don’t qualify for. It’s a bureaucratic process that, instead of getting approved in one day, can take months (I know) – and even then, teeters on the brink of whether or not you’re presented well to whoever is behind the Mastercard or Visa system associated with it. Because the majority don’t enjoy this luxury, I didn’t write about it.
Two people took issue with that. They began commenting on Facebook about how one didn’t have to print bills because you could pay with the credit or debit card… which is true, if you can get one, and in the weighted world of finance specific to Trinidad and Tobago, is not the majority of people. Further, the point about those who lacked that financial luxury taken for granted elsewhere – in the U.S., banks give out debit cards like candy, as an example (more really, most banks don’t have candy anymore). So those who don’t have the financial tools in Trinidad and Tobago, the majority, have to print out the same bill.
It’s not as if one can depend on the local postal service to get you your bill on time, assuming that the relevant service provider has sent it on time – so people interested in uninterrupted service end up going to the website and using their ink and paper to print the very same bill – which is 2-3 pages, usually, when really, done right, you could just print one and go to a more convenient outlet to pay. Parking at the offices is always problematic, so they have ancillary places where one can pay.
Why do people have to print out all those pages? Largely because the bills are inefficient and have been for as long as I remember. After all, one might just hand someone the account number and the amount to pay – and they should be able to handle that, but because of receipts and bureaucratic fail-safes, and because… well, because they just digitized a paper process.
And that was the point of the article. I’ve written more than enough about the failure of banks to provide better online payment services for more people, but these two people were stuck on their ability to pay their bills online.
They were stuck in their perspective – nothing existed beyond their perspective. Even saying that they were correct in that they could pay their bills online while the majority could not was a bridge too far for them.
This ground away at me for all of 5 minutes, before they removed themselves from my audience (thank you!). Their minds didn’t stretch that far, stuck in the ice-tray of their own little worlds they were completely cut off from the rest of the world and liked that so much that they wanted to impose their world on everyone else.
We all do it. Oddly enough, though, it has something to do with a software project I’m working on and a bit of the philosophy behind it. When I write about it on KnowProSE.com, the link will appear below.
I’m an honest person, which is something everyone says or writes at some point with various levels of integrity. I have references on this honesty, though, and I’ve managed to live my life without too much sway in this regard in adulthood. As I have grown older, I have been even more careful about what I say or write because inevitably, you have to live by it – unless you’re a politician, which I have had the good sense to not be.
I wasted a paragraph bastioning my honesty because I have, on occasion, had to flex, particularly in the Caribbean and Latin America where antiquated bureaucracies make corruption possible, though there was one incident with a police officer in Orlando, Florida. You see, you can be honest, but the world itself is made up of systems that less scrupulous characters will take advantage of – but are they less scrupulous or themselves victims of a system? That’s a debate that is best looked at case by case.
One particular incident comes to mind when I think of bribery.
I was in Nicaragua in 2005, part of my wandering through Latin America that was blamed on the publisher of Linux Journal but was simply an opportunity for travel I refused to miss at that point in life. And, as I do, I made friends with people in Nicaragua, and had gotten passable at conversational Spanish.
The day before I was to leave Nicaragua – I think I was going to Colombia next, I don’t remember – a friend needed a lift from Managua to Lago Managua. I enjoyed driving in Nicaragua because of the vast stretches of beautiful landscape, and the old Yaris I had rented was a surprising pleasure to drive only because it was manual, allowing me to eek out every drop of horsepower from the tiny engine. So we went, and I dropped him to Lago Managua, where he was to wait for a boat to take him to the center of the lake where he was setting up internet connectivity – he would later work at Amazon.com – and, with nothing there, I wanted to get back quickly because I was hungry and he dismissed me.
Heading back to the hotel in Managua where I would spend my last night, I had the little Yaris as close to airborne as possible… and a large truck was relatively slowly making it’s way somewhere. I flew past, overtaking it, seeing another truck ahead of it, when in between I saw the car – and as I drew parallel, AK-47s poked their way out of the open windows at the little Yaris. At me. I was already past them at this point, and had the little Yaris screaming for more air at the top of 5th gear.
I really could have used one more cylinder in that engine at that point – I forget what they were driving, but they easily caught me. The flashing lights set me a little at ease, so I pulled over, turned the car off, threw the keys on the dash and placed my hands on the top of the steering wheel. This is the universal way to say, ‘I’m not reaching for anything’.
Once they- there were three of them – saw I was no threat, the rifles got pointed away. They were speaking to me in Spanish about not passing a police vehicle, driving recklessly, and so on – so I decided to not speak as much Spanish as I knew and got them to hand me the Spanish/English dictionary in the back seat of the car so that we could figure it all out. After all, they had the drop on me with automatic weapons, the car I was driving was certainly no RX-7 or muscle car, and I was a very long way from anywhere.
They threatened to take my driver’s license so that they could track me down for a fine, which wouldn’t work – I needed that driver’s license for the next country – and I explained that to them. And then, in halting Spanish, I asked, “Is there a way that we can fix this without getting all of that involved?”
Long story short – it cost me $3 US to get out of that issue, which was probably the whole point – that would easily buy a bottle of rum. I was fortunate they were satisfied with what was in my wallet as well as providing them a good story they could laugh at.
That was a bribe. But it was also a way to get out of a painful situation where I was very vulnerable. I don’t know much about Nicaraguan police, I don’t know that this was the norm or not, but I do know in that particular situation I was pretty happy to leave $3 less, intact, and in good stead with the local police.
The point here is that you can be as honest as you want, but sometimes the easiest path isn’t the one that systems push us toward – and that’s where corruption comes in. Could they have wagged their finger at me and let me go? Of course. They chose not to, because they took me down a path where they got to shake me down. And I allowed them to do so because the alternative they offered in their positional authority was not attractive at all.
My honesty, my integrity – that would have meant little to anyone had I not simply gave them what was in my wallet.
For no good reason, I’ve been thinking about generations.
People have a tendency to communicate about generations a lot, which includes a lot of generalizations that rarely fit individuals I know. In the broad strokes, there is commonality among the ‘nurture’ aspect of generations, yet that commonality isn’t consistent at the individual level.
In essence, it’s a great way to express things that one doesn’t actually know too much about – something Millenials have been learning the hard way some time, something Generation X (my generation) learned long ago, and something that Generation Z will find out in time.
My generation was largely a disappointment to the previous generation – the Baby Boomers. And conversely, we found the Baby Boomers a bit disappointing ourselves because their judgements came from the world that they grew up in as opposed to the one that they created.
Like all generations, my generation wanted to change the world for what we thought was better – and we did some pretty amazing things given the tools we had pre-Internet.
The very idea that large numbers of people could coordinate around the world to bring their discontent with South African apartheid probably boggles the mind of post-Internet generations – but we didn’t do that alone by any stretch, despite what we may think. The truths related to this involved traditional big media, which was run by Baby Boomers. Was it giving the market what it wanted? Yes. Was it right? Yes. Was it something a few generations agreed on? Yes. Did Generation X take the credit for it? You bet we did, but we didn’t deserve as much as we thought.
Just as previous generations won’t deserve as much credit as they will think. It’s the way of it.
In this way, human society is a lot like rows of shark’s teeth: As they get worn out, broken, or lost, new teeth that have been waiting come to the front. We do not fear the teeth in the mouth of a shark, really – we fear the reputation of those that went before.
This all seems pretty important to think about and isn’t discussed much when we start talking about Millenials and Generation Z, and whatever comes next. We tend to write and speak of these generations as if they are isolated and lack the context of previous generations.
For better and worse, generations have the context of previous generations – and that needs to be mentioned just a little bit more.
I use elevators now and then – typically, I go with stairs just to get the exercise, but sometimes the elevators. Over the last week or so, I noticed something peculiar.
When I was getting off the elevator, the pupils of the person in front of me constricted – I tend to look straight into people’s eyes. A constriction like that is generally of anger, disgust — you know, those bad emotions.
It dawned on me that they were simply not expecting someone to come out of the magic room they use to go to other floors, and that when they stood right in front of the elevator and expected to walk right in as if they were the only ones on the planet, seeing someone like me waiting to get off at the very boundary of the door was disconcerting.
Which is why many normal human beings I know don’t linger right in front of the elevator, instead staying back to allow people to exit.
And that made me wonder if my pupils constrict when I see someone in front of the elevator when I’m about to get off because I’m irritated at people who crowd elevator doors.
All of this from some constricted pupils, which could also be caused by my silhouette against the elevator lights.
It’s been a pretty good year for me, in that the culmination of years – decades – of effort came to fruition. The downside was the loss of my mother, and having to miss her funeral because of foreign exchange issues.
Overall, it has been a year of personal growth and introspection. Unfettered from an old life, I entered a new one toward the middle of the year and haven’t looked back much – until I decided to write this, and in doing so have found that I’ve made great strides over the last months. That’s good.
I’ve been writing more and publishing less – I’m saving the majority of the writing ‘for the ring’ – it has been a fight of sorts to get into that habit, and I hope to be done with a book before the end of next year if only to say that I did publish something else again, and that this time it isn’t a piece of tech writing that will be outdated by Moore’s Law and how fast the world accelerates it’s change.
Imagine seeing books written about the Mayan Apocalypse that we somehow all survived in 2012 on bookshelves in 2018. I wonder how it ends?
Or seeing a Windows Vista book in 2018 in the discount bin – a faint hope that someone who lacks anything resembling computer literacy will think it’s a good deal when, even at a discounted price, it’s an overpriced doorstop.
It’s particularly interesting to walk into bookstores in Trinidad and Tobago, places where dated material simply will not die, laying around as if someone might find spare parts from them useful for something more than a few paragraphs in a blog post.
The world is accelerating. People get information faster than the government bureaucracies can react. In a way it can be depressing, in another way it can be exhilarating – and what usually happens is that both ways are happening at the same time. It’s exhausting, really, new technologies come out as fast as the last one is profited from by the companies using them even before the elder technologies have had a time to mature. Ubiquitous cameras attached to what used to be ‘phones’ spam our world with so much information that we need systems in place that we can trust to assure we’re getting trustworthy news.
That hasn’t happened quite yet. In their quest for survival, elder media has dropped everything to become more fast than the bloggers, and have become just as bad at being trustworthy as some of those bloggers. People don’t want news as much as they want something that they can agree with in a world that so many seem to find disagreeable.
I don’t know what to think about that. I don’t know what to think about a lot of things – which, of course, doesn’t stop me from considering them. I’m just wise enough not to have as many opinions anymore, and wear the phrases, “I don’t know”, and, “I’m not sure” like raincoats on days of uncertain weather.
And these days of uncertainty mark our future – no one is exactly sure what’s going on because of the amount of noise in mankind’s communication. Where once there had to be a basis in fact to be accepted, now it’s the tyrannies of different mobs fighting it out in our social media feeds, combined with people who unfortunately write as clearly as they think and infect other low literates with bad ideas. Heaven forbid they have good ones and learn how to communicate them properly – but in the race to impress fastest, we’re attempting to get better at communicating through ochlocracy parading as democracy, a holdover from the unanswered questions related to ‘smart mobs’ where in fact the average IQ of a smart mob is not as high as Rheingold would have had people think. But hey, he took a lot of pictures with his hat and sold a lot of books without having to worry too much about things – a true factor of ochlocracy.
I digress. That’s all been part of 2018, where figureheads are blamed for the sins of the masses when in fact they are only symptoms. The reality is that we have these specialized systems that are smarter than the implementations of democracy. Some of the most intolerable ideas to leap from the tongues of the most intolerant – who, of course, are intolerant of intolerance and find nothing wrong with that logic.
And while I’m writing about intolerance, for regular blogging the new editor and layout with blocks for WordPress.com is intolerable. I imagine for a photo blog it might be worthwhile.
My word, people-who-call-themselves-developers-or-engineers – you ain’t a developer or engineer if you don’t document things and keep that documentation up to date.
So, I’m fiddling around with some natural language processing, machine learning and the Anki Vector SDK Alpha. These are not particularly lucrative things to do in that large corporations with R&D budgets larger than the GDP of entire nations are doing just about everything but shaving with Ockham’s Razor.
I just really like playing with information and understanding how it interacts in this day and age, as well as how we interact with it – and how it affects us as individuals and society.
I recently was called disrespectful because someone in Trinidad and Tobago was posting the raw number of murders in Trinidad and Tobago, which by itself shows an increase, but doesn’t actually related to anything such as – as I pointed out – population size. With an estimated population of 1.2-1.5 million, 500 murders in a year is 0.0416% to 0.0333%.
So, actually knowing the population size has an effect on how that percentage looks – and while people are claiming that census data is available, I have yet to meet someone in Trinidad and Tobago who has been counted in a true census. This means that all the planning data for Trinidad and Tobago is based off of extrapolated data – and when people are talking about the number of murders versus the per capita percentage of murders, it demonstrates that there’s just no real data.
None of this really affects the media and society as much as simply repeating a falsehood until it is accepted as a truth, but it’s worth exploring because falsehoods that are better tolerated have some truth in them – for example, a raw number of murders – but lack a context (such as population size).
For those of us that think, the world has become a busy place if we pay attention. What I’d like my coding to actually do is help me avoid having to do all that thinking and processing of information when I look at the world – which, of course, is subject to the interpretation of the coding, which is subject to my biases, which is subject to how I am influenced by information, which… goes around in a circle.
But it, like other things, keeps me out of trouble, as I managed to do in 2018. We’ll see how 2019 goes.