Achieve CM Excellence through People, Not Tools

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In her Personality Matters series, Leslie Sachs examines the personalities and people issues that are found in technology groups from cross-functional, high-performance teams to dysfunctional matrix organizations.

“Configuration management excellence” might conjure up images of efficient processes with fully automated procedures to build, package, and deploy applications, resulting in happy users enjoying new features on a regular basis. The fact is that continuous integration servers and great tools alone do not make CM excellence. The most important resources are the technology professionals on the team and the leader who guides the team towards excellence. That doesn't mean that everyone is (or can be) a top performer, even if you are blessed with working on a cross-functional team. However, understanding the factors that lead to excellence will enable you to assess and improve your own performance. A good place to start is to consider the traits commonly associated with leadership and achieving successful results. This article will help you understand what psychologists have learned regarding some of the essential qualities found among top leaders and others who consistently achieve excellence.

Software process improvement is all about identifying potential areas of improvement. Achieving excellence depends upon your ability to identify and improve upon your own behavior and effectiveness. It is well known that we are each born with specific personality traits and innate dispositional tendencies. However, it is an equally well-established fact that we can modify this endowment if we understand our own natural tendencies and then develop complementary behaviors.Personality

Let's start by considering some of the personality traits that help predict effective leadership. Psychologist Ralph M. Stogdill conducted one of the first studies on effective leadership. [1] His study identified a group of traits including intelligence, alertness, insight, responsibility, initiative, persistence, self-confidence, and sociability. It is not surprising that these specific traits are valuable for successful leaders and achieving excellence. Intelligence speaks to being alert for new opportunities and having insight into the deeper meaning of each situation and opportunity. Although general intelligence was, for a long time, considered by experts to be static , recent research suggests that it is possible to bolster one's genetic inheritance. Certainly one can consciously strive to develop the behavioral patterns closely associated with intelligence, such as attentiveness to detail, novelty, and thoughtful analysis of options.

You might want to ask yourself whether or not you are responsible, willing to take initiative, and able to show persistence when faced with difficult challenges. Displaying self-confidence and operating amiably within a social structure is essential as well. To improve your leadership qualities, often called a “leadership profile,”  you must actively demonstrate that you know how to apply these valuable traits to solve real workplace dilemmas. Upon reflection, you can see why CM excellence comes from CM professionals who are intelligent, alert, and insightful. Being responsible and social, showing initiative, being persistent, and having self-confidence are all desirable personality traits that lead to CM excellence.

Stogdill conducted a second survey in which he identified ten traits that are essential for effective leadership. This expanded cluster includes drive for responsibility, persistence in pursuit of goals, risk-taking and problem-solving capabilities, self-confidence, and a drive for taking initiative. In addition to these, Stogdill also discovered that people's ability to manage stress (frustration and delay) as well as their accountability for the consequences of their actions are both integral to leadership success. After all, intelligence, insight, and sharp analytic skills are not very useful if a manager is too stressed out to prioritize efficiently or authorize appropriate team members to implement essential programs. You need to be able to influence other people's behavior and to handle social interactions. Other noted psychologists have also studied leadership traits, and many have identified similar traits, as detailed in Introduction to Leadership Concepts and Practice. [2]

Jurgen Appelo lists fifty team virtues [3] that also correspond to many of the traits identified in Stogdill's studies. I discussed many of these same traits in the book that I coauthored with Bob Aiello. [4] You need to consider each of these traits—such as conscientiousness, agreeableness, and extraversion—and understand why they are essential to leadership and achieving success. Keep in mind that while people are born with natural tendencies, each person is capable of stretching beyond them if we understand our own personality and identify which behaviors are most likely to lead to the changes we desire. So, if you want to achieve greater success, consider reflecting upon your own behaviors and comparing your style with those traits that have been identified with good leaders and CM excellence. For example, being proactive in solving problems and having the self-confidence to take appropriate risks can help you achieve success. Also, remember that being social means that you must involve and interact with your entire team. Full-team participation maximizes the power of each member's strengths while minimizing the impact of individual weaknesses.

CM excellence depends upon the skilled people who handle the complex IT demands on a day-to-day basis. The most successful professionals are able to take stock of their personalities and consider the traits that experts regard as essential for effective leadership. If you can develop this self-awareness, you can achieve success by developing the behaviors that result in strong leadership and excellence in all that you do.

References

[1] Yukl, Gary, Leadership in Organizations, Prentice Hall, 1981, p. 237

[2] Northouse, Peter G., Introduction to Leadership Concepts and Practice Second Edition, SAGE Publications, Inc  2012, p. 17

[3] Appelo, Jurgen, Management 3.0 – Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. Addison-Wesley, 2011, p. 93

[4] Aiello, Robert and Leslie Sachs. Configuration Management Best Practices: Practical Methods that Work in the Real World. Addison-Wesley, 2010

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