5 Ways NOT to Lead Geeks

There are those select few out there who simply understand technology. Whether it’s a natural talent, or their own genuine curiosity, these individuals have become some of the greatest artists of our time. They have become fluent in the language of code, and with it they write beautiful poetry—shaping stanzas with new words that transform themselves into art in the form of user optimised web sites.

For others who may not speak the language (myself included), we tend to simply drool over their work as we scroll through our endless newsfeeds.

The fact is, these artists whom we have classified as “Geeks” are simply exercising on a different playing field that many of us do not understand. Yet, as the world becomes even more digital, companies need to incorporate these levels into their business plans in order to remain relevant. The problem is, managing these Geeks is very different from leading other white-collar workers. It is this mismanagement that can stifle the creativity of Geeks, leading to a neglected (and bored) IT department.

Alexander Kjerulf is currently the Chief Happiness Officer at Woohoo inc. He spends the majority of his time spreading the message of Happiness at Work around the world. One of his methods is to improve management by creating Happy Bosses that improve the work culture. But before Alexander made it his mission to make the world’s workplaces happy, he successfully co-founded a tech development company. He is proud to say that they created a happy workplace, and it was thanks to understanding how to manage IT Geeks.

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To learn more about happiness at work, follow Alexander on Facebook and Twitter.

Here are 5 current practices that Alexander has noticed that take the completely wrong approach to lead Geeks:

1. Do not give any recognition.

This is quite common for traditional corporations who are developing an IT department—and it’s understandable too. People who don’t understand IT have difficulty recognising whether or not a job is challenging, or if it has been done well or not.

However, what is not understandable is the common reaction of just not giving any recognition at all. Instead, work together with the IT team to establish a set of goals that everyone can understand. When these goals are completed, give the deserved praise. This will help motivation within the team.

2. do not give them the right tools

Remember that Geeks use technology different then other people do. You may be used to using a standard computer, but believing that the same equipment will be sufficient for them can cause unnecessary daily annoyances and low productivity for the IT team.

To put it in perspective, imagine giving Michelangelo a box of crayons and some scrap paper. Sure, he would probably give you some of the best pictures you’ve ever hung on your fridge—but give him full reign of a chapel’s ceiling and all the paints he desires, and you can change the world of art.

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Standard tech equipment may work just fine for most of us. But for a Geek whose work exists in tech, slower equipment can lead to frustration and limitations.

3. make decisions without consulting them

Chances are, Geeks know the technical aspects of a business better than a manager. Therefore, a manager making a technical decision without consulting with them, is one of the biggest mistakes he can make as a leader.

4. try to be smarter than the geeks

As I mentioned earlier, Geeks work on a different playing field with almost an entirely different language. It’s tough for many managers to admit when they are out of their comfort zone as it makes them feel that they are uninformed. But you wouldn’t try to teach Neil Armstrong what it feels like to walk on the moon? Why would you attempt to out-tech a Geek? Acknowledge that you may not be an expert on certain topics, and the Geeks will respect your honesty. They’ll likely try to teach you what they are trying to accomplish. This honesty and curiosity to learn will help form a mutual respect that can be crucial for your team.

5. Forget that geeks are creative

Programming is a creative process. Geeks are constantly creating visual imagery and functionality, all by writing in a language that most of us can’t fathom to understand. They need to be able to take time to be flexible and process ideas and executions in order to get the greatest results. If managers treat IT tasks as simple items on a to-do list that should be completed instantaneously, or a non-stimulating space, the creative atmosphere will be smothered. This leads to lethargy in the IT team, leading to diminished productivity and quality.

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Of course Alexander recognises that not all Geeks are the same, and some enjoy other forms of management than others. But based on his own history as a Geek, Alexander knows what the flaws in management were, and aims to educate Bosses everywhere to create happy workplaces around the globe.

This article was inspired by Alexander Kjerulf’s article “How Not to Lead Geeks”


Philip Trampe
2 Oct 2014

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