Tech has a standard set of aspirational leadership profiles that are part of the growing-a-business dialogue. However, that set is missing a number of common, less aspirational personas. These people may have helped the business through a critical stage, but the business has grown past them - their time has passed. We’ll talk about diagnosing this condition so that you can more effectively take action.
Sometimes someone brings in the bruiser when things are all messed up. People are angry, maybe a previous leader bungled things; things are in shambles. The bruiser comes in like a bull, parting ways with people who don’t work with the new direction, bringing in new lieutenants, and generally furrowing their brow at every opportunity.
It’s highly debatable whether bruisers are ever really appropriate to bring in, but as flawed as they might be, some bruisers do a very good job of getting to a new normal. One problem, however, is what happens next.
When a bruiser looks at the new team they’ve assembled they usually have no idea what to do. They’ve earned their stripes cleaning up messes and now they’re trying to build something. This is not what they do.
That same brow-furrowing energy that helped them clean up a mess is a nightmare for proactive, empathetic, and collaborative work. When things go wrong, the bruiser furrows their brow and blames everyone but themselves. They say they need stronger lieutenants. Nothing is ever their fault.
Bruisers fight when there’s a fight that needs fighting. If you find yourself managing a bruiser without a fight, you likely have to part ways.
Essential, Early, Angry Person
The Essential, Early, Angry Person (EEAP) joined when your company was little more than two popsicle sticks held together with masking tape. They lived through a rapid growth phase, they saw everyone’s warts, they were mismanaged, they were asked to do too many jobs at once.
They were extremely powerful and essential. And they knew it. They went into HeroMode a number of times (though they might have created some of those crises). They viewed themselves as better than everyone, and from an impact perspective, they might have been right at one point. They treated people poorly.
They were extremely powerful and essential. Then they became less powerful and less essential.
The company grew past them. Their peers grew past them. They become angry about this reality. They blame the company. The chip they got on their shoulder in the war-days never left. It’s become apparent that the stuff it takes to work collaboratively in a larger company is not the stuff that they’re great at. However, they likely still are responsible for a pretty non-trivial set of things.
If you find yourself managing an EEAP, you likely need to scope down their role. EEAPs often find themselves at the nexus of too-much-responsibility and blaming-others-when-things-go-wrong. Downscoping thier role will put them in a position of success if they choose to take it.
The 0.5-to-1 Leader
The 0.5-to-1 Leader comes in to create something almost from scratch. They’re not the first head-of-X person you’ve had, but they’re the person that makes your team start to actually look like an industry-standard operating machine.
It’s the VP of Engineering who comes in and implements Scrum and cross-functional teams. Or It’s the VP of Support who comes in and starts tracking industry standard KPIs and using industry standard tools.
Whatever they’re doing, they’re bringing in some standard practice - a very-blogged-about, very-standard practice. They might have seen it at their previous company. They might have implemented it before. In any case, they come in and make the amorphous blob you called a team into an legitimate function.
On the other side of that transformation, they unfortunately have no idea what to do next. Outside the realm of standard transformations, blog post management, or copy-paste org changes, they’re likely to whiff.
The .5-to-1 Leader is the wildcard of this trio. They might have the stuff it takes to uplevel. They might be in over their head. The biggest thing to do is understand that they’ve run out of playbooks and need to work with you on building new ones for the next phase of growth.