Lead to succeed?


There have been a few blogposts recently about what it means to be a leader — Andrew, Kit, Janet and others have contributed and they have all been interesting and helpful. There was also a great article about Tony Ageh, who despite the fact I have never met him has long been what I considered the definition of a leader in this corner of the ‘internet of public service’. Like I wrote elsewhere Tony Ageh is who I want to be when (if) I grow up.

All that said though it was a blogpost from Terence titled ‘You don’t have to lead in order to succeed’ that actually spurred me to write something.

Terence was writing about the pressure on technical people (in this case initiated by the case of a woman he is mentoring) to move into more manager rather than maker roles if they want to progress. I’ve certainly seen evidence of this over the years but other people are better placed to comment. It just got me thinking about my own circumstances.

I’ve written before about my preference for being more ‘boot room than board room’ and I’ve certainly been vocal at times about my lack of desire to become more senior. I’m not a particularly ambitious person from a personal point of view.

That said the successful launch of the new ONS website feels like a bit of a career milestone (lets put aside the fact that it brought me to my knees at the end) and I doubt I’ll ever be lucky enough again to run such a high profile project with as much independence. I worry that anything I do again as a product manager is likely to feel a little bit of an anti-climax. More than that though I think a lot of the lessons I learned are bigger than an individual product or service and to do them justice I’d need to influence on a larger stage than I’ve really been willing to put myself forward for to date.

While I’m not ambitious from the sense of just climbing the corporate (well civil service) ladder I guess my ambitions are still pretty significant — I want to influence the place I work (wherever that might be) to make the most of this internet age. Like Mr Ageh said in that article;

“..(you) have to shape this challenge, the internet, before it shapes you. People do well that run towards the problem, not away from it.”

So do I have to bite the bullet and start making the changes that will at least start opening up the opportunities for me to influence at a higher level? I find just the thought of this a bit scary and I already feel a bit lost sometimes at the moment being as far away from the day-to-day of keeping the (product) lights on as my role sometimes takes me.

I’m hardly a maker like Terence though — I am very much the model of a modern product manager already and pretending otherwise is pointless. So as a manager who lives and breathes this world of digital opportunity do I have some responsibility to all those makers in the organisation and beyond to get to the point where I can have the most influence possible so in turn I can provide the most support and cover to them to do the real work? Servant leadership but at scale?

Anyway lots to think about — advice gratefully received 🙂

I’ll leave the final words to Tony Ageh and I guess I’d like to be able to say the following about myself and another organisation with a three letter acronym as its better known identifier →

“I was good for the BBC because I was so unlike them, and didn’t want to be like them.