Over the last 15 years as a software professional, I can count on one hand the leaders that I have worked for and that I would work for again. There are four to be exact.
When I was at Eastman Kodak in New York, I worked for Mike Morba who was the VP of Business Development in the Digital Imaging Division. Mike was responsible for a $30 million budget for Kodaks Picture Center product. What made Mike a good leader? First, he knew everything about digital imaging, not only from a software development perspective, but also from a marketing perspective. He had keen insight into the marketplace and a hell of a vision for the product, which was way ahead of its time. Mike also knew what motivated people. It was quite simple really, he gave credit where credit was due. So when his team did a good job, he made sure people knew about it, not only in his 300 person team, but everyone else in Kodak. Mike was sincere and selfless in this respect. He knew he was the man, and so did everyone else at Kodak, but he did not have to advertise it or take credit for what his team did. A quality other prospective leaders should try and come to terms with, that is, if they can leave their egos behind.
Eastman Kodak was a huge company with over 40,000 employees. At the other end of the spectrum, I worked for Shawn Abbott in a small 10 person start-up company that was more of an advanced R&D shop than a products company. What made Shawn a good leader? Not only the attributes mentioned above of Mike Morba, but in addition, Shawn had a vision for his company and never gave up control of his start up, even when times were tough and venture capitalists were hovering around ready to dish out cash but in return wanted control. Shawns issue was what did these people have in the way of leadership other than cash? Shawn stayed the course and has done very well for sticking to his vision. I have a lot of respect for Shawn.
Steve Langley is another person I would work for again. Not only did Steve have the attributes of the people above, Steve was also an extremely focused individual and the first person I met in the software world that said no to ridiculous schedules. You see, Steve is one of the few people I know who was realistic as to what could be accomplished given the resources at hand. Steve is a 25 year veteran programmer who knew the value of less code was a good thing, so when the young guys would crank out tons of code, Steve could do the same thing, but much better, with far less code.
And the fourth person I would work for again? Myself. While I dont think of myself as a good leader, I did start my own software company (because I was frustrated working for leaderless companies, other than the ones previously mentioned) and tried to embody the attributes of Mike, Shawn and Steve for the people that worked for me. My company that I co-founded with Barry Varga was quite successful for a while. However, unlike Shawn, I faltered at the choice of taking cash and giving up control, and I found out the hard way that leadership does not necessarily come with cash. Lesson learned, and when I start up my next company, I wont make the same mistake twice.
Whats my point? Its still the Wild West in the software world where anybody can slap on a set of six guns and call themselves a leader. Real leaders are extremely hard to find, and in short supply, especially in the nebulous world of software. Even in the largest software company in the world, the question of leadership is (still) a hot topic with Mini-Microsoft. Think about the leader(s) in the software company you work for. Count your blessings if you work for a leader that embodies the attributes mentioned above. These are the types of individuals that know how to advance the industrialization of software.