Leadership

The 10 most dangerous species of IT team leader


After yet more research into the various species that inhabit this working world of ours, I return with a new set of taxonomic classifications. This time, we concern ourselves with the team leader, in all his or her many guises. As ever, there are many competent and sociable team leaders in IT departments; but they don't make for great storytelling. Picking the worst and most dangerous types can help us recognize the signs and maybe even glean a little entertainment from them.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: Dux Timeris

Fearful Leader

This team leader was persuaded to take the leadership job for two reasons: First, the powers that be decided that there should be a team leader so they could devolve some of their duties to someone who can't answer back. They picked the least confident team member and tailored the promotion process to ensure that the correct candidate was appointed.

Second, this person was the last to get through the door when the call for volunteers went out. He may have been trampled underfoot in the rush and was slightly concussed when the job offer was made.

Now that this new leader is hooked, he's too timid to ask to be re-graded and spends a lot of his free time worrying about the job. This is completely unfair, as this type is usually a good person trying to do a good job.

Favourite saying: "Can somebody help me please? Anybody?"

#2: Dux Fulvus Nasus

I will leave you to translate the Latin for yourself

This leader does not think for himself but hangs on every word passed down to him from on high. If the boss told him that the sun was inhabited by pixies he would send Christmas cards to them.

He cannot believe what he is hearing when somebody on the team disagrees with a management decision; more worryingly, every critical word uttered within his earshot is reported back directly. Once aware of this, a team can make good use of it for propaganda purposes.

Consider the day of the Christmas party, for instance, when our help desk team was told that it was not permitted to attend. We weren't expecting any calls, as virtually the whole company was at the bash. We decided, within the hearing of the Dux FN, that we would wait for the party to start and then go home. An hour later, our invite to the party had arrived, with an instruction to switch the phones over to voicemail.

Favourite saying: "I was talking to the boss this morning. Wonderful man!"

#3: Dux Magnifica

The Paragon of all the Virtues

This person is under the misapprehension that he has arrived, that he or she is "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Yes, this jerk is full of himself. You would think he had just been appointed World President instead of a glorified tea boy. He took to wearing a pin-striped suit on appointment to the position.

He refers to the senior directors of the company as his colleagues or "fellow members of the management team." He is not a tattle-tale. The views of those under him are far too inconsequential to be listened to, much less acted upon.

Favourite saying: "Follow me lads; I know what I am doing!"

#4: Dux Trogloditica

Cave Man

This leader is a technical expert who lives, eats, and breathes computers. He leaves the office at the end of the day and goes home to a techno cave where he spends his off-duty hours making his stock of computers, one that NASA would be proud to own, do things that they were never deigned to do.

When he is not thus engaged, he attends conventions dressed as his favourite character from a variety of science fiction films. D Trog is the first person to talk to about a technical problem and the last person to ask about any leadership or personal hygiene issue.

Favourite saying: "I think you'll find that James T. Kirk never said, ‘Beam me up Scotty.' The nearest he got was, ‘Scotty beam me up!'"

#5: Dux Dictatorialis

The Dictator

You can say what you like about Dux Dictatorialis, but under him all the calls were logged on time. He (and it usually is a he) is an obnoxious person who can't understand that people have a life outside of work and wants the world to know that HE is in charge. People who disagree with him usually disappear and are never seen again, although a trip to the media library or any other dark and dusty storage facility may give a clue as to their fate.

The worst thing about any dictatorship is that the weaker members of the team find themselves siding with the bully and become bullies themselves. Fortunately, this species is becoming rare in the wild, as there are many predators and few allies.

Favourite saying: "Come on, get with the program!"

#6: Dux Nihilistica

Leader of Nothing and Nobody

D Nihilistica is an unhappy and lonely leader. He was made team leader, but the snag is that his team consists of just one person: himself. He has been doing the same job for a number of years and generally speaking, he does a pretty good job. A year ago, he was surfing a recruitment Web site and was spotted by his boss. They don't want to lose him, as they would have great trouble in replacing him, especially at the paltry salary they currently offer.

Luckily, they persuaded him to stay by awarding him an upgrade in his status, a move that cost nothing.

Favourite saying: He doesn't have one; there's nobody to talk to.

#7: Dux Amicus Bonissimus

The Best Mate

The Best Mate wants to please everybody all the time. Nobody ever explained the impossibility of this, so he continues trying, even though experience should tell him that he's on a hiding to nothing. These leaders are known to go home at night wondering why everybody hates them. This is not true. We don't hate them, we worry about them. In the futile commotion of trying to be all things to all people, they are in dire peril of going quietly mad.

Promotion is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. When you are pleasing the bosses, you will upset the team. Stick up for the team and the bosses will blame you for not communicating their message properly.

Favourite saying: "Why does everybody hate me?"

#8: Dux Reluctantis

The Reluctant Leader

The team had functioned well for a number of years, but there was a review and the question was asked, "Who is the team leader?" The answer was not what the big boss wanted to hear.

"You must have a team leader on every team." End of discussion.

People were invited to apply for the post, but nobody was keen. It was clear that the team dynamic was at risk and nobody wanted to rock the boat. Eventually, a person was picked, interviewed, and appointed. Even when the inevitable interview question was asked: "Why do you want this job?" the answer, "I don't really want it," was not enough to put them off.

Sometimes, a D. Reluctantis is appointed because HR feels he needs a challenge to reveal his full potential.

Favourite saying: "If that's okay with you..."

#9: Dux Minoris

The Lesser Leader

This team leader is perfectly illustrated by Simon Travaglia's Pimply Faced Youth (PFY) in his celebrated BOFH series of comic IT spoofs.

He is keen but has been led astray by a scheming and manipulative section manager. He is drawn into the various scams and schemes to do down the bean counters and is not above using the Argon-based fire systems to discretely dispose of those who stand in the way.

In reality, this character is easily diverted from his true path and finds himself in a tight corner when the schemes inevitably go wrong. He is great fun to work for, but you should always make sure that you take the key to the server room door with you if you enter alone.

Favourite saying: "Illegitimi non carborundum..." and he has the T-shirt to prove it.

#10. Dux Severus

The Serious Team Leader

When some members of the team get promoted it goes to their heads.

Gone is the sociable, easy-going friend you worked with and out comes the martinet. The person who used to take 30-minute bathroom breaks suddenly starts to time your breaks and make scathing comments when you take more than four minutes. Having an upset stomach is no excuse because he knows that the loo break is often used as an unofficial break and an opportunity to catch up on office gossip with help desk colleagues.

Favourite saying: "We run a tight ship here."

This typifies the arrogance of the breed. Adopting the "Royal We" is always a sign that things are going to the bad.

32 comments
dporter
dporter

Well they nailed the 10 dangerous ones - Now can the author please point out the 1 non dangerous IT Leader? Being a leader of an IT group is a thankless job. You have to deal with the various troglodytes that never want change. You have the thankless job of justifying every penny spent. You have junior IT'ers who only want the latest gadgets for "coolness" factor, but fail to implement what they have already. You have IT staff that can't communicate beyond text messaging, and only can speak a sentence with a minimum of 10-20 'ummm's. Then you have the old silo's of information which horde all the knowledge in there head, but will never document one iota of a system config. The list goes on, and on and on.... The fallacy here is there is no perfect Boss or Employee. If you can get your staff to accomplish the baseline goals of stability, predictability, scalablity,and standards consider yourself to be part of the elite IT leaders. But if you walk into your data-center and it looks like a spaghetti factory, or you can barely keep a 80%-90% availability to your systems, and the corporate groups all hate IT...you have my sympathies. As a consultant I see this more times that I care to count. Is it fixable yes, is it an easy process - No. It is painful for all involved, some by staying some by going. I have always seem the abbreviation of IT to be "I" am responsible and accountable, yet I am part of a "T" team and must work my team be the best.

stanley.garner7
stanley.garner7

As a retired manager whos was considered radicle in my time for holding staff meetings and against the trend at the time,engaging all my staf in the job at hand,I had a staff of some 25 people men women.Our peformance was always excellent we hit targets and achieved our goals as a team.It worked as felt sure it would.My grandson has just been "made up"and I was so saddened to hear him giving me his attitude to management He is without doubt one of the above.What a shame it was this out of date attitude that cost this country dearly in the past.I thought this way of thinking was killed off years ago.Like the clas system it still survives ...shame Great article and so true

blacksmith
blacksmith

You forgot the political appointee who can barely spell "PC", but has not yet managed to spell "computer" correctly. This is pretty much the same species as family member hired by the boss in a non-government organization.

bigbigboss
bigbigboss

You missed a few: 1. Mr. Know it all (NOT) This person does not know what he dosn't know. He/she reads the trade rags and thought he is the ultimate technical genius, and master of all sciences. Unconstrained now as a leader, he decided he can make all the important, crucial and earth shaking technical decisions while knowing nothing about the business nor what he/she was about to unleash. And, being the only one who knows anything in town, he decided that he should not listen to anyone else about what's the problem with his decision. 2. Idea thief This person knows a bit about what he doesn't know, but has to pretend otherwise. He is a good listener to your ideas. Take them and make it their own, and come back to ridicule you for not coming up with the idea. 3. Mafia in the office This person has his own favourite gang around himself and plays favoritism to the nth degree. Only golf buddies need apply. 4. Cold fish This person doesn't care about whether his staff have the tools, time, skills, the wherewithall to do their assignment, especial staff and time. He just assigns tasks and expects it to be done, on time, with no budget. What's worse, when confronted, he would make it your "skill improvement objective", or brush it off as "challenge of the job". You need to be able to walk on water to work for this guy. 5 the micromanager This person wants to oversee everything in every details. You spend 10 folds of time telling him what, how, where, when and why things are done than to do the job.

Shails
Shails

Great, that made me understand. what I am doing wrong as a lead. Appriciate your efforts

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

When you're done put my name on it.

jgaskell
jgaskell

1. Those that use "hilarious" faux-Latin names for items in their top 10 list. 2. Those that use "hilarious" faux-Latin names for items in their top 10 list. 3. Those that use "hilarious" faux-Latin names for items in their top 10 list. 4. Those that use "hilarious" faux-Latin names for items in their top 10 list. 5. Those that use "hilarious" faux-Latin names for items in their top 10 list. 6. Those that use "hilarious" faux-Latin names for items in their top 10 list. 7. Those that use "hilarious" faux-Latin names for items in their top 10 list. 8. Those that use "hilarious" faux-Latin names for items in their top 10 list. 9. Those that use "hilarious" faux-Latin names for items in their top 10 list. 10. Those that use "hilarious" faux-Latin names for items in their top 10 list.

stan
stan

I had the misfortune to work for one more type, who was promoted only on the basis of seniority. That type feels threatened by anyone who knows more than he does. And its hard to find anyone who knows less. And that type knows he has been promoted far beyond his ability and will hang onto his job as if his life depended on it, knowing he will never be able to get another job at that level.

Rhonda L
Rhonda L

Jody, I find your writings very interesting and thanks for sharing. In regards to your #4: Dux Trogloditica, I am part of an IT group which provides technical service to NASA. I am curious have ever worked for NASA? Perhaps I am considering not sending out any more referring links from Tech Republic to my coworkers. Another question about #4, did you mean to use the word deigned in this sentence? Thanks

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

I worked for a company that had a Dux Dictatorialis of legendary proportion in one of their offices. Even people that worked thousands of miles away heard of him and feared him, until one fateful morning. At 3:00 AM he went looking for someone that had flown-in from the east coast only to find that the person had called it a day at 11:00 PM and went to a hotel to catch some sleep. Dux Dictatorialis flew into a rage, that the person had the gall to leave without his permission and to waste the company???s money on something as useless as a hotel room. Dux Dictatorialis found-out the slacker???s hotel and the room number, drove there and kicked-in the door screaming. Of course, hotels being what they are called the police, who asked the slacker if, he knew who Dux Dictatorialis was? The response, ???I???ve never seen him before in my life???, made him an instant hero to anyone who ever even heard of Dux Dictatorialis. The next morning, before Dux Dictatorialis made bail, he flew home a much happier man. As for Dux Dictatorialis, he was dismissed when word of his nocturnal exploits, in the form of newspaper columns and hotel repair bills, reached upper management.

Absolutely
Absolutely

should be: [i]He leaves the office at the end of the day and goes home to a techno cave where he spends his off-duty hours making his stock of computers, one that NASA would be proud to own, do things that they were never de[u]s[/u]igned to do.[/i] Favorite line: [i]Even when the inevitable interview question was asked: "Why do you want this job?" the answer, "I don???t really want it," was not enough to put them off.[/i] Least favorite: [i]"We run a tight ship here." This typifies the arrogance of the breed. Adopting the "Royal We" is always a sign that things are going to the bad.[/i] Generally, the "Royal We" indicates somebody with a healthy sense of humor about their authority, especially its limits. The saying about running a tight ship would look arrogant to me only if stated as "[u]I[/u] run a tight ship," as if the rest of the team are just jibs & things to be battened down.

sonicsteve
sonicsteve

A follow up for "The 10 most dangerous species of IT team leader" needs to the be "The 10 best qualities of IT leadership." It is very hard to work towards improvement when you focus on the the negative. Having said that I would never steer anyone away from some healthy introspection. After a while though you need to focus on what you need to become not what you are trying to avoid. If you recognize some bad qualities about yourself don't believe the lie that "an old dog can't learn new tricks". After all were not DOGS! At this point I'm too new to the role of IT leader to begin to pidgin-hole myself. I'm the sole IT worker in the school, I do have a team though, that being at times the students, and some of the teachers. I'm still growing into the role as it is quite new to me.

yechuri
yechuri

Hi Porter, I find your comment to be most practical offering a different perspective.. especially your definition of IT is very nice indeed!!

romieship
romieship

It has been my experience that those who want to be promoted to lead\supervisory\managerial positions the most are precisely those that should never hold those positions. Once they do acheive a promotion they tend to become so inflexible for fear of looking bad that they end up alienating those whose cooperation they are supposed to be getting as well as being such obvious suckups to those they report to that their higher ups lose respect for them too!

Absolutely
Absolutely

You used "faux-Latin" 10 times, hilarious!

kingttx
kingttx

Isn't it funny how people who work hard seem to always get stuck where they are, yet people who are blatantly incompetent seem to rise through the ranks with the greatest of ease? Well, it's possible we notice those rare cases and think they are the norm, but still... It's also possible those "incompetent" ones are better at shmoozing than working, and that may actually work better for them in a leadership position. Ironic, isn't it?

sonicsteve
sonicsteve

I can't believe that there can actually be people like this who hold managerial/leadership positions. (I say that tongue in check of course) Companies need to wake up and realize that people who can take charge aren't always leaders. Sometimes they're just obnoxious. True leaders are few, but we can't just hire some warm body who seems to fit the bill. Leadership roles are the most important roles to hire properly for.

mike21152
mike21152

Some years ago, in the 90's I happened on a fascinating tape on a local cable channel. It was a seminar lecture given by a HR consultant who demonstrated personality traits of various worker types. Sometimes, the "dictator" type is someone who had previously been bullied by a dictator, and now this person is being their previous TL without realizing it, acting out their revenge fantasies. Passive/aggresiveness in its purest form...

ChallengerTech
ChallengerTech

You completely forgot about the affirmative action trend of promoting females to team leader solely based on their gender or their race. And I'm not even going to mention if they have "extracurricular" activities with management before getting promoted. Good article, but it seemed a bit gender "biased".

Absolutely
Absolutely

I think those were meant as jokes, mostly.

ANARCHYMM
ANARCHYMM

the dream came true: Anyone can become President

stan
stan

The individual promoted to Group Leader and then (a few months later) to Department Head had only one major duty. He was in charge of keeping a list of IP addresses in use on the internal network, and insisted everyone get his approval before using any other IP address. This left him with lots of time, so he attended every possible meeting where anyone above him was attending. That made him very visible. Everyone else had actual work to do, and didn't have time to attend endless meetings.

lucien86
lucien86

We forget is that it is only thirty or forty years ago that managers like this were almost the norm and not the exception. The worst ones by far were those who used physical threats or violence as a FIRST resort. - Do that once almost anywhere now and you get sacked instantly. --- In reality a lot of the old-school 'dictators' were really ex-soldiers - people like Sargent majors, often with huge chips on their shoulders. They were part of a corperate philosophy thats gone forever. (Thank the PC Gods.)

Absolutely
Absolutely

"You can say what you like about Dux Dictatorialis, but under him all the calls were logged on time. He (and it usually is a he) is an obnoxious person who can?t understand that people have a life outside of work and wants the world to know that HE is in charge." If he's never seen a woman on a power trip, he's never spent much time with women.

sonicsteve
sonicsteve

But it has many elements of truth. I've met many of these types of people. I agree that some of the people types were funny, and yes meant to sound funny, though they were based on real leadership styles. Humour is often the best way to deliver a hard message. Yet under the joking and laughter there are lessons to be learned.

Fuglbon
Fuglbon

Those that would best benefit from reading these "quips" would never see themselves as any of these anyway. This kind of humor is more of a "YES! Someone out there sees what I see" and is an affirmation and a release for the frustrated. I think the self-help section is in another place.

Absolutely
Absolutely

I've also noticed that many of the articles around here, especially about "soft skills," take the form of "how-not-to" manuals, and wondered why. A good reason I can think of for focusing on the negative, and on things that should be avoided rather assertions about how to "work towards improvement" as you put it, is that such statements tend to equal, or asymptotically approach, advice. And any advice, even generally sound advice, is likely to also be terrible advice in a few exceptional cases. It's safer to commiserate than to make broad recommendations, which may be totally inapplicable to one or more readers' specific situations. Lastly, it's my personal experience that those most eager to take advice are also those least inclined [or able, it's not always easy to tell which] to determine when a guideline is and isn't applicable. As a result, I would recommend giving as little advice as possible. ;-)

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