Geeks, Wonks and Gurus – How NOT To Lead Them

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Whether your IT people are gurus, wonks or geeks, they’re very good at what they do. That’s why you hired them.

However, there are times when you may find leading them as difficult as herding cats. This could be due to different educational disciplines and backgrounds, different ways of looking at things or different ways of formulating solutions.

Whatever the reason, there are a variety of ways NOT to lead them.

Stepping up to address this issue is Alexander Kjerulf, speaker, consultant, author, and self-proclaimed Chief Happiness Officer. His clients have included, Hilton, Ikea, Shell, IBM and HP. As Kjerulf describes it, “I started out as a geek and later became a leader and an IT company founder so I’ve been lucky enough to have tried both camps.”  His tips for how NOT to lead geeks –

  • 1: “Downplay training – Training matters, especially in IT, and managers must realize that and budget for it. Sometimes you get the argument that ‘if I give them training a competitor will hire them away.’ That may be true, but the alternative is to only have employees who are too unskilled to work anywhere else.”
  • 2: “Plan too much overtime – Let’s wring the most work out of our geeks, they don’t have lives anyway,” seems to the approach of some managers. That’s a huge mistake and overworked geeks burn out or simply quit.”
  • 3: “Make decisions without consulting them – Geeks usually know the technical side of the business better than the manager, so making a technical decision without consulting them is the biggest mistake a leader can make.”
  • 4: “Don’t give them tools – A fast computer may cost more money than an older one and it may not be corporate standard, but geeks use computers differently. A slow computer lowers productivity and is a daily annoyance.”
  • 5: “Forget that geeks are creative workers – Programming is a creative process, not an industrial one. Geeks must constantly come up with solutions to new problems and rarely ever solve the same problem twice. Therefore they need leeway and flexibility. Strict dress codes and too much red tape kill all innovation. They also need creative surroundings to avoid ‘death by cubicle’.”

Kjerulf states that poor leadership in dealing with “geeks” can cause:

  • “Low motivation
  • High employee turnover
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Lower productivity
  • Lower quality
  • Bad service

Happy geeks are productive geeks, and the most important factor is good management, tailored to their situation.”

We’ve listed just five of the tips (in abbreviated form) used by Alexander Kjerulf . For all ten fully explained, see Kjerulf’s post on his website


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