Coding Skill and Leadership

If you’re familiar with the Dos Equis commercials featuring “The Most Interesting Man in the World” then you’ll get a laugh out of this one. I know that I did.

The one above is a common “sin” when it comes to hiring and growing a technology-centric business because many mistake the best software engineer (or the first) to have the same qualities as a leader they need to run the organization. This isn’t always the case.

In fact, it is more often true that the best software developer you have will be unable to be the best CTO that you want or need. The talent pools don’t often connect together when you have coding skills and senior leadership. Again, it’s not that it’s impossible it’s just that it’s very unlikely.

Not only characteristically but also pragmatically a CTO’s responsibilities as well as the other founders extend deep into the leadership from nearly every angle: Budgeting, coaching, hiring, and business development as well as touching all of the rest of the business units like manufacturing, supply chain, marketing, PR, and even sales and legal at times (if you’re offering a product that requires these). Your core engineer will not have the interest nor the capabilities to perform their role as chief architect as well as the corporate IT leader.

And it’s really on the former part that’s the most important – these people are super talented and they can function in a variety of different roles, but they won’t enjoy it – so don’t put them in roles that will ultimately make them unhappy (and unproductive).

I know this from personal experience on a few of my previous ventures. I was the “first” guy to the party and have built a ton of MVPs and initial prototypes. I enjoy that challenge and the process of launching.

But do I need to stay in that role for the rest of the business’ existence? No way. I would much rather build a strong team around the product and help coach and lead that team to success. In fact, the times where I’ve held too tightly to the product the ultimate result was a poorer execution on the product.

On the flip-side I’ve seen that when I release my proverbial grip on the product and find a team to make it even better then the result is just that: Much, much better.

I’m a more valuable asset to the team as their leader and coach. This role has been given the title of CTO, CEO, Founder, or whatever (I’m not fond of any of those, by the way) but it’s about my role in the context of the team that matters the most.

One should never confuse coding ability with leadership (although there’s a lot of leadership going on anyway). This is applicable to not just coding but many other skills for that  matter.