The Head of all Heads: When everyone becomes a leader — how do we build teams in the future?
This is the story of a software engineer. He progresses fast through the software engineering career ladder. After several years working in his field and many appraisals from his manager, he is faced with a tough choice:
As the salary for an engineer in the company cannot go above a certain limit, they can only offer to promote him to Head of. He takes the offer, but right after that the trouble starts. He will attend more meetings, as he must decide for the whole department now. He spends less time working on coding and more time on keeping up with the market. After several years, he’s more skilled in making calls than in being the expert needed to guide his team. End of story?
I know this scenario from personal experience and from my network. And I can assure you that it happens way too often. If you look at the engineer’s story, it’s about handing out a Head title only to justify a pay rise. This devalues both the position of the leader and that of the engineer since expertise is not valued if you‘re more efficient with your tasks. What I’d rather want to see though, is titles reflecting expertise, experience, and knowledge instead of salary level. Of course, we like to label things, so we can communicate more easily. I also expect certain things when I talk to a Head instead of a senior software engineer. I will approach the Head with management topics and the engineer with technical questions. But what if they never wanted to be in that position in the first place? If they can’t fill out the leadership role as in what is expected of it? As the surrealist painter Magritte declared: “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”–yes, appearances can be deceiving. But I’d rather have a company telling me that more expertise does not equal more money, than being forced into a role just to keep me.
My life is about living with ease and creative exploration. Therefore, I value my leadership title because it gives me possibilities to explore. This is why I’m also fast in dishing out titles. I do not care if you want to be called Head of if you carry the responsibility. If I have a technical question about some nitty gritty engineering topics, I will approach the senior engineer, not the team lead, whom I only contact about the project in general. This is what the title Head of does: it devalues expertise. For me a Head is only important to keep things running and to escalate issues. Titles therefore help me make everyday decisions.
From craftswoman to manager: If all people worked in the same quality, there would be no need for managers. That’s why I don’t care about your title if you keep up to agreements and responsibilities. For me this is just a tool to help companies justify unfair pay, which is a huge problem. If a person does a really good job, they are always worth their time. But to keep up the facade of equal pay, companies cannot give them a raise and instead they make them a Head to justify their salary to some higher ups. That’s an issue on its own since others have management expectations from a person with a certain title when the person sometimes probably only just wants to keep engineering. No interest and no skills for leading people. Still, they are being pushed into a role to work around a broken system.
I am not ashamed to say that I am a friend of unfair pay, if you’re paid according to the quality of your work. No need to come up with titles: you’re allowed to earn more than other people above you and that’s that.
“Ceci n’est pas une pipe” — all the other approaches are just for show.