The Solution Habit

A recent study indicated that IT professionals were three times more likely to disagree with their leadership than professionals in other indus­tries. Identifying a three-times-more-likely differ­ence of opinion seems a significant variance. I don’t know what detailed insights the study arrived at to account for this level of disagreeable­ness. Maybe the study considered IT folks as being more educated, more logical, and therefore more difficult?

Personally, I would suggest that any perceived disagreeableness is actually a natural result of the jobs these individuals have within the IT industry. The main function across most of IT is to solve prob­lems, so working through a problem and evaluating choices is really the job. Hence, in any given situation, it is only natural that those problem-solving skills are employed. An obvious next step is to compare a leader’s presented solution with their own internally derived solution. And in that comparison, if the two options are at odds with each other, disagreements may arise, and when they do, silence in IT is often a poor tactic. Therefore, again, based on the very nature of the job, raised voices should be anticipated if not expected.

While not always the case, there are times when business leadership may choose political expe­dience over fact. Instances may arise where even an obvious failure might be heralded as a success. When organizational leaders present non-solu­tions or sidestep issues—which are occasional functions of leadership—then clearly, how can the IT staff help but disagree with a sub-optimal approach or answer? IT personnel, at times, may even be vocal about alternatives and potentially better options. IT is paid to present real solutions; fictions are not suffered well. And as these circum­stances arise, more often than not, the resulting out­come is generally viewed as a black eye in the stand­ing of the non-agreeable IT staff.

In a political world, there are many times when truth and reali­ties do not “count for points.” The idea of speaking truth to power sounds wonderful and significant, but outside of college protests back in the 1960s and 1970s, such efforts have little societal or orga­nizational impact. A successful IT leader knows when speaking up is not desired. However, for the rest of the IT staff, things will often be more chaotic. And based on the afore­mentioned survey, it may be that IT personnel feel this need to speak up three times more often than their peers in other industries.

Leaders who believe that their underlings must always agree with them should avoid seeking careers in IT. Especially if the individuals believe in politics over everything else, then IT is the road to heartbreak. It appears that, much more so than in other indus­tries, these trust-me-’cause-I-say-so leaders will hear disagreements with their selected choices or resolved decisions. Successful leaders hire good people, then trust them to do their jobs. These leaders are hiring the best and the brightest to do their best, not to sit quietly and simply do as they are told. Those good hires should be explaining the options to the leaders, rather than the other way around, thereby offering leadership a choice of possible decisions and the consequences of each. Leadership should be happy for fostering a cooperative arrangement.

Under such collaborative circumstances, even if disagreements are voiced, rather than awkward silences, a discussion can take place that offers transparency over options as well as reasons for selected paths. When leaders decide they know more than the people doing the work, and those differing opinions between these groups are at odds with each other, then happy results for all are less likely to be the outcome.