Han Schaminee

Han Schaminee is general manager Navigation and Automation at Wärtsilä Voyage.

13 October 2021

Having returned to a management position recently, Han Schaminee ponders what can kind of leader he wants to be.

Many times, I’ve used this column to discuss the impact of leadership in product development and argued that leadership is key for Agile implementation. I gave many examples of how managers unconsciously lowered productivity and predictability by applying traditional predictive leadership practices. After four years working as a consultant and advising leaders on how to manage technology organizations, I’ve recently again assumed responsibility for a large company with around 500 people and substantial revenue. So, this is a good moment for me to lay out what kind of manager I want to be.

I don’t want to be a manager who denies intrinsic uncertainty in the many things we do. Such a manager delegates uncertainty to low levels in the organization, to people who have no tools to manage that uncertainty and thus can only lower quality or introduce buffers. Nor do I want to be a manager who just assumes that as these people are professionals, uncertainty shouldn’t exist for them.

I don’t want to be one of those managers who believe that people will only work hard if you push them to commit to highly ambitious targets and bash them if they don’t achieve them. I don’t want to be a manager who only checks if people do what they promise, having little understanding of what they really do and only assess their performance based on their predictability. I don’t want to be that manager who focuses on ‘continuous improvement,’ ie a leader who focuses more on things that go wrong than on what works out well.

I also don’t want to be that manager maintaining a huge dashboard, suggesting everything is under control. On the other hand, I also don’t want to be a distant leader, who leaves all responsibility to the team and limits his role to setting the right conditions but doesn’t feel the daily pain of the team – a style of leadership sometimes referred to as servant leadership.

I want to be a manager who enables people and teams to make their own decisions by building their competencies and providing the required information. I want to be the manager who gives energy to the people by giving them the opportunity to be successful, like great conductors of orchestras, rather than take their energy by trying to be smarter and take the credits myself.

I want to be a manager who doesn’t require extensive reporting. I only require the information I need to coach and support people, or coordinate between teams, or make decisions that can’t be made by the teams. I want to be the manager who got that well-paid job because he has the competence to find solutions in ill-defined contexts rather than because he can be held accountable for difficult results.

I want to be a manager who’s trusted because of his integrity, as we know leadership integrity is a key factor in people feeling safe – safe to make mistakes, safe to take risks and safe to deal with uncertainty. I want to be a manager who understands that you’ll only be happy when you make other people happy.

All this is easier said than done, of course. It’s so much easier for a consultant to explain the theory than to practice it every day. It’s not easy to be the manager you want to be when you’re overwhelmed by deadlines and issues for which you don’t see solutions right away. Often, in hindsight, you regret the way you approached things, but you can’t easily admit it, since managers aren’t supposed to make mistakes.

Maybe I should be a bit humbler and try very hard to just be part of the team, the one who happens to represent the team to the outside world, the one who happens to coordinate activities between teams and to foster relations and collaboration, and the one who happens to have a role to share his experience and the many mistakes he made with anybody in the team. Maybe I just should try to be somebody who can inspire peers because he truly respects each team member, who is working equally hard as me to achieve the company’s goals.

So, be part of the team with a specific role rather than a well-paid supervisor who needs another success on his CV. I guess that’s what people mean by host leadership?