How geek leaders lead

Glen, P. 2003. Leading Geeks. Jossey-Bass. (Ch. 12. How Geek Leaders Lead. p. 221-246).

They seek to harmonize the content and context of geekwork. They strive to build coherence among the environment, the work, the culture, and the approaches to geek work.

  • they bring coherence to the workplace and the stories they tell
  • they use themselves, their embodiments of the narrative, to verify the truth of their stories

Harmonizing context and content

Geekwork is anchored by its inherent ambiguity, its consistent uncertainty and its inconsistent fax.

The ultimate goal for leaders in this environment to fight against doubt and dissonance, to harmonize the content and context of geek leadership.

As sense-making animals, humans in general, and geeks in particular, have a strong need for order and consistency.

In managing ambiguity, geek leaders help to answer fundamental questions about I have environment, structure, and tasks; in harmonizing, they seek to align the disparate answers for internal coherence and completeness.

The tools of leadership: narrative and embodiments


Narratives speak to the deepest longings and often unspoken needs of humanity.

The narrative that leader a provides or adopts knit together the facts of an organization’s existence – and interpretation of its environment, purpose, identity, and strategy.

in its broadest sense to include more than myths, movies, fairy tales, and novels – to encompass almost any coherent simplification and representation of events, ideas, and characters. They include many other forms of sense making, such as models, theories, plans, and projections.


Leaders embody their stories when they display behavior that is consistent with and reinforces the messages of their narratives.

to embed their stories, leaders must not only act consistently with the values expressed their narratives, but must do so in an authentic rather than in a forced manner.

Subjects of narratives

includes stories about the following subjects:

  • the context of geek leadership
  • the content of geek leadership
  • leaders
  • geeks
  • past, present, and future
  • values

Functions of narrative in embodiment

Narrative, embodiment, and motivation

Motivation is particularly sensitive to issues of embodiment.inconsistency calls both the content of the leaders narrative and integrity of the leader into question, creating, at best, a distraction and, at worst, and mutiny.

Narrative, embodiment, and the representation

They also communicate the same information to outsiders.

If the narratives are compelling him only to geeks, the leader will have trouble establishing support, acquiring resources, and even getting attention from senior management.

Narrative, embodiment, and facilitation

narrative provides information to geeks about the internal structure of the group, the roles of leader and followers, and the values and culture that the group aspires to.

Powerful and compelling narratives reduce the need for internal facilitation. The more committed that individuals in the group are to the values and goals of the narrative, the lesser leader needs directives, he will be more likely viewed as a facilitator.

Narrative, embodiment, and ambiguity

Narrative is the tool for resolving ambiguity at all three levels of the hierarchy.

Vital narratives

Some are merely for entertainment and bonding, others provide some minor information but nothing crucial. Two narratives play a particularly prominent role in forging an effective organization:

  • the defining narrative
  • the leader’s vision for the future of the organization

Defining narrative
provides the conceptual and emotional foundation for establishing group identity. It usually consists of the history of the organization or group, combined with an interpretation of elements of the context of geek leadership.

Leader’s vision
build on the defining narrative and projects it out into the future. It describes both a view of the defining narrative of the group at some future time and the transformational path between the current state and future state.

Together they should:

  • define a high-level strategy for overcoming obstacles in achieving the future state
  • link geeks and geekwork with the future state
  • identify or imply organizational values
  • outline a quest worth pursuing

Evolution of narratives

It is not the sole province of leader.

in fact, not only are the creation, communication, and embodiment of compelling and comprehensive narratives not restricted to leaders, they are also an important route to achieving leadership status.

Building trust, respect, and unity: the effects of narrative and embodiment

If you start out to build trust and respect so that you can be an effective leader, you’re unlikely to get it. But if you set out to be an effective leader and consistently and authentically work to do so, trust and respect will follow, enabling you to be effective.

In geek groups, the essential trust and respect that leaders need cannot be sought but only granted.

Key ideas

  • geek leaders are most effective when they seek to harmonize the content and context of geek leadership
  • leaders have to key tools at their disposal to help harmonize content and context: narrative and embodiment
  • narrative are a geek leader’s primary way of communicating about the context and content of geek leadership
  • stories about content and context that are mutually consistent and compelling support leaders and fulfilling all of their responsibilities
  • two of the most important narratives that geek leaders develop and communicate are defining narrative, which helps describe and define identity and purpose, and vision, which projects the defining narrative into the future
  • geek leaders earn the respect of the geeks by telling compelling stories of coherent and consistent
  • geeky leaders earn the trust of the geeks by consistently embodying the ideas and values of their stories

The nature of geekwork

  • failure is normal
  • ambiguity rules
  • figuring out what to do can be harder than doing it
  • geek work is organized by what you don’t know
  • deep concentration
  • what is work?
  • Subordinates know more than managers
  • my work, our work
  • the problem with problems
  • done is hard to do
  • you can’t control creativity
  • estimates are always wrong

Performing geekwork: the 12 competencies

  • technical competence
  • personal productivity
  • ability to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously
  • ability to describe the business context of technical work
  • ability to forge compromises between business and technical constraints
  • ability to manage client relationships
  • ability to manage technical teams
  • ability to play positive politics
  • ability to help expand client relationships
  • ability to work through others, to make others productive
  • ability to manage ambiguity
  • ability to manage time horizons

Ways to motivate geeks

  • manage meaning
  • communicate significance
  • show a career path
  • projectize
  • encourage isolation
  • engender external competition
  • design interdependence
  • limits group size
  • control resource availability
  • offer free food… Intermittently

Ways to demotivate geeks

  • exclusion from decision-making
  • inconsistency
  • excessive monitoring
  • focus on tasks, not goals
  • unqualified evaluation
  • misaligned extrinsic motivators
  • artificial deadlines
  • changing deadlines
  • organizational disinterest
  • games without skills

Functions of external representation

  • acquiring information
  • establishing and maintaining alignment
  • obtaining resources
  • managing expectations
  • projecting prominence
  • protecting geeks
  • insulating geeks
  • attracting geeks
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Posted in Book Section, Innovation and Creativity, M.Sc., Summaries

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