Military minds understand their armies are really only as good as their sergeants. Sure an army needs officers, but often lower ranking officers are usually young and inexperienced. Though they outrank the sergeant, they lack the experience of real world execution. The sergeant, the non-commissioned officer, is also a leader of men. Their paths to this leadership position can be a much longer slog doing the same work as the mainline enlisted.
Armies are built to fight imagined future battles, but every contingency cannot be handled. War by its very nature is chaos. The Fog of War is real. This is where the sergeants are so important. Military leadership, at least smart leadership, knows the on-the-ground REAL experience of a good sergeant is invaluable in the chaos. Decisions will have to be made quickly and in the heat of the moment. There will be no time to call back for orders. Decisions, followed by actions right then and there become the difference between winning and losing.
When wars are going badly or are especially intense, battlefield commissions become necessary. Sergeants can turn the tide. They have the experience and the ability to execute. Sergeant York is a perfect example of how calm leadership and effective execution can yield victories even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. A good sergeant can embrace the chaos to understand it, to tame it and bring it to heel.
In the 21st century, ruthless capitalism is a reality all businesses must cope with to survive. Most businesses in America would agree the battle has gotten intense of late. The best laid plans are now in need of tweaking. All the plans were created for a "known" business environment. How things are really going to evolve in the future is an almost complete unknown.
For most people, this level of chaos is new to them. This type of chaos makes planning difficult. Frankly, this level of economic upheaval has not been seen since the Great Depression. The looming election also casts a shadow because the ballot outcome is not simply about who wins or loses. For the first time, there does seem to be some doubt about whether the ballot box outcome will even be honored.
In this uncertain time, business still needs to get done. Getting business done in the most flexible and agile manner is going to involve creative applications of technology. Sure, building bandwidth, increasing seat licenses, upgrading software and hardware are all on the short list of actions to take. However, there will be budgetary obstacles, political battles and legacy implementations to navigate. All of this will need to be prioritized and executed against the background of a pandemic and an uncertain political situation.
It sounds overwhelming because it is. Moving forward in periods of this much uncertainty is vital, but businesses can get stuck in "analysis paralysis" with so much information out there. Nonetheless, making decisions and executing will be vital. Theodore Roosevelt made a very insightful comment about such times of uncertainty.
In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing. ~Theodore Roosevelt
Here is where the "sergeants of tech" will make the difference. What do I mean by the sergeants of tech? I mean those older knowledge workers who have transitioned their skills not once but perhaps as many as three or four times while the tech world changed the employment landscape. Perhaps they started out their careers on mainframes and time-shared CPUs. They moved to a peer to peer networked office of PCs which then blew out into a connected world of web sites, and browsers based on TCP/IP. And now we are now looking at an Internet of things with microservices living in the cloud and much of the data collected being evaluated by AI.
The AI can inform management and even make some of the decisions, but Theodore Roosevelt is still right. This level of uncertainty means there is a real possibility of being wrong, but sitting there doing nothing while a tsunami of economic change is scouring the market is not smart. Agile planners moving forward learn from their mistakes and adapt. This is a core insight from Teddy. Mistakes will happen, but you must keep moving in times like these. Learn and move forward, you must commit to it.
Who are these "sergeants of tech" though? Most of them are hard to find as they have edited their resumes to obfuscate leadership positions in their past. It is hard to be considered for line positions if one was once a vice-president or a general manager. In tech, it is hard to avoid management after a certain amount of time as a worker and producer. The tech landscape changes so often, the task of relearning one's job every five to seven years becomes onerous. The siren song of more money and less pressure to learn new things is a strong melody and hard to resist.
Titles do not really matter in the line positions, the producers of technology self-organize. In the knowledge worker world, KNOWLEDGE is what defines their hierarchy. This is how you will find the tech sergeants. In an industry with such a penchant for ageism, any producer with a touch of grey is already overcoming systemic obstacles just to be there. If you watch, you will notice there may be a "grey hair" who younger workers respect and even seek out for advice.
The tech sergeant will have no management title, yet they will be leading. There are reasons they will not have a management title. They may not suffer fools gladly. They may object to non-technical people making technical decisions. They may be vocal about their objections to poor decisions. This can prevent them from building the necessary alliances normally required for business managers. However, their continued employment indicates they most likely have been correct when they spoke truth to power.
Now IS the time for these sergeants. There is uncertainty around every corner. The sergeants have had to relearn their jobs several times to have their long knowledge worker careers. During those transitions between the old and the new, there is great uncertainty in the knowledge worker's career. They must move forward despite uncertainty about whether they are going to be able to survive into the next big paradigm.
American business needs this kind of backbone and vision right now. It takes courage to eschew the larger salary of a management position. It takes even more courage to take a pay cut to make a lateral move to learn a new technology. Imagine getting your future wrong by taking the pay cut, and making the lateral move only to learn a technology which does not take off to create the next great employment ecosystem. That would be a BIG mistake!
The tech sergeants knew they were working without a net. They moved forward with incomplete data about the future. Somehow they hedged their bets, though. They recognized there was some likelihood of not getting the decision 100% right and needing to adjust. They SUCCEEDED in making these harrowing transitions more than once. This is not an easy gamble when the stakes involve your livelihood. This experience makes them extra valuable now.
A grey-haired devops engineer may have started out as something known as a "computer operator" way back when. Many were just glorified tape jockeys when mainframe backups were being done on reel to reel tapes. Some were quite good with job control languages and organizing workflows, though. They evolved to become a system support engineer at a web hosting company during the dotcom era and now they are building unit tests and scripts to deploy resources to the cloud.
An old software engineer may have started out on mainframes when "coders" were known as computer programmers. To still be coding today, they had to transition to a graphical world from an exclusively text-based world. They may have had to learn a lot about network traffic when they transitioned to building web sites for the aforementioned web hosting company. Now they are writing microservices to be deployed to a cloud backbone.
Those are a couple of examples of the tech sergeants. If you can find them, you have a chance of convincing them to take a leadership role. In these very uncertain times, the tech sergeants are used to chaos, uncertainty and understand the need to evolve to survive. Good luck convincing them to take up the mantle though. The tech sergeants are truly the "philosopher kings" of the digital universe.
The tech sergeants do not want to be leaders in business just as Plato's philosopher kings did not want to rule. They are simply the most qualified to lead whether they want to do it or not. In fact, the desire to NOT do it is almost a prerequisite. If you can find one of these "tech sergeants" in the wild, you now have a chance to convince them to help lead the business through this uncertainty to whatever lies on the other side.
They have proven repeatedly in the most stressful environment, they can make decisions and move forward in times of uncertainty. To make decisions and move forward in such uncertainty takes confidence. A confidence built by repeatedly rebuilding one's own skillset to adapt to a changing world. Work hard to get these tech sergeants into leadership roles and you will not be sorry.