No passengers on the battleship1

A call to strong leadership

With 16 years in Technical Writing and 7 years in teaching French, Asha believes she is fortunate to have benefited from diverse experiences. She is passionate about people, progress, and positivity. She currently manages a Technical Writing team spread across India, China, and the US at ARM Ltd, the world's leading semiconductor intellectual property (IP) supplier. She is responsible for documentation for two business units, developing her team, and growing ARM's Technical Communications presence in AsiaPac.

Asha Mokashi

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At a time when the technical writing profession is undergoing massive transformation and facing many challenges, the need for strong people leadership is more pronounced than ever. Beyond tools, techniques, and processes, there is that one powerful differentiator that can drastically enhance any department’s growth and sustainability - a highly motivated workforce. A team that is performing to its full potential, constantly evolving and innovating, every person a strong ambassador of the profession.

And who can enable that? That one individual who is rapidly losing hair, prematurely aging, and constantly fighting to disprove countless cartoons where the "pointy-headed" stupid boss2 stereotype is endlessly reinforced.

Given the importance that Engineering has in the IT world, and the status of Technical Writing teams as a cost rather than a revenue-generating department, at times we tend to underestimate or undervalue what we have to offer. An attitude that colours every interaction we have within the company, and results in a vicious circle. This in turn leads to a vicious circle. We command less respect than we deserve, thereby putting us at more risk than practical realities warrant.

Here is an attempt to share a few thoughts on the subject. It will obviously not cover all contexts, nor have all the answers, but will hopefully result in a sharing of tips and tricks I have learnt from. I am hoping you, dear reader, will share your tips too (by leaving comments on this page).

A sense of urgency

Comfort kills. The best thing a great manager can do is to push people out of their comfort zones.

Whatever be the reason that brought you into the technical writing profession, now that you are in here, you have to help fight the battle. No passengers allowed.

As a leader, show them how fast the cheese is moving3. Make them aware of what's happening in the industry, in the profession, the major economic forces constantly changing the shape of our future. How the value we bring to the table in a rapidly changing environment is going to decide the entire future of this profession, our jobs, our home loan payments.

People mostly tend to underestimate their abilities. They hesitate to volunteer to do things they have never done before. Change is not easy, because it brings with it the risk of failure. However, not utilising all their skills to the optimum level is not an option anymore. Sometimes, you need to nudge people out of their stagnant safe zones, make them take on challenges, show them how the bar is steadily rising. Set challenging objectives that help bring out the best in them, support them all the way.

Of course they may dislike you in the short term. But in the long term, they see the benefits — additional achievements to list in their appraisals and resumes, increased value in the market, greater respect for themselves, and recognition from others in the company. Sometimes you have to be "bad" to be good.

What do you think?

In the knowledge industry, it is disastrous to have people who just follow orders. Encourage people to think for themselves, provide them a safe environment where they can voice their ideas. Respect their opinions, help them broaden the range of their influence and contribute to the company's progress.

And they can certainly do that! If they can bring up children, take financial decisions, run families, exercise their voting rights, and balance their work and personal lives, they can certainly think of what they can do to improve the quality of their deliverables. They do not cease to be adults once they walk into office.

Are we, as managers, sometimes guilty of "infantilising" our workforce by always providing the answers, and not pushing them to find them themselves first? Do we unconsciously take on a "Parent" role, thereby not allowing the team to grow in decision-making and influencing skills? Is there a cultural factor at play here?

If we are not well-known, whose fault is that?

How well a team is known and respected within the organisation also decides how much cooperation it gets. And, as managers, we are responsible for making that happen. There are many ways to make the team's presence felt.

Manning the pit stop

A colleague once described his understanding of his role as a leader, using a racing car analogy. He tells his team that they are the ones sitting inside the racing cars, the true heroes who are going to decide the team's victory. His job as a leader is to ensure that the pit stop functions perfectly, like clock-work, in the most efficient manner, so that they can continue the race with the least amount of delay, and with maximum efficiency.

He facilitates them to be achievers, every single one of them. The glory is all theirs and that is their true reward.

Footnotes

  1. No Passengers on the Battleship is a quote from ARM Limited slides. It implies that every hand on the deck must work.
  2. "pointy-headed" stupid boss is from Scott Adams's Dilbert cartoons. See this compliation.
  3. "how fast the cheese is moving" is from the book Who Moved my Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson. See this Wikipedia article.
  4. To win by losing, Sanjay Kabir Bavikatte, http://www.judojourneys.com/blog/2015/8/10/to-win-by-losing.

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Acknowledgements

The picture is from the free pixabay images collection https://pixabay.com/en/photos/warship/.

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No passengers on the battleship

Written by Asha Mokashi. Narrated by Prachi Karnik.

The beauty of the written word, and languages in general, has always fascinated the narrator, Prachi Karnik. After taking a engineering degree in Instrumentation & Control, and after working for almost 7 years in process control, she finally turned to technical documentation after a diploma in Technical Writing. Prachi is an avid follower and student of Indian Classical music (vocal).