Self Improvement

Life Lesson: Leaders Earn More Money

earn more money, money advice, financial advice

Growing up, I was taught that hard work is valued and rewarded. I learned recently that may not be 100% accurate.

Let’s back up a few years.

As a software engineer, I “own” certain pieces of software that I have written, and continue to maintain. As part of that maintenance, I am expected to investigate and resolve problems encountered by customers. I’ve owned a particular very complex piece of software for over ten years. When there are problems with it, sometimes it takes awhile to determine what is going on. Sometimes the problems are actually with other pieces of software that I interact with.

Because of my knowledge, experience, and dedication I always take the lead on such problems, coordinating teams of people to resolve the issue. I gained a reputation among my technical peers as the “go to guy” to help resolve tough issues.

Unfortunately, management had a slightly different perspective.

While they complemented me on my ability to resolve issues that came up, in their eyes I became the guy that constantly had problems to fix. They didn’t see that over half the issues I worked on ended up being issues in other people’s code, and didn’t understand that on a scale of 1 to 10 the complexity of my code is on the order of a 9.5. They viewed my code quality as needing improvement. My yearly evaluation was always above average, but I was never given the status of top performer that everyone desired, but I hadn’t achieved for a number of years.

Last year, my job role changed, and I was made a technical team lead of a team of five other people. We were tasked with additional work, but I was told to teach others how my code worked, so that we had more eyes looking at, improving, and maintaining it. What had been solely my work, is now the full time jobs of two of my team members, and a third works on it part-time.

In my opinion, the code quality hasn’t changed. Issues are found and fixed at approximately the same rate. The difference now is that I’m not writing the code. I’m designing the changes, and handing them off to my teammates to execute. When there are problems, I give them guidance as to how to resolve. When people from other groups look for a “go to” person to lean on to gather a team of people to resolve a tough problem, I decline because I have too many other responsibilities and do not have the bandwidth

Recently, I was given my 2013 year end evaluation: Top Performer, for my leadership.

So let’s review. The code quality, in my opinion, is the same. We now have three people working on the same code that had been solely my responsibility for ten years. The organization has lost the availability of services from someone able to rally a team to efficiently and effectively resolve very tough issues.

According to my rating, this is viewed as an improvement in my performance.

My shiny top performer rating makes me eligible for a bonus, and a pay increase, and promotions more so than my above average rating of the last handful of years. I can only conclude that leadership is worth more to my company than technical skills. Had I known this, I would have likely altered my career path long ago. It also will have a profound change on the advice I give to new employees that I am asked to mentor.

If you want to increase your salary and advance your career, be a leader.

Does this situation have you scratching your head? Have you ever experienced something similar? Do you think leadership is more valuable than technical skills?

Brought to you courtesy of Brock

About the author

Brock Kernin


  • You situation is definitely bass-ackward from what it should have been, but at least now you are getting paid more for your management skills. I’ve declined advancement to higher management levels, where I would get paid more, because I want to do engineering work, rather then manage people. I would also be expected to bring in multi-million dollar contracts whereas now, I only have to land a million dollar contract to set myself and my team up for a year’s worth of work.

  • Interesting story Brock. In my experience companies value leadership skills more then technical skills. The team leader jobs I have done in the past have always been better rewarded than the technical ones, even when I felt that the technical roles were a lot more demanding. I guess they see the team leader as having to deal with a lot more responsibility

  • @Bryce – I’m similar to you in that I want technical work, and in my position as a technical team leader I am supposed to direct the work of my team AND work along side the team. Thanks for stopping by!

  • @moneyahoy – Born to lead….YEAH! 🙂 I just felt like I was being held back a little because management had this perspective that my code wasn’t as up to the quality level it should have been. I hope they’re realizing now that there are multiple people doing the same technical work I did alone for years that they were wrong.

  • @robert – When I really think about it, I can see why my leadership is valued more. With the present arrangement, not only is the original technical work being done, but my team has taken on other responsibilities. Plus, with my experience and expertise I’m able to guide my team’s design and implementations in the right direction. Great to hear from you!

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