The Importance of Psychology as a CTO, with Dr. Dan Stoneman

By Published On: June 19, 2018Categories: Blog, Podcasts, The CTO Studio

Making the leap from a technical role into the CTO position requires many things, and not everyone makes the jump. One man who has is our guest today, Dr. Dan Stoneman.

Dan recently completed his doctorate in Organizational Industrial Psychology. He continues to learn and try to understand his world. Throughout the course of his career experiences, he’s learned the importance of psychology as a CTO and we get into why that is (and much more!) on today’s edition of CTO Studio.

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • What does servant leadership look like as a CTO?
  • What three pillars are needed for employees and organization to achieve success?
  • Why is going from a technical role to a CTO role so challenging?
  • What is a destructive hero and why does this role fail so often?
  • Can you just flip a switch to go from employee to manager?
  • And so much more!

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Dan has spoken at our CTO gatherings a few times, and one of those times he was the Chief Innovation Officer at a school district. I wanted him to repeat something he said during that talk when he was describing his career. He said it’s hard to describe as a path or a trajectory, it’s more of a personal mission of understanding. He believes a big part of his personal being is to understand the world in which he lives.

He was fascinated by his computers when he was young, so he started to figure out how to build and design them. He went to college and got a micro electronic engineering design degree. He learned how silicon becomes transitors, transitors become chips, and so on. So he designed transistors and chips and then circuit boards, at each stage he tried to understand how things fit together.

And from there software sits on top of the hardware, so next comes how to design software, and how to build the software. That leads to project management, program management and product design and customer use cases – all of which eventually lead to business strategies, leadership and psychology.

Next we dig into how industrial organizational psychology (or I/O psychology) works. He believes each person does make their own decisions, so all you can do is set up an arena where they can be successful. He is a big proponent of the book Drive by Daniel Pink.

In that book, Daniel Pink talks about the three pillars of autonomy, mastery and purpose.

He explains as a leader if you create an arena based on servantship in which people have a great deal of autonomy, feel a great degree of mastery, have the proper training and understanding of their profession while also aligning their work to your organization the rest takes care of itself. That’s his take on what it means to be a leader.

I agree with that premise. When I became the CTO of my start-up I realized the people I was hiring weren’t there to be an extension of me; they weren’t there to go through my to-do list and get stuff done while I was focused on the other parts of the system.

But instead I was hiring human beings who could think for themselves and have their own ideas, and the best thing I could do would be to activate their creativity and get out of the way. I remember that realization was a massive moment for me!

Dan thinks that is true for many of us who started in engineering. It was for him, and so he’s been investigating organizational psychology and how to set up your organization. If you think of it like having a baseball team, organizational psychology would be looking at and deciding how best to set up the game field, the rules and regulations, what does the field look like and how are the umpires going to treat the field.

And industrial psychology is typically how to treat each individual player: what does each person need specifically to succeed? Industrial and organizational psychology work hand in glove, and why it’s called industrial organizational psychology.

On today’s episode of CTO Studio, Dan also tells us a failure he’s had in his career. Dan explains a great engineer does not make a great leader. In fact, they are completely opposite. He says he was a good engineer and as an engineer you are rewarded for finding needles in a haystack. If one transistor is out of place or one semi-colon is not in the right spot, everything falls apart.

It’s the exact opposite when you are a leader. As a leader the needles don’t matter, what matters is the haystack. How you can traverse the business arena and leadership arena doesn’t have to do with tiny nuances, it has to do with people and relationships.

We get into why taking a technical path to leadership is one of the most difficult, and why it’s such a high hurdle.Then we talk about the differences in the roles of CIOs and CTOs, if leadership becomes your responsibility as you gain experience and Dr. Dan’s productivity tips! You can join

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