Leading in Technical Environment
You may have discovered that managing in a technical world is a
different game than what you expected.
We techies like to speak our own language. To make it worse, we have a
different view on fashion, humor, organization, arguing, and so on.
Want to connect better to those around you, especially up? Read on.
Published in the Albuquerque Journal, October 2006
Managing in the Technical Arena
by Katie Snapp
Kessinger Consulting and Executive Coaching, LLC
regularly hear from individuals who are experiencing the pain of
transitioning upwards, despite the fact that they may be confident and
qualified. Because technical jobs are dominating the marketplace,
moving up in the world means moving from a position of technical
confidence, to one that must display leadership skills. Not an
easy transition, despite someone having all the technical know-how to
be terrific at the previous job. Most technical people try to translate
those strengths they had at a technical job by repeating them in a
management job. Not smart.
Perhaps the most difficult
transition for the techie is letting go of all expertise that got him
or her this far. Seems contradictory. Do something well and get
somewhere - whoops, now stop doing that same thing once you reach a
certain level. Now be different. Managing requires a vastly
different skill set than the technical job, and much adaptability.
The following tips will keep you sharp, professional, and help to relate better to the executive contingent:
Start Thinking "People" The
21st Century workplace is about people. Ignoring this because your
business is about technology gravely hinders productivity.
Communicating, understanding emotion, adapting to interpersonal styles,
and effectively influencing are skills that require constant tuning and
Expand your Narrow WorldRecognize that
there is a business point-of-view that often drives decisions.
Yes, technical conscience should rule the product design, but often
decisions are wrapped-up in politics and high-level issues. Learn
to look at the macro while understanding the micro.
Avoid Technical JargonUsing
the lingo can alienate you immediately. What may have been a
normal conversation in the techno-world is inappropriate at some higher
levels. Translate your language into simple, more universal
language. And avoid those TLA's. (Three Letter Acronyms)
Look the Part...
the non-geek part. Dress for the position to which you aspire.
Seek the advice of a fashion sales clerk. Best yet, identify
someone you can role model after in the industry and mimic the level of
dress. The casual approach may be comfortable, but others are
more likely to envision you in the manager role if you physically look
like you belong there. Shallow, but true.
Be Visible to the Exec'sVolunteer
to be a team leader or take on the annual offsite. People in the
midst of the effective business activity become known as capable.
Networking will result. Continue to reach out by looking for ways
to be involved in problem-solving. Share your expertise with
other areas of the organization by performing demo's or writing
articles in the newsletter.
Have a Growth PlanSkill
development and skill maintenance should be a priority of every
leader. Utilize your HR or training department or get a personal
coach. Many of your technical skills can be useful at higher
levels, but only in certain applications. For example, are you
attracted to lists? Do you speak in bullets? These can be
useful organizational tools at all levels. At the same time, do
you get stuck if you don't have structure? Learn to be
versatile. Oh, and by the way, if it is uncomfortable for you, it
is a sign of stretching. Pain leads to growth.
I like to see
managers let go of their technical past. We identify with our
technical credentials. We like to think that we are still sharp
if we bring it into the discussion here and there. A client of
mine calls it "engineering tennis" because we duel our know-how.
But it comes at a cost. Those leaders that spend time
micromanaging often neglect putting effort into their strategic
vision. They look like the technical expert only with more
authority. Consider what life is like at the next level up, and be
prepared to change for it.