What’s the deal with all the pain in moving up into management? And why is it so much more difficult in a technical job?
I regularly hear from women 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.
When I lived my earlier career as a rocket scientist, I loved the management tasks I took on because they were an inexact science. People! Oooh, so interesting and unpredictable.
I noticed with curiosity how my fellow geek leaders saw a distaste in it though, specifically because it WAS an inexact science. They wanted certainty, black and white. Program his code, push this button, then get this result. They led as a technician, rather than an inspiring leader. They led by micromanaging the task under those the oversaw.
Perhaps the most difficult transition for the techie is letting go of all expertise that got him or her this far. It’s a quirky thing, and it 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.
On to a few tips for you savvy women. Some advice from moi, having been in that world where you are now. The following tips will keep you sharp, professional, and help to relate better to the executive contingent so you can get better exposure as an up-and-comer:
Start Thinking “People”
The 21st Century workplace is about people. (I know. Duh) Ignoring this because your business is about technology gravely hinders productivity. You work in an environment where product features and coding capabilities are constantly discussed, so it’s easy to get wooed into forgetting the people part of it. Communicating, understanding emotion, adapting to interpersonal styles, and effectively influencing are skills that require constant tuning and much practice. Think beyond IQ and study EQ.
Expand your Narrow World
Recognize 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. Think through your arguments with a strategic point of view and drop the whining. Learn to look at the macro while understanding the micro.
Avoid Technical Jargon
Using the lingo can alienate you immediately from a certain audience. 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 visually look like you belong there. Shallow, but true.
Be Visible to the Exec’s
Volunteer to be a team leader or take on the annual leadership offsite. People in the midst of the effective business activity become known as capable. Networking will result. Understand the 5 BE’s of Power and Influence. 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 Plan
Skill development and professional development 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 coach managers to struggle why they are holding on to their technical past and work through the separation of letting it go. I get it! We identify with our technical credentials and we endured lots of challenges to earn them. We like to think that we are still sharp if we bring it into the discussion here and there, so we toss in some techie know-how in meetings so that we stroke our value. A client of mine calls it “engineering tennis” because we duel our expertise with others. 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.