Technical leadership generally gets a bad rap for not having quality “soft skills” in managing people. Most of us have grown up through a technical career ladder that values technical brilliance over these desired soft skills. As bright techies with “leadership potential,” we are often thrust into leadership positions with little training and a shift of importance to working with people instead of working with “bits and gear.” Our initial move to a management position is often made with little to no training, mentoring, or support.
The following methods were designed to allow you to quickly begin to provide leadership and direction to your IT employees. You can overcome the lack of training and support by focusing on managing your employees well, listening to their needs and keeping the overall goal of your organization in mind.
Technology is About People
Technology is created by people for other people to use. Good technology is created by teams of people that understand people. Hard-to-use or very defective technology is created by teams that focus on technology instead of people.
How can you lead your team and show them that people are important? Start by setting an example and let them experience being important first-hand.
Show people who you really are. It’s difficult to be someone you are not, and you can spend a lot of your energy doing so. You have a personality, with both its bright spots and rough edges. Let them show through at work. Put some personal items in your workspace that will cause conversation (HR- appropriate, please). Engage others in conversation about items you see in their own workspaces.
They have them there for a reason; find out why. Have a real conversation. Be human and acknowledge humanity in others.
Talk to anyone who wants to talk with you. Innovations are a result of many people’s thoughts that suddenly meld together in one person’s head and form a raw idea. If you believe that, you need to get out and talk to people to get their thoughts in your head.
I recently had someone from inside the company apply for one of my open technical positions. The person was not qualified for the job, but my personal rule is that if an internal candidate applies, they get an interview. I was upfront with the person in telling them that they didn’t meet the position’s need, and we spent our time instead discussing what she could do to grow so someday she would
be qualified. She was ecstatic that I would spend 30 minutes talking about her career when there was nothing in it for me.
Communication with humans is complex. We pay attention not only to what is being said but also to many other cues that the speaker intentionally or unintentionally conveys. Body language, tone of speech, gestures, facial movements, and eye movements all convey meaning.
When we communicate with folks remotely, we lose some of this context by not being present. If you can’t meet often in person, find ways to add some of this context back to some of your conversations. Try phone calls instead of instant messages and emails, and webcam sessions instead of phone calls. You’ll see a greater richness of communication and understanding unfold if you vary your communication mediums more.
Remember, IT management is really about relationships. Just as your organization focuses on the needs of people in the community, your leadership focus should be the same. Caring about your employees and supporting them will go a long way to increase the morale of your organization and put passion back into your work.