Leadership for the Technically Minded

Columnists

Chris Atkinson - BLM columnist

Having worked for nearly two decades with global manufacturing clients and financial organisations such as the ACCA I have found that there are a lot of pervasive assumptions about ‘technical people’. I thought it was about time to put the record straight on the subject and share some experiences of working in this area. I am not attempting to make any judgment nor put limits on what people can and can’t do in terms of their potential however I believe each of us is inclined towards either:

Process – Structure – Accuracy (aligned to management)

People – Feelings – Generalisation (aligned to leadership)

No matter which end of the scale you find yourself you will need to learn some level of competency for the other and (contrary to popular belief) it is equally hard in both directions. My reason for this article is that years of consulting on leadership has demonstrated that we often get judgemental about the technically minded, easily writing off their leadership potential as a more challenging route for them.

People who are technically skilled often achieve success by coming at things from a process or systems point of view. They learn patterns, develop expertise and work out efficiencies to achieve the results they need. Where things become challenging is when they interface with the diverse forms of human personalities in the workplace where there are few repeatable, consistent, patterns for success!

Our starting point therefore is to help make leadership a process. There are a huge number of consistent and repeatable things we can encourage technically minded people to do which will ensure their ability to be a leader.

Listed below are some simple and effective leadership processes that work in most situations:

Regularly schedule 1:1 conversations with their team members and take a person centred agenda (as opposed to reviewing results or KPI focused).

This is a process; they can even create a structure for the conversation that focuses on a coaching approach, i.e. a series of questions to ask. Making time for people is one of the simplest things many leaders simply don’t do enough of – with the disciplined mind of a technical person you will see how well this can be applied!

Hand over the running of team meetings

A lot of good leadership practice is about letting go of control. Encourage your technical expert to create a clear agenda for team meetings then delegate responsibility for leading the meeting to different team members each time. This covers many aspects of leadership in one act but as a bonus, you will see the technical expert becomes a great ‘participant’ in the meeting, not the boss. This creates a powerful sense of team engagement.

Recognition

This is a cornerstone of leadership and, it too, can be made a process. Asking people to catch someone doing something right each day and to tell that person directly. This daily act becomes a positive challenge for them to achieve and therefore something that can be turned into a process. I can’t stress enough that this is an area we simply don’t see ANY leaders doing well at let alone technically minded leaders.

Task the technical leader with the creation of experts in their teams.

Technically minded people relate strongly to the concept of expertise and in particular the pleasure that can be found in attaining mastery over a topic. Encourage them to see what each team member can be an ‘expert’ in and how to best use that expertise. The idea should come naturally to them and once they realise you can be an expert in ‘people’ or ‘listening’ or ‘persuading’ as well as technical skills, you will see them developing their team and searching out talents in others.

Technically minded people are natural problem solvers.

When working with teams I’ve often described the leader’s role as being to remove the things that are preventing their team from performing at their potential. Set the expectation in your technical leader that their role is to facilitate the removal of any barriers to performance that their team are finding. In other words, to remove any blocks, any inefficient or outdated processes/thinking and so on. Get this right and you will soon see a hugely dynamic leader in action. Ask your technical person to go and find out what frustrates their team, what slows them down, then give them permission. and a mandate. to find ways past, around or through the problem!

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