Future leaders are not just yesterday’s successful technical people. Too many times, in my opinion, someone is simply promoted to a management role because it’s their turn, not because of their abilities to manage or lead a group of people. There are certain criteria that people must meet to be a good manager, and not all technically accomplished people would make good managers.
Obviously, The Geek Leader’s Handbook is geared specifically to technical people in the world of geeks, but I think that this concept can absolutely be applied to almost any field. Just as a good IT technician isn’t always a good IT manager, a good salesperson isn’t always a good branch manager, and a good pastor isn’t always a good superintendent. So, why do so many promotions only occur because of someone’s technical skill? In my opinion, it is because the concept of taking a management role has been misconstrued as only a promotion. It is more than that, it’s a career change. It’s not the same as a salesperson getting permission to try and attract bigger clients, and it is not the same as an associate pastor becoming the senior pastor. If you and your 5 year old kid run a lemonade stand, and your child is good at making lemonade, and people buy lemonade from him because, who wouldn’t buy a glass of lemonade from a 5 year old with an entrepreneurial spirit, although he’s probably a better lemonade technician and salesman than you are, you’re not going to put him in charge of making long-term financial and strategic decisions for the stand, that’s ridiculous. Of course, that’s an extreme example, but that’s the reality. For the kid, it’s not just a promotion, he would be completely changing careers, having to learn about finances, making decisions, and leading employees.
So, the best technical person isn’t always the best manager. If they have no capacity to motivate their employees, assert themselves to overcome obstacles, create a culture of accountability, build relationships, and make informed, unbiased decisions for the good of their company, then they probably wouldn’t be a good manager, according to Fast Company. A company wouldn’t hire someone from the outside that did not have those skills, so why should they hire from the inside? That is a fallacy that many companies fall into.
Good managers have to connect well to their employees, and it is important that they are well liked. Someone who comes into the job thinking that they know everything because they were a successful technical person probably will not do well. It is a well-known fact that more people quit their jobs because of a bad manager than any other reason. Good managers have to be willing to be creative with their employees, listen to them, and show them that they truly care, even when it gets difficult, and I think that’s where many fall short. All that many technical people know is how to get their job done, whether that be making sales, preaching a sermon, or fixing a bug on a website. It is a whole different animal when you try and lead and encourage people to do that same thing. In fact, I think that it is much harder.
Now, this is not all to say that all good technical people are bad managers and all bad technical people are good managers. I wouldn’t even say that is the norm. I think that there are many good technical people who also would make great managers, and there are many poor technical people who would be horrible leaders. I think the issue lies in making assumptions about what a promotion truly means, and making assumptions that the absolute best technical person must be the next manager. There are strategic decisions for each case, and they must be carefully thought out.