Today business decisions increasingly hinge on the nuances of technology. Organizations are increasingly promoting engineers and technologists to people management roles. And it makes complete sense. It is the team leads who must assess the technology options at hand, guide the team, align solutions with business needs, and communicate technical direction to their teams as well as the non-technical stakeholders. It is almost impossible to run a software business without strong technical leadership. However, is technology dexterity enough?
In software and technology companies, rising through the ranks is the norm. You spend a few years in the organization and inevitably progress to a role in managing people. Filling up the leadership pipeline is one of the most pressing challenges across enterprises. It becomes even more challenging in the IT context as people often rise through the ranks based on tenure. Ace technologists who are shoehorned into leading people will often be found wanting.
Being a great technologist or a great software engineer doesn’t necessarily translate into being a great people manager. They are great individual contributors and view technology purely through the engineering lens. Here execution trumps strategy as they do not need to involve themselves in the messy realities of execution. So, while these people can take care of all possible technical issues, they stumble when it comes to managing human capital. And when this happens, the human capital, the team members, develop apprehensions about their work environment. This is one of the key reasons why such arrangements fail.
But the tech world is extremely demanding due to the pace of technology, changing market conditions, and dynamic consumer demands. So, having a technical person lead a team becomes imperative to navigate the complex maze of technology influencing business outcomes. In such times, having tech experts as people managers add tremendous value to the business.
Good technical managers can empower your team
People crave freedom. But people also need help from time to time. A great technologist but a poor manager ends up viewing the problems of their team members through a filter. They think that an inability to clear a hurdle is due to some personal failings in their team members. They are often unable to look at a challenge from the perspective of the team member. The result? Unhappy employees, poor work and stressed managers.
A technologist with good people management skills understands the difficulties people face and can lead with empathy. They then share their experience to guide the team and yet allow the team member to remain in the driver’s seat. The team members thus get more empowered and enabled to manage challenges and develop the experience and the confidence to solve similar problems in the future.
The team spokesperson
All technologists want to get the job done and they know how to do it. But the personal barometer needs adjustment when you are leading a team. When technologists have people management skills, they become the spokesperson of the team members…they push back to management when timelines are unreasonable, they assist the team when help is needed, they iron out conflicts and help solve problems. They ensure that the team has all the resources it needs to complete their tasks on time. Thus, they also win the team’s confidence. The team feels that they have someone in their corner…someone who’s got their back.
Robust knowledge transfer
Knowledge shared is knowledge doubled – this is something that great people managers believe. Having a technologist with people management skills means you have a great knowledge source who is actively contributing to your organization and the team’s tribal knowledge. These people carry other team members with them and make sure there’s no one is left behind in the knowledge journey. These people act as mentors, coaches, and guides and help others to grow.
Such managers also build trust among their team members because of their inclusive attitude. Team members feel safe to ask questions and to offer new ideas. Nothing is dismissed or belittled, and others don’t feel ignored. Because these good managers do not form an exclusive club of favorites, team members become more willing to take risks and admit mistakes and increase the breadth of their knowledge.
Challenge the team
Good people management does not only mean running your team like a well-oiled machine. A good manager with technical expertise will not only identify gaps but will also identify strengths. These people make sure that while they ensure that work happens smoothly, but also personal development isn’t undermined. The thing is, while it’s easy to give the team members the same tasks over and over again, smart employees get bored and burn out.
Good people management means not only identifying the potential in your team members but also helping them identify means to reach it. A technologist-cum-people manager can do this capably as she can design challenges that will help the team members’ growth trajectory and facilitate continuous learning. All of this impacts the team productivity, knowledge levels, and ultimately, the company bottom line
We are prisoners of all things familiar. It has been hard to envision such skills for most in the IT landscape. But was the iPhone and now Alexa something we were familiar with until we encountered it? It might be tough to think of a company where team leads are great at both, technology and people management. But maybe it is time we re-evaluate how we build our people managers in the IT narrative. These gems are hard to come by and it is for this reason they are highly valued.