A Tale of Two Skill Sets
By Russ Levanway, President
Imagine a factory that manufactures parts for buses. All day, every day, the people in this factory work hard to follow protocol, solve problems when machinery fails, and hone their productivity and skill over time. Let’s say that one employee becomes especially good at making bus parts, for which he is promoted…to bus driver.
Now, this might seem like a strange career leap, but it’s a scenario not unlike that of many technicians who become managers. In all but the loosest of ways, the two skill sets ― manufacturing bus parts versus driving the vehicle, or solving computer and cloud-related technical issues versus managing a team of technicians ― are unrelated.
In our company, we see that disconnect very clearly, as well as its pitfalls. Without proactive management and leadership training, how can we expect those proficient in solving technical problems to turn around and be just as proficient at leading people?
How to train your manager
For the first time in our company’s history, we have established a formal leadership program to bridge this gap, and to refresh the skills of existing leaders in the organization. This week, we will graduate our first participants.
These graduates are mostly team leads and first-time managers, where the importance of learning how to lead people is crucial and key. For six months, 2.5 hours every other week, participants used curriculum adapted from that of a larger peer company (for which we’re very grateful), to much success. Sessions included a round table discussion of what did and didn’t work from the previous session, followed by a deep dive into one members’ challenges with leadership. We read books like The 5 Levels Of Leadership and The 5 Dysfunctions Of A Team and discussed actionable ways to apply their message. We discussed “candid conversations” and methods for fostering empathy and caring with those who report to us, and we created a strategy for identifying the highest and best use of our time, and how to delegate the rest.
What about leadership?
It’s no surprise that our industry recognizes and celebrates people who are extremely technically competent. We are in the business of technology; technical mastery and excellence is what our clients expect from us. In fact, last week our company achieved our Microsoft Gold Partner Certification. To receive this premier certification, a company’s employees have to sit for multiple exams to prove their competency with Microsoft software, especially in cloud services. There aren’t many companies in our area that have reached Gold, so we’re very proud of that accomplishment.
But when technological achievement is a company’s only focus, technical expertise seems to be where all the professional development efforts go. And healthy organizations don’t happen by accident. Treating people with respect, helping them grow, articulating clear vision, delegating, time management ― these are all leadership capabilities, but rarely are they taught to incoming managers. In our industry, many, many small businesses promote technicians to manager without any thought for how different those responsibilities are.
Soon after our first graduation, we’ll start another round of the program for up and coming leaders in the company, as well as those who want a tune-up. Yes, adapting and implementing a leadership program takes commitment and considerable effort from our team. We all invest a ton of time into preparing for each meeting, for content, and for creating an environment conducive to people being vulnerable and open. We also sacrifice the time that we and our participants could have spent at our desks, working.
But since we started the leadership program six months ago, we’ve seen it bear fruit: two fruits, specifically. One is a significant increase in trust between the managers themselves. I’ve seen them work together to solve their problems, rather than alone or not at all. The other outcome we’ve seen is a shift in how these managers see the importance of their work. Often, when a technician becomes a manager, they still gravitate to technical work while managerial issues fall by the wayside. This program has helped our people with shared responsibilities be more aware of this and try to make time for working “on” their teams.
Can a bus-builder become a bus driver? Absolutely! But not without a special drivers’ license. As you consider professional development for your company, are you also making room to develop leadership, which is just as important as your technical or core expertise? Management and leadership training can keep people in your company aligned; it can also just help keep people, period.
Call to action: Do you have a program of some kind in your company inside or out to develop your leaders, not just your architects engineers and designers, but also your managers? If not, take some time to consider how one might benefit your team!
// Russ is a sought-after public speaker, technology expert, and community leader. As the president of an ever-growing managed services provider with offices in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Fresno, Russ’s goal is to sustain and grow an IT company that provides incredible value for clients, and a great workplace for his team. When he’s not collaborating to chart out the future of CIO Solutions, Russ serves on several non-profit boards, volunteers at the People’s Kitchen and travels the world with his wife and two daughters. More on Russ>>