5 Tips to Help Geeks Transition into Management


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Lots of geeks consider going into management. There are plenty of incentives: higher salary, greater influence, more status. It’s a great move that’s exciting but difficult. Read Leading Geeks author, Paul Glen, describe the 5 ways people can confidently transition into management.

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5 Tips to Help Geeks Transition into Management

  1. 1. From Geek to Manager Five Tips to Help Geeks Sponsored by: Transition into Management Lots of geeks consider going into management. There are plenty of incentives: higher salary, greaterinfluence, more status. It’s a great move that’sexciting but difficult.The problem I see for many geeks making thetransition is that their expectations are unrealistic. It’s just not possible toBefore taking that leap, there are a few things you know about being aneed to accept: manager before trying New managers have no idea what they’re getting into. it out. Being a great engineer has little to do with being a great manager of engineers. New managers are never prepared for the Leading Geeks education + consulting transition. New managers don’t get much support during the transition. Paul Glen is the CEO of Leading Geeks, an education and New managers have to deal with new types of consulting firm devoted to unlocking the value of technical people. people. You can contact him at paul@leadinggeeks.com.1. New This is not meant as an insult. It’s perfectly natural. It’s not that people are ill prepared for management because of some failure. It’s just notmanagers possible to really know about management before trying it out.have no idea Whenever someone comes into the job of manager, they have some ideawhat they’re of what it’s about. They’ve had bosses before and have watched closely.getting into. This is the problem. The subordinate’s view of her boss’ job is inherently limited. Usually people come to the job of management with a sense oftheir previous boss’ failures. They know what they personally wanted from a boss and what they hatedabout their previous boss’ approach.Copyright 2011, Leading Geeks Company. | www.leadinggeeks.com | 310-694-0450 1
  2. 2. From Geek to Manager Five tips to Help Geeks Transition into ManagementThis translates into a view that is focused on what subordinates think their old boss’ job was.It takes a long time to realize that dealing with subordinates is only one part of the job. Managers havebigger challenges. They need to manage up to their own boss and sideways to new peers. Theserelationships are much more subtle and difficult to navigate.It usually takes a few years for a new manager to really understand the full nature of the job2. Being a great New managers need toengineer has little to do step out of the way andwith being a great let their people do themanager of engineers. work, even if it means itPromotions are usually handed out for all the wrongreasons. For geeks, they usually get promoted into takes longer.management because: They did a great job as an engineer. They did a great job on their last project. Leading Geeks education + consulting Their boss quit and someone needed to step into the job. They volunteered.Sadly, none of these are good reasons to get a managerial assignment. The primary reason to givesomeone a management job is that they are ready to do the new job, not that they did well at the lastjob. It’s like saying, “Someone is such a good driver that we should just give them a pilot’s license andsee how they do.”Sure, knowing about the work that your people are doing can be helpful, but it can also be a problem.New managers face the difficult job of supervising others who are developing and using the skills that themanager has spent a lifetime applying. Since new managers are often among the most capable peoplewith those skills, they feel frustrated by trying to work with others who are not yet as capable as theyare.Copyright 2011, Leading Geeks Company. | www.leadinggeeks.com | 310-694-0450 2
  3. 3. From Geek to Manager Five tips to Help Geeks Transition into ManagementTheir first impulse is to think, “Get out of my way and let me do it. It’ll take longer for me to explain it toyou than to do it myself.” Of course, doing this will not only alienate their staff, but will also prevent themfrom growing into the new role.New managers need to diminish their dependence on old skills in favor of developing new, higher-levelones.3. New managers are Managers are measurednever prepared for the by how productive theytransition. make everyone else;Transforming from a geek into a manager is much personal productivity ismore challenging than just learning about what thejob is. It’s really a transformation of identity. largely irrelevant.Geeks spend their early lives being measured bypersonal productivity. In school, they are measured Leading Geekseducation + consultingby the quality of papers and scores on tests. As atechnical contributor, they are largely judged by thequality and quantity of technical output. How many modules were coded? How many user tickets gotclosed? How fast did the servers get installed?We incorporate all that measurement into how we view and measure ourselves. Over time, we absorbthose ideas and our self-esteem is driven in large measure by how we view our own productivity. “I metmy major milestone of coding that module today. So, I deserve an ice cream tonight. I’m a good person.”However, managers need to abandon that lifetime of measurement. They are no longer judged by personalproductivity, by the code they produce or even the PowerPoint presentations they create.They are measured by how productive they make everyone else. Managers leverage their own talentsrather than apply them to the work at hand. As an individual contributor, if you make yourself 10% moreproductive, that’s great. But as a manager, if you can make 15 people 10% more productive, that has amuch bigger impact on the organization.Becoming a manager is about mastering a new identity, about changing how one measures oneself. Andthat’s hard.Copyright 2011, Leading Geeks Company. | www.leadinggeeks.com | 310-694-0450 3
  4. 4. From Geek to Manager Five tips to Help Geeks Transition into Management4. New managers don’t get much supportduring the transition.Bookstores overflow with books on being a manager, but rarely do they discuss the difficult transition ofbecoming a manager . It typically takes a new manager a year or more to begin to appreciate all the thingsthat they don’t know about the new role.But unfortunately, new managers don’t get a lot ofsympathy. Can you imagine a subordinate lending a New managers are morecompassionate ear to their newly promoted likely to get grudgingsupervisor? Imagine it. “Well boss, I see that you’rehaving a difficult time adjusting to all that new compliance andpower. I imagine that that’s tough. I can reallyempathize with your difficulties. How can I help?” whispered resentmentNot going to happen. New managers never get this than support.sort of support. It’s much more common that theyget grudging compliance and whisperedresentments. Yet, it’s a time during which they needhelp more than ever. Leading Geeks education + consultingSo you don’t get much sympathy or support fromsubordinates. What about bosses?You’d think that managers of new managers would be more sympathetic since they’ve been through theprocess themselves. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen much. Too often, managers have forgotten howhard it was and are too busy to think about it. They put new managers in place so that they can delegatework, not take more on.In effect, new managers lose their old support networks and don’t get new ones. Old colleagues becomesubordinates and don’t understand the new manager’s challenges. And managers rarely think about newpeers as advisors.New managers require patient supervisors and mentors to survive the trial of the first months in the newrole. They need to be monitored and supported during what is inevitably an emotionally trying experience,and they must realize that it is normal to feel stressed, confused and exhausted during the transition.Copyright 2011, Leading Geeks Company. | www.leadinggeeks.com | 310-694-0450 4
  5. 5. From Geek to Manager Five tips to Help Geeks Transition into Management5. New managers have to deal with new types ofpeople.Although individual contributors have to deal withpeople in other departments, the bulk of their time is You are suddenly thrustdevoted to working with others in their own into communication withdiscipline. They get used to the language and habitsof thought in their own world. They live in an echo people who are used tochamber. For the most part, geeks talk to geeks andbusiness people talk to other business people. distinctly different language and thoughtWhen you become a manager, you are suddenlythrust into much more communication with people patterns.who are used to distinctly different language andthought patterns. They are used to the tools of theirown world just as you are used to yours. Marketersspeak marketing and logistics people think in Leading Geeks education + consultinglogistics. You need to learn to see things from manydifferent perspectives.And it doesn’t stop there. You not only need to understand the myriad cultures, but you need to learn tobridge the culture of geeks and non-geeks. This may be the most difficult of all. A big part of your newresponsibilities is to keep these different groups collaborating when they don’t really understand oneanother.Despite the challenges, by all means, go for that new management job. But, approach it with some humilityand an open mind. Much of the pain new managers experience isn’t because the job is bad, but that theyexpect it to be different than it really is. Letting go of preconceptions is a good place to start in thetransition from geek to manager. Paul Glen is the CEO of Leading Geeks, an education and consulting firm dedicated to unlocking the value of technical people. Leading Geeks taps this value by transforming the tricky relation- ships between technical and non-technical groups, at the executive, management and project level. You can contact him at paul@leadinggeeks.com.Copyright 2011, Leading Geeks Company. | www.leadinggeeks.com | 310-694-0450 5