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How to avoid being a technician in other clothes

Technical knowledge is great, but when you become a manager or a business owner, you need to shift your mindset.

4 min read




Without question, one of the hardest things for a person to do in business is to take the next step from being a great worker to becoming a successful leader.

Most people start at the bottom of the employment chain as a “technician,” working hard to produce a consistent, predictable product, service or solution as mandated from above. Whether it be a craftsman developing widgets, a coder producing code, a banker managing transactions, a salesperson making sales or a repairman fixing appliances, these technicians do their jobs day in, day out. Some do it so well that they soon are promoted to the next level, that of manager or leader.

Others might decide that they can do the work as well if not better than their boss and choose to venture out on their own and start their own business. In other words, they jump from being a technician to a self-anointed entrepreneur.

(These progressions borrow from the teachings of Michael Gerber, founder of E-Myth Worldwide.)

Naturally, the problem is that great technicians don’t always become great managers, leaders or owners. They are deeply rooted in their work and understand it well. But that may not translate into having the ability to provide guidance, direction and vision to others around them.

Nor does it mean that they will have developed the leadership skills to communicate and gain the support of, let alone elevate and inspire. those around them. Their technical successes also cannot ensure that they will become great business owners and find ways to grow their enterprises and build equity.

The frequent result is that many revert to doing the technical work, both because they’re still really good at it and also since they don’t know what else to do to make a contribution. But their team and business ultimately are the ones that suffer.

Technicians who become managers/leaders/owners need to begin with a shift in mindset. They can no longer see themselves as the ones tasked with doing the work. That must become the responsibility of others. Moreover, they should start to view their technical knowledge as an encumbrance, to the degree that it focuses them on their own tasks, skills and successes rather than on their team’s. Success will only come when they shift attention to how to guide their people and build their businesses to achieve long-term success.

Here are some other steps that can help the new manager et al succeed in their new role.

  1. Listen well. The first step towards strong relationships is listening. Listen actively and intently to your people to build bridges and gain insights.
  2. Communicate steadily. Keep your people in the loop through regular communication, whether in written or digital formats or via conversations and meetings. Let them know what’s going on and what you need from them for your team or business to win.
  3. Gain small, early wins. Find easy ways to gain a sense of accomplishment and people’s trust. Identify easy, low-stakes improvement opportunities that will build positive momentum.
  4. Learn to think more broadly. Instead of thinking in terms of technical tasks, ask yourself what your people need to succeed. Also become more mindful of big-picture items such as missions and vision, market conditions and trends, competitors, and the like.
  5. Be a motivator. Find ways to get your people going, ideally through intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivators. If you are unsure how to do this, think of others who have motivated you to perform and the techniques that they used to do so.
  6. Delegate. Find ways to empower your people and build their own sense of leadership and efficacy. This will also free you up for other work.
  7. Learn new skills. Be willing to learn new things and get beyond your comfort zone. No great leader starts with a full toolkit. And no great leader ever thinks that he/she has arrived, especially in today’s ever-changing work and technological environment. Commit to ongoing learning about everything that is important to your work — management, leadership, business development and/or technical skills — to best guide and support your people.

Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) became an executive coach and organizational consultant following a career as an educator and school administrator. Check out his new leadership book, “Becoming the New Boss.” Read his blog.

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