How ‘Technical’ Do You Need To Be?

Technology executives have to strike the right balance between being technically brilliant, and letting go of enough detail to have the time and energy to invest in leading. Of course, some level of technical competence is required to be in the game, but it becomes a problem if it comes at the expense of leadership effectiveness.

One of the first things to focus on is that each step up in management requires a step up and away from detail, and the addition of new necessary and important process, managerial, and organizational development work.

For example, as an individual in a technology organization your success depends on how well you know your stuff and do the technical work.

But as a manager, success depends on new set of skills that have more to do with how well you know the business and the people, and execute on communication, processes, business outcomes, and developing others. As you become a functional or general manager, you need to master skills around organizational alignment, program management, multi-function/multi-layer communications, planning frameworks, client service, partnerships, etc.

At each level, your competence and credibility needs to be built from excelling at the new higher level tasks that are required for that level role, and by being known for building a high performing team. Building a high performing team adds way more value to the company then adding one more expert (you) in the low level detail.

Why people have trouble with this transition:

They enjoy the detail.

They wouldn’t know what else to do, if they don’t do the detail.

They have not built a team they trust to handle the detail without their involvement.

They are afraid they will lose the respect of their subordinates if they can’t keep up with them technically.

They are afraid they will lose the respect of management and peers if they get caught out by a random technology question they can’t answer.

Executives who get stuck thinking that they must maintain the same mastery of the details and content as the people who work for them do not build credibility or big success. Instead they typically:

End up competing with their subordinates about who is smarter.

Continue to torture their team for inappropriate amounts of detail.

Waste everyone’s time doing deep dives into content.

Develop a culture around being a brilliant hero vs. building a high performing team.

Miss the opportunity to set strategic direction, lead the organization, and develop future leaders.

Letting Go

As an IT executive, certainly you need to maintain a working knowledge of the technology, but that is different than competing with your team to be as versed in the detail as they are. You still need to deliver the results. So you need to create processes and frameworks to measure and track technical progress that you will feel comfortable with.

You need to build a system to ensure that the right things are getting done, so you know what you need to know, even though you are not working in the details anymore. You need to put your people in charge of delivering the technology program, be clear about the desired outcomes, and with the right tracking mechanisms in place, trust them to deliver.