Being a successful leader often requires a set of skills which are very different than the skills which were needed to be successful in a staff level role. When we are a staff employee, meaning we don’t have any direct reports, our focus is to ensure we do the best individual job possible. Being in a management/ leadership role is very different. While it’s important the manager does a good job, s/he is also responsible for a number of direct reports and therefore is responsible for their contributions as well.
The transition to management can either be a dream come true or a living nightmare. Regardless of which camp you may be in it’s important to consider one thing before you make the decision to throw your hat in the ring for the next leadership opportunity:
Do you have what it takes to be an effective leader?
Before you consider a career in leadership think about how you deal with these five questions:
1. Do You Genuinely Care About Other People?
If you don’t care about others or aren’t willing to put others before yourself you’ll never be truly successful in leadership. I choose the word ‘never’ because you may see some success early on however in the long run a lack of genuine care for the people will always bring about challenges which are near impossible to overcome. The best leaders out there, regardless of their titles or the size of the company they work for, view and truly care about the wellbeing of their employees. “Leaders eat last.” – Simon
2. How will you handle ‘The Technician Syndrome’?
This is particularly important for people in a technical capacity to consider. The word ‘technician’ refers to a person who is in an individual contributor role focusing on hands-on technical work, such as product development, software development, etc. When you make a transition into management you are stepping away from some or most of your daily technical hands on duties. People who have technical backgrounds, such as engineers and those in IT, tend to struggle with this change as often times their original passion which has guided them to this point in their career was focused on being hands-on in their role, creating, building or testing things. Once you’re in a role of leadership your focus is now more on people, not the product or technology.
3. Are You An Influencer or a Dictator?
What is your natural working style when you are in situations where you are working with others? Do you listen, support and coach or are you the type that would rather just tell people what to do? Successful leaders do more listening than they do talking. They understand the importance of giving their people an opportunity to contribute ideas, take risks, do things their own way, etc. Managers that don’t do this have a hard time motivating their employees as they view their employees as workers who are to be told what to do, when to do and how to do their work.
4. Can You Delegate?
Can you give someone else an opportunity to take on a project or work? Are you able to allow someone else the chance to take the spot light and recognition? Do you trust others to get the job done? These are all important questions which tie into delegation. Successful leaders delegate frequently because they know firsthand that it isn’t wise or feasible for them to do everything.
5. Are You Willing to be a Shrink?
A very real part of management is dealing with people problems, like a shrink would, and working constantly in conflict resolution. This aspect of the job often sends people screaming for the hills as dealing with people problems can be challenging and often viewed as a waste of time in the business world. Successful leaders view the people interaction part of the job as an opportunity for improving themselves and their employees while further developing a deeper relationship. They look forward to the moments to learn from, listen, coach and guide their employees. They do this because they genuinely care about the welfare of their employees both at work and home.
If you’re considering going into management take the time to think about how you show up with these five questions on leadership. What’s important to consider is that if you don’t have these intangible skills now can you develop them over time? The answer is most definitely yes, it’ll just take time, patience and a willingness to always be listening and learning.
Key Takeaway: If you think or believe "people problems aren't my business and should be kept out of the office" than do yourself a favor and stay away from management career opportunities.
Action Item: Write out your answers to these five questions and sit on the information for a week. Share it with 1-2 people close to you. After you've had time to digest the questions and your responses you will have a better idea how you feel about further considering a leadership role. Sometimes the best course of action is to take none at all which means remaining in your individual contributor role a bit longer.
As generations continue to evolve in our country so do the thoughts and feelings of people in present day.
One thing that has been consistent through the years is the questioning of authority across all sectors: government, public and private. Those who are in a position of authority certainly have a tough job ahead of them as they are constantly under fire by the very people they claim to serve, whether its justified or not.
Which leads me to an important question: Does questioning authority help or hurt us?
Let’s examine some current situations in our country:
Wells Fargo Scandal
Wells certainly isn’t the first bank to ever have dealt with a large scandal. Most of us recall the recent recession where banks by the hundreds got rich off of consumers thanks to unscrupulous business practices. Nothing new here. What is new with the Wells Fargo scandal is that it went on for a period of five years with almost zero questioning by internal management. Customers were certainly questioning Wells aggressive sales tactics however I’ve not been able to find one single instance of an internal person in management which stood up and said, “this isn’t right”. Two comments are appropriate here: 1) it’s highly possible this did happen it just hasn’t been publicly released; 2) when you’re an internal employee it can be incredibly scary to blow the whistle on your own employer, especially when your employer is the largest banking institution in the world. In this case, the lack of questioning authority proved to be harmful as thousands of customers were negatively impacted, jobs lost and countless tax payer dollars will be spent and wasted dragging this banking giant through the legal system.
CDC & DTaP Vaccine
In June of 2016 the CDC (Center for Disease Control) announced in a 13 page report that one of the nationally required vaccines, DTaP - which all children are required to take to enter school, has now been linked to cause autism. In 2016 it is expected that 1 in 68 children will develop autism in comparison to 1 in 150 in the year 2000. Autism is a major issue within our country with its occurrence rate doubling over the last 15 years. While this information is still very new to the general public it was eventually brought to the surface thanks to hundreds, if not thousands, of parents who stood up and demanded transparency from our government. In this case, questioning authority has proven to be helpful as the general public will now have more transparent information in which to make decisions by.
Societal Altercations with Law Enforcement
It’s a tough time in our country to be in law enforcement. It’s equally tough for many of our fellow Americans who feel their rights have been stricken from them as a result of discrimination. Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on its one of the most sensitive topics in our country today. As shootings during police altercations continue it’s increasingly difficult to discern what is justified versus what is crossing the line, infringing on the rights of the common person. When we question authority in these moments it is vital that we do so with a quest for transparency and truth. This is why I believe Martin Luther King Jr. was so successful as he believed violence was not the answer toward successful activism and change. As a result he was able to lead our country through some of the largest equality reforms in our nations history. In this instance questioning authority is appropriate however the way we go about it can either support or diminish our cause which is why it’s important to think before we act.
Kaepernick Takes A Knee
Colin Kaepernick, NFL Pro Quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, started a movement which makes a statement about the inequalities within our country, addressing the law enforcement altercations mentioned above. While he certainly has the right to a peaceful protest are his actions impacting change or causing further issues? Furthermore is the forum in which he’s doing it, employed by private organization (which the NFL is), appropriate? While I may not agree with all the things that go on in our country I still respect the flag and our national anthem as they symbolize the freedoms which were brought about by men and women who gave their lives so we could enjoy a life of choice in this country. There are plenty of other countries in this world who have much harsher living conditions, sometimes I think we forget how good we have it here even with our current day challenges. Are there equality reforms which need to be made, certainly, but we can’t lose sight of what’s important just to make a point. In this situation I believe Kaepernick’s questioning of authority and the way he is going about it is actually counterproductive to what his original cause is.
I’m a believer that questioning authority or the status quo for that matter is always a necessity however perhaps the real question isn’t ‘Does questioning authority help or hurt us?’ Perhaps the better question is ‘What is the best way to go about questioning authority to drive actual change?’
Please feel free to share your thoughts and remember to be respectful of other people’s views – it’s what ultimately makes this country great.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.