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.
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.