Martin Gephart, Technology Evangelist and Digital Business Transformation Strategist, Shares His Experience and Insight
I moved into leadership through the tech ranks and no, I didn't go to B. School. When I mentor young tech folks, at some point they all consider the following: ‘Do I want to continue to be technical, or do I choose the dark side of people management?’
This is the dreaded crossroads (as though we are speaking with the devil). For the purpose of this article, I will play a benevolent devil. I like to start the conversation with: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up? Engineering Fellow, CTO, Enterprise Architect, or… CIO, CFO, COO, CEO?’
If you are in the tech space or not, you find yourself at some point in your career facing the decision to move from individual contributor to leader of others. You either get there on your own, or someone forces your hand for you. I call this crossroads the ‘Y’ in the career. Before you get to the ‘Y,’ you are evaluated equally on your people skills, process skills, and technology skills.
Maybe one individual has stronger skills in tech, while someone else is better at working with people, or is a true process wonk. We all have these skills to some degree. However, the best future leaders have a mix of all three, and every day, their skills get stronger with more experience.
So, what now? We change how we measure their success.
Though the individual probably came up the ranks through a specific technical or process discipline, he/she now needs to be successful through the work of others. That’s right, PEOPLE SKILLS ARE NEEDED.
The mix of a performance evaluation reduces the emphasis on technical skills and increases it on people and process skills. And some young leaders struggle with this aspect. No longer the top dog in their discipline, they are outside their comfort zone in gaining success through others, and not their own actions. As a result, panic sets in. Therefore, training and coaching of these aspiring and/or novice leaders become increasingly important.
My suggestions? Patience. Get him/her a mentor that has faced this scenario before. And, Empathy. Allow him/her to make many, many, many mistakes and follow-up with in-person, direct and candid feedback.
So how do you prepare first-time supervisors for the "Y" in their careers? Better yet, how do we get more young professionals to WANT to be on the ‘dark side’ of people leadership in technology departments?
About the Author: Martin is currently the Senior Director of Enterprise Architecture for Medicare & Retirement, Insurance Solutions, at United Healthcare. He has specialized in fraud detection/information security, IT operations, strategy and beyond. The self-described ‘technology evangelist and digital business transformation strategist,’ is a father, as well as a musician and an advocate of STEM education for children. And, in fact, he was one of the first members of the Ashling Team Cybersecurity Community.