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Tag, You're IT! An Introduction for Technical Managers

Project ManagementProductivity

Grant HoweBy: Grant Howe, VP of Research & Development, Sage North America’s Nonprofit Solutions


Technical leadership generally gets a bad rap for not having quality "soft skills" in managing people. Most of us have grown up through a technical career ladder that values technical brilliance over these desired soft skills. As bright techies with "leadership potential," we are often thrust into leadership positions with little training and a shift of importance to working with people instead of working with "bits and gear." Our initial move to a management position is often made with little to no training, mentoring, or support. Tag, you’re it ...

This series of blog posts will focus on methods that allow you to quickly begin to provide leadership and direction and overcome the lack of training and support that new technical managers often suffer from. Execute well, and you might find yourself quickly outperforming more experienced classically trained managers.  

Philosophy: Technology Is About People

Technology is created by people for other people to use. Good technology is created by teams of people that understand people. Hard-to-use or very defective technology is created by teams that focus on technology instead of people.

How can you lead your team and show them that people are important? Start by setting an example and let them experience being important first-hand.

Be Genuine

Show people who you really are. It’s difficult to be someone you are not, and you can spend a lot of your energy doing so. You have a personality, with both its bright spots and rough edges. Let them show through at work.

Put some personal items in your workspace that will cause conversation (HR-appropriate, please). Engage others in conversation about items you see in their own workspaces. They have them there for a reason; find out why. Have a real conversation. Be human and acknowledge humanity in others.

Be Accessible

Talk to anyone who wants to talk with you. I've heard it said that innovations are a result of many people's thoughts that suddenly meld together in one person's head and form a raw idea. If you believe that, you need to get out and talk to people to get their thoughts in your head.

I recently had someone from inside the company apply for one of my open technical positions. The person was not qualified for the job, but my personal rule is that if an internal candidate applies, they get an interview. I was upfront with the person in telling them that they didn’t meet the position's need, and we spent our time instead discussing what she could do to grow so someday she would be qualified. She was ecstatic that I would spend 30 minutes talking about her career when there was nothing in it for me.

Be There

Communication with humans is complex. We pay attention not only to what is being said but also to many other cues that the speaker intentionally or unintentionally conveys. Body language, tone of speech,gestures, facial movements, and eye movements all convey meaning.

When we communicate with folks remotely, we lose some of this context by not being present. If you can’t meet often in person, find ways to add some of this context back to some of your conversations. Try phone calls instead of instant messages and emails, and webcam sessions instead of phone calls. You’ll see a greater richness of communication and understanding unfold if you vary your communication mediums more.

Give some of these thoughts a try!

Grant Howe is VP of research & development for Sage North America’s Nonprofit Solutions business, based in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter.