TechRepublic recently posted a good article on the difference between Leaders and Managers. Having recently had a conversation/debate about a great Leader who is not a great manager, this article really drove home the point I was trying to make.
In my years in the industry I’ve worked for (and with) good managers and good leaders, but rarely someone who was both. This is especially true in IT, where the technical focus makes it harder for people to develop from techie to manager to leader.
Going from techie to manager is a step that many can take. Management skills are something that are quite tangible and can be learned by most. Hands-on managers are quite common – so the techie still gets to be the techie while managing a small team.
Becoming a leader requires more. For some people, it comes naturally. For others, often those who move up from techie to manager, it takes a paradigm shift that is very challenging to do without help. There are (at least) two sides to this shift – first learning to lead, and second learning to think about things from a business value prospective, instead of a tools and details prospective.
The biggest part of this shift for most IT people is letting go of the techie hat. As you become a leader, it’s increasingly important that you delegate technical work to the hands-on people. Your focus has to change from servers and systems and cabling to solutions and business value. You have to become one a business leader, who happens to be technology focused.
The good news is that there is help out there for those which to make the paradigm shift. The best one is to find a mentor or group of mentors who can help you down the path. There is a great Leadership Forum in Seattle, run by John Hughes, an extremely experienced CIO, which I recommend.
Everyone’s path is unique, but the signposts are there for everyone to see. I know my development path has been different than most, including many stumbles to learn from. Most importantly, every stumble has been a great opportunity to learn. Knowing you can dust yourself off and continue builds confidence and character, right?