How often have you seen organizations promote the strongest technical person into a leadership role? A better question is why? Are they promoting this person because they have the potential to be a great leader? If so, that is great. Organizations should promote from within whenever possible. However, if they are promoting the strongest technical person simply because they are the strongest technical person, well, that is a recipe for disaster. Please, don’t misunderstand my message, if the strongest technical person also has leadership skills or the ability to develop leadership skills, then by all means, give them a shot. Is being the strongest technical person enough to lead a team? Is it enough to lead successfully? I am sure many will disagree with me but in my experience, the strongest technical person either has no ability to lead or desire to learn to lead. Leadership is not for everyone and that is ok.
Before you promote a technical strength into a leadership role, ask them why. Why do you want to lead this team? If their response is purely financial, I suggest you find someone else. Purely financial motivation is not the best reason to lead a team. Those that choose leadership for the money likely do not fully understand the role. Yes, leadership can be lucrative but there is so much more to it that many people don’t understand.
That said, employers must find a path for their technical strengths. If employers cannot find a way to retain their technical strengths, to do what they do best, those technical strengths will go where they can find more money. Retain the best, find a way to grow their career without putting them in a role for which they are not suited. Give them an opportunity.
Leadership involves more than knowing the job. Yes, knowing the job is a component but technical strength does not = great leader.
If you do hire a technical strength into a leadership position, make sure they understand the role, the entire role. Provide them the tools to succeed. Give them leadership and communications training. Help them understand what it takes to successfully lead a team. They must understand employees, employment and effective communication.
Organizations that fail to train leaders, especially internal promotions to leadership, are setting that leader up for failure. Organizations must prepare new leaders about differences between being an individual contributor and being an effective leader. Leadership means you are now responsible for more than just yourself. You have a commitment to your team and to your organization.
The point of this article comes down to these few things:
- If you have great technical people, create a career path so they can continue to grow and earn. If you don’t, you run the risk of losing them.
- If you have a great technical strength that has leadership potential, paint them a full picture of the role. Prepare them. Train them. Set them up for success.