When engineers become managers: How to be a great technical leader
“As we first develop in our career as technologists, we focus on growing our technical skills. We get promoted based on tangible and measurable accomplishments, like learning a new language or mastering a new technology. Once we move into management, however, things change. As managers, our success is based largely on squishy, abstract attributes like teamwork, leadership, and communication ability. The subjective nature of these skills means that we lose our measurable benchmarks of progress and must rely instead on other people’s perception of our efforts. This is a bitter pill to swallow for most new technical managers.
It may seem unfair, but that’s how the world works. When it comes to leadership, your effectiveness is based largely on how your managers, team members, and coworkers perceive you. It doesn’t matter what your intention is when you draft an email, give a presentation, or make a comment in a meeting. The people around you are interpreting every nuance of your communication and they are arriving at their own conclusions about what you’re saying. They are also receiving information about you third hand, which is based on other people’s own interpretations of your actions.
Successful leaders understand that perception is reality, and they don’t waste time complaining about it. Instead, they are deliberate and clear in their communication and they redouble their efforts when people misperceive their actions. This is why I work on communication skills with every manager who reports to me. We often dissect emails and replay verbal exchanges at a microscopic level, because the nuance of communication is so profoundly important. Simple things like body language, dress, and tone are critical factors in how people perceive you, and it is difficult for people to assess themselves in these areas.”