Saturday, January 30, 2010

Should You Be The Smartest?

Should you, the leader (think manager, director, VP, etc.), be the best technically on your team?

I struggled with this early in my management career. When I managed teams with excellent developers, I felt a need to show them I could get down and dirty into the code. Periodically, I'd make minor changes just to show them I "still had it."

However, technology changes.


The only way I could remain competent in technology was at the expense of my manager role. So here I was, facing a dilemma: To manage technical folks, I had to remain technically at the top. To remain technically at the top, I couldn't spend time managing.

So I did what we used to do when we coded ourselves into a circular loop.

I hit control-C and stopped my internal “programming”. I gradually developed new internal programming.

My management value isn’t determined by being the smartest technically on the team. It is based on recruiting and retaining people technically superior to me. More than that, it is developing each of them to grow in their professional (and yes, personal) lives. This recognition changed my relationship with my teams. Most importantly, it freed me from having to prove my technical skills every day.

Instead, I could focus on learning the business in order to help my team make better technical choices. That’s right - in order to get the most out of a technical team, I had to transform myself into a business leader.

You may be saying to yourself (and the many friends who are certainly huddled around your monitor as you read this), “You have to be technical to manage technical teams. That is the only way they respect you.”

I would agree – to an extent. I’m not suggesting that you ignore technology. It is a matter of focus. Instead of spending days writing code, consider the value of time spent learning your business and what your customers are attempting to achieve. You then have an opportunity to return to the technical discussion with a perspective that your team members may not have (as a complement to this, see my post on building customer facing teams).

Keep in mind that many successful coaches were great players. But when their teams won the championship, they were on the sidelines, not the field.

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