Techies, Talent Management and the Soft Skills of Leadership

Cornell Professor Sam Bacharach is a faculty author for numerous eCornell courses, including Change Leadership, Managing for Execution and High Performance Leadership. In this post from the Bacharach Blog, Leadership for Entrepreneurial Techies, Prof. Bacharach discusses how to develop high-potential technical types:

Here’s a myth that is widely believed in organizations:  The detail-focused, bottom-line driven entrepreneurial techies are repelled by anything that smacks of leadership training.  There is a feeling throughout organizations that the techies are put off by the tender underbelly of organizational life and that “managing people” really isn’t their strong suit.

But, it is time for this myth to be confronted and debunked.  The reality is quite different.

For the last number of years, I’ve been training high potentials in the technology industry in leadership. Not too long ago, I had the privilege of walking into a room of 26 such individuals.  Each ran their own business; each had a keen awareness of their technologies, market, and products; each is highly successful in their core business; each is a survivor of a competitive, rapidly moving environment; and each is defined by their superiors as a “high potential.”  But by nearly every other conventional standard, they have already fulfilled an impressive degree of potentiality.  They have already proved their leadership capacity.

My challenge was to speak to them about leadership.  What words of wisdom could I offer such an impressive group?  I couldn’t pretend I was an expert in their business, or knowledgeable about technology.  What I could do was to bring out the specific micro-skills—the little things that they do every day—and put them in a leadership frame.  I wanted to make them as comfortable with the notion of mobilizing and moving others as they are with their own technical expertise.  The men and women in that room were established leaders in product innovation and market penetration—but they are moving up the corporate ladder and further away from their technological home.  With greater responsibility, they will be challenged with mobilizing groups, keeping teams together, negotiating over ideas, and enhancing and engaging others.  These things are easier to do in a unit that shares a similar expertise, goals, and vision. These things are harder to do when trying to marshal support from more people—from different units, with different priorities, and different visions.

The old myth is that technological entrepreneurs have a lack of awareness of how to practice the “soft skills of leadership.”  What I’ve learned over the last number of years is that high potentials who come from technology and are experts in the core business function are the first to understand that moving up in the organization requires them to supplement their leadership skills with the micro-skills necessary to move one’s agenda forward.  The challenge of any program for high potentials directed at internal, technical, business entrepreneurs, is to bring Leadership down from the mountaintop into the reality of every day leadership—that is, with leadership a small “l.”

 

Christopher Wofford is Digital Media Producer and host of WebSeries at eCornell.
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