How Technical Introverts Can Succeed In Broader Leadership Roles

I recently spoke with Manuelle Charbonneau, a senior executive coach, regarding her perspective on a leader’s evolution from being in a primarily technical expert role into a broader more people responsibility role. She related how interesting the work is with high IQ leaders from technical backgrounds as they move up into very senior leadership roles in large organizations.

Her experience is that this step is a truly profound transformation, and that spending some time discussing this transformation before diving into the skills is critical. A research scientist leader, for example, is usually brilliant, respected by his/her peers, and just loves research. These folks are often concerned about what they might lose through the transformation, yet they still value the elevated role and greater responsibility and influence on the team

Moving into a broader people influencing or business centered role is of course hard work. It may or may not capitalize on their strengths, and may or may not be a great fit for their style, their motivation, or their personality. Technical leaders can be concerned about losing their technical expertise and the respect of their peers if they take on this new role. They may be concerned about their technical skills and knowledge becoming quickly obsolete if they don’t have the time to maintain and constantly “up their game” as their peers might.

Transitions also require that we build on existing capabilities and stretch in new ways. Manuelle tries to make sure that the people she works with build on what got them there, define what success will look like, clarify how they best like to learn and grow, and discuss what the tradeoffs might be as they move from being the “expert” to now being a relative “beginner” in this new area. The key to taking on greater responsibilities is accepting that they will have to stop doing the work they love to do at this point – the things they are currently good at, from which they gain great personal value. That work will diminish as they take on competencies that are related to large team management, and less related to technical expertise.

Unfortunately, some technical leaders had moved into higher positions who really did not enjoy the “people side” of leadership nor the associated politics> they found that they missed their work and peers a lot, were deeply concerned about the loss of their technical expertise, did not value the rewards that came with the promotion, and felt really stuck.

When done well, technical leaders who are also people influencers can move mountains, both literally and figuratively! These people are just awe-inspiring.

We can help them by making sure that their motivation, capabilities, and other vital factors all line up on this new journey so that they can succeed and enjoy the ride.

There is no Comfort in Growth, and no Growth in Comfort.


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