By Steve Schumacher
Over my years of working at companies all over North America, there have been a number of constants. One of them is that most managers get moved into management because of their technical skills and not interpersonal or leadership skills.
Another constant is that having outstanding technical skills has no bearing on whether or not you will be a good leader of people. They are two completely different skill sets. Often what has happened is the company has lost a good technical person and now has a questionable leader.
Among the issues that arise with this situation is that managers feel like a fish out of water. They are not supposed to be doing the work itself anymore, and they may not have solid managerial skills. Just like all people, the manager tends to gravitate to what their comfort zone is – technical ability. He/she starts to micromanage employees and not letting go of the work that they know so well.
Micromanaging tends to be more negative than positive. It may get you results in the short term, because you probably know the job better than your employees. However, in the long run it causes you more stress, decreases the risk taking of your employees, and erodes the motivation of your employees also. Keep this thought in mind – once you move into management, it is your job to be a leader of people, not an expert in what the job entails.
So, how do you let go of your technical skills, become a leader, and still have confidence that the job will get done right?
Here are a few tips:
Knowledge transfer. As a manager, it is a fundamental responsibility to give your employees the tools to do their jobs well. If you have the knowledge they need, you must find a way to transfer that knowledge to them.
Create a description of what a successful employee in your department does on a frequent basis. Make it as specific and measurable as possible. Get some of your employees involved in creating this model of success. When you have a pretty good picture of what success looks like, do an assessment of each of your employees’ current skill levels.
When you have those two pieces of information, you will see a gap between where your employees currently are and where they need to be. It will not be the same for each employee and it will force you to adapt your training to each employee’s needs, instead of one big blanket training program.
Coaching. Now that you have given employees the tools they need to do the job, your responsibility shifts from training to coaching. Spend time with your employees to see how they are implementing the skills you educated them on.
In order to make the skill of coaching most effective, you have to build trust with employees. Getting to know them and being a good listener will help build trust. When employees trust you, they will listen to your coaching comments and work hard at making the changes you suggest.
Catch them doing it well. At this point you have identified what your employees need to know, given them that knowledge, and have begun coaching them in implementing those skills. At this point, your focus shifts to creating consequences for your employees performing well.
Again, this requires that you spend time with your employees. If you have done your job of training well, there will be multiple occasions where your employees do things right. When you see them doing it well, you need to verbalize it to them. Stored up praise does no good at all – tell them specifically what they did well and what impact it has on you and the organization.
Doing that consistently will let your employees know that what they do well matters to you. A lot of managers think that their job is to primarily correct poor performance. Remember this – it is easier for people to repeat what they do well vs. stop what they do not do well. So, your job is to tell them what they do well.
At this point, you have laid a solid groundwork for you to leave your employees alone and let them do the jobs your hired them to do. You should feel confident that you have identified the skill gaps, filled those gaps, coached for improvement, and recognized what is going well.
Of course, change is a constant, so do not feel like your job as a leader is done forever. You need to constantly pay attention to skill gaps, training, coaching, and pats on the back. That is your job now – being a leader of people.
Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].