When reflecting on your career path, where are you working towards and are you confident that you are focusing on the right areas? If you are in a leadership role, are you putting enough of your attention into vision, strategy and culture, or are you getting waylaid by the technical or functional tasks?
The shift from ‘doing’ to ‘leading’ is one of the most critical turning points you’ll make as you progress through your career. If you’ve made a name for yourself as a high performer in your field and you’re looking to move up to a more senior or visionary role, it can be daunting knowing that the strengths that got you to where you are today may need to be set aside to become an effective leader.
To make the transition successfully, executives need to navigate a tricky set of changes in their leadership focus and skills. So why is this so important when we’re talking about the journey from technician to visionary?
When differentiating between someone who is in a technical role and someone who is in a leadership role, the key difference is focus.
If you are headed towards more of a leadership position, the focus turns to leading and developing people and creating vision. The proportion of the time spent on visionary tasks increases and therefore the proportion of the time spent on technical or functional aspects of our role needs to decrease.
If you’re only focused on today’s to-do list, you’ll run into deadlines you didn’t see coming and be unable to deliver effectively—or, worse, at all. Strategic awareness will go a long way to developing your skills as a leader of projects and people.
In today’s post, we’ve put forward four of the biggest challenges we see our clients face when finding themselves in the position of making the leap from doer or technician to leader.
Challenge number one: Lack of time
The obstacle: One of the most common things we hear are that people are maxed out, they’ve already got too much on their plate and they just don’t have the time or energy to take on more responsibilities.
If this sounds familiar, we challenge you to consider the possibility that you have likely failed to let go of technical tasks that you were doing. As people make their way up the career ladder, they often hold onto their previous role. As a result, they find themselves in a situation where they inadvertently overload themselves because they’re actually stacking multiple roles on themselves without letting go of previous, more technically based work.
The solution: Empowerment and reprioritisation
Focus on empowering your team. Think about how you can delegate responsibility and empower your team to step up and broaden their technical skillset. This will in turn allow you to let go of your technical work and free you to start thinking about where you’re spending your energy instead—which brings us to reprioritisation.
If you have been put into a position where you are expected to lead and there is an expectation from your organisation that you provide strategic direction or mentor your people, then ultimately that needs to be the priority. Often, part of the resistance to this solution is that it can feel painful in the short-term because you either have to train someone up or you have to get outside your comfort zone.
To get past this, ask yourself: Are you risking burn out? Will your performance suffer if you continue to take on more? Will this eventually hinder your ability to fulfil your role to the expected standard if you are overloaded? It helps to cast your mind forward to the potential consequences if you avoid finding a way to step up.
Challenge number two: Your team is unreliable
The obstacle: Another common reason is the belief that you cannot rely on your team.
There is a deep-seated belief that the team aren’t up to the task; you’ve assessed their level of capability and don’t believe the end result will be up to standard. The reality is that if your team doesn’t find a way to bridge that capability gap, then you won’t be able to lead effectively.
The solution: Coaching and mentoring
As a leader, the onus is on you to rethink the situation. Is it that you’re underestimating your team? Is it that they don’t have the resources they require? Is it that they need more training? Challenge your team to step up into areas even if they don’t have the capability yet, through mentoring, guidance and identifying the necessary areas for training and development. Without this, leaders fall into the trap of taking on the work themselves if they feel the capability isn’t there. In effect, you are the one who gets hurt by the fact you cannot let go of the technical.
This is a great opportunity to strengthen relationships with your team. Have them be present with you as you’re doing your technical tasks. Rethink the way you use your one-on-one’s. Instead of using the time to run through task-based progress reports, use that time for mentoring and coaching sessions instead.
Challenge number three: Uncertain of what’s expected of you
The obstacle: As you progress in your career, you may feel pushed outside your comfort zone and find yourself taking on a position that you’re unfamiliar with.
At this point, your job description might well include knowing how to address questions such as, “how do I develop a strategy?” or “how do I build a great team culture?” or other complex questions that you may not yet feel equipped to answer without further training or mentoring.
A common outcome is a feeling of discomfort and an uncertainty around just how you’re meant to deliver on these expectations. It is human nature for people to stick with what they know, or retreat back to their comfort zone, which is why people stumbling at this obstacle end up putting more of their energy into the technical than the visionary work. In this scenario, the technical work has become their safety blanket. While they may be producing results, what they are failing to do is actually lead.
The solution: Alignment and development
When it comes to alignment, now is a great time to take a proactive approach in filling in the blanks. Seek feedback from your senior leaders and peers and find out specifically: what are the things they are looking for? What are their expectations? Use this information to develop a plan for support and guidance in the areas you don’t feel comfortable with.
When you flip your mindset this way, you automatically start planning for your organisation’s success, because the focus is now on the impact you want to make as a leader. This could be the perfect opportunity to reevaluate your own training and development needs: What do you need to do to attain the skills you need? Is it that you need to find yourself a mentor or a coach? Is it that you need to take on additional training? Do you need to read more on leadership?
Challenge number four: Enjoy being the technical expert
The obstacle: Finally, there are those who simply like being involved in technical work.
For those who have spent years investing in a certain skillset and becoming the top of their field, it can be really disappointing to let it go. We feel comfortable working in that space. We like the detailed nature of the work and we enjoy knowing that we can produce great results—and so we make the deliberate decision to hold onto it.
The solution: Be the technician in a visionary context
The question we put forward is: are you aiming to go on and lead, or would you prefer to take the specialist career path? Of course, there is no right or wrong answer with that. Ultimately, it is for you to decide if you wish to be known for being a great leader or for being technically brilliant at a specific skill set.
However, as your responsibilities become more complex, the difference between an effective leader and a high-performing doer with a leader’s title become more and more evident. If a leadership role is something you are struggling with, a starting point to help you rethink your position is to ideate opportunities for the team to improve.
See what happens when you slowly change your mindset by looking ahead: if you generally work in a one week horizon, consciously look ahead to one month, or if you work within a three month horizon, look ahead to the next six to nine months.
What are some of the ideas you have for the future of your team and the business, and how can you enable these ideas? This forward planning mindset allows you to enjoy the skills you have—just in more of a visionary context. You’ll be more forward thinking and visionary as a result, and that skill is something you may find you will enjoy.
Our Culture and Leadership Partner Jodi Bush deep-dives into this very question in our recorded webinar below on making the leap from technician to visionary. You’ll hear Jodi discuss:
- Why it’s important for leaders to challenge their focus
- What separates a leader from a technician
- The key challenges people face in transitioning
- How to overcome these challenges
- Where you are on the journey
A final note…
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