Managing and listening

What makes management difficult for people who are technical experts? In a way, it’s like the reputation that medical doctors have when they are managing their investments — they are so accustomed to being the ones who “know” they have trouble taking advice from financial advisors. As a result, docs are reputed to be have the worst record as self-managed investors.

I can sympathize. As a technologist, I tried managing my own investments over a long period of time. Eventually, I realized that I “knew too much” about the technology and the companies as technology sources. So I would invest in companies that had great technology, but they would turn out to have poor businesses or inadequate marketing — things I didn’t recognize.

Moving from technical contributor
(engineer, programmer, analyst, etc.) to manager is another difficult transition in which the contributor is accustomed to “knowing.” As a resource for others on technology, we’re used to being the authority. So the first thing we have to learn as managers is humility.

Actually, the first thing we need to learn is that management is an honorable profession with its own set of objectives, methods and styles. Our training is in “hard” sciences and technology, so we’re rarely prepared to deal with the “soft” stuff of people interactions, influencing, leading, and communications. So let’s be clear: there are a lot of new things to learn about.

Since we tend to manage our interactions by intuition and by reference to our upbringing, most of what we do as managers is not conscious: we don’t see it as skills, but temperament. Believe me, however, you CAN change your interactions. The keys? Being interested in becoming effective as a manager. Becoming aware of the effect we are having on people. Being willing to listen to feedback. Being willing to listen.

Being a manager is all about dealing with non-quantitative stuff. Let the MBAs bring out their spreadsheets. When we need to do quantitative measurements, we’ll have plenty of expertise with the methods and the tools. What we need is a willingness to listen, learn and improve.

Improve what? How do we measure ourselves as managers?  We’ll address this question in a future blog post.

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About John Levy

John Levy, Ph.D. is an expert in computers, software and storage who is available for consulting in patent litigation.

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