The Evolution Of Leadership Means Letting Go Of The Technician We Were

One of the most common factors linking workplaces where dysfunction is introduced by a manager is the misguided belief that managers must also be the most skilled technicians.

Yesterday, I faced the inevitable reality that, at some point, every manager faces. 

I came face to face with the reality that I am no long the brilliant technician I once was.

A Personal Story...The Inevitable Realization

As a young finance and accounting professional, I began my career as a mid-level financial analyst. 

I conducted complex analyses and developed financial and analytical models that wowed my various managers.

From there, I progressed to a senior financial analyst role, where I further honed and developed my skills as I solved more complex analytical problems to provide senior management with ever more sophisticated demands for information and insight into what was happening in their business units.

I lived and breathed the world of financial planning and analysis for 40 to 60 hours a week 50 weeks a year. 

Now, when I look back at what I created and the skills I once employed analyzing my employer's financial performance, I am the one who is wowed.

Manager Vs. Technician

When I made the leap to management, I noticed a change in how I needed to work to be successful in my role.

As a manager, my job was no longer solving the problem directly.

Instead, it became effectively and efficiently using the people and resources under my leadership to find the create the models, analyze the problems, and find the solutions.

Herein lies a leading source of micromanagement

My body occupied the role of a manager but my brain continued to occupy the role of technician.

This meant that whenever someone reviewed with me the results of their analysis and the process they followed, I immediately compared it to how I would have done it.

I cared less about the outcome itself than how the analyst, the technician, arrived at that outcome. If they hadn't done it the way I would have done it, I felt the output of their effort was inferior to what they would have arrived at if they "had done it my way."

My "technician" brain was dominating my interactions with employees. As a result, I actually felt in competition with those I was in the role of leading...the result was that I felt an incessant need to be right because I was the boss...I was supposed to be the smartest and most skilled technician around, right?


It was pointed out to me by a very trusted and skilled leader, that my job was to get absolute highest quality output from my team of technicians, all of who were extremely smart and skilled finance and accounting professionals.

It was then that I received the single greatest lesson of my management career:

Excellent managers must master and employ a very different set of skills than an excellent technician. Therefore to become an excellent manager, I had to let go of being a excellent technician.

When Managers Don't Let Go

The inevitable outcome of managers not being able to let go of being the consummate technician is micro-management.

Micro-management results when:

  1. Managers stay in the technician mindset and merely see their team as extensions of their own technician brain. This means that if a worker makes an error, the manager sees it as their own error...but they are an excellent technician who doesn't make these they berate the employee who made the error. The manager lays blame and threatens them to never make a mistake again. The manager, after all, was made a manager because they are the best technician and the best technician doesn't make neither can their extensions.
  2. Managers stay in the technician mindset and take the role of "backseat driver"...or more accurately, the backseat driver who jumps halfway into the front seat, grabbing the steering wheel from the driver. This is the case when managers constantly (and strongly) suggest to their workers how to "best" do the analysis or other work. The manager, believing they must continue to demonstrate they are indeed the most skilled and excellent technician, gains a needed feeling of technical and intellectual superiority over their workers by reinforcing (both in their own mind and externally) why THEY are the manager.
  3. Managers continue to self-identify with the technician because they lack any understanding of what it truly means to be an effective manager and leader of others. A sort of identify crisis is created within the manager because, if they no longer personify the excellent technician, who are they? Becoming an excellent manager and leader takes time and effort (just as becoming an excellent technician did) and having to start the process of building one's self up again in this new role is an undesirable feat for many professional egos. 

The Leadership Trade-off

Of all professionals who occupy a management role, only a small subset are considered excellent managers and leaders by their staff.

Those who are viewed this way have achieved this great accomplishment because of their willingness to do something that proves extremely difficult and uncomfortable for many.

They let go of their need to be the perfect technician to instead focus on developing their leadership skills to become an excellent manager.

They made the leadership tradeoff.

Now, to many reading this, making this tradeoff may not seem like that big a deal....But it is.

And if you are one who has made this tradeoff but doesn't feel it was a big deal...chances are you didn't doing it very well if at all.

Making the leadership tradeoff requires high-performing professionals who, to this point, have defined their careers by the mastery of their technical skills, (in my case analytical skills), to completely let go of this version of who they see themselves to be.

This can be exceptionally difficult for new managers who were hired or promoted because of their superior technical skills. 

A trap that I have seen many managers fall into is the silly notion that being an excellent technician (such as an analyst, accountant, engineer, or doctor) automatically translates into being an excellent manager.

This scenario is a breeding ground for micro-management and workplace dysfunction as managers find themselves subject to immense internal conflict as who they need to be (a manager) is in constant conflict with who they used to be (the technician).

Of course, there is a silver lining to these situations...they hire external professionals, such as The 2% Factor, to intervene, coach, neutralize, and fix the problem

My Personal Ah-Hah! Moment

The leadership tradeoff isn't a one-time occurrence. As managers progress in their careers into the realm of senior management and the C-suite roles, we must constantly remind ourselves that we have willingly and necessarily made this tradeoff.

I was reminded of this very fact yesterday when speaking on the phone with someone who had recently moved into her first manager role after spending 3 years in an intense analytical position

Providing me with some context of the issues she deals with, she asked me how I would analyze a significant budget-to-actual variance at month-end. Thinking for a bit, I answered her by explaining the high-level process I would follow.

After acknowledging my answer as "possible", she explained to me in very technical terms another way the analysis could be completed. While the outcome of our two approaches was the same, she felt it necessary to demonstrate to me her superior analytical skills

She had not yet made the tradeoff.

Although I moved beyond her position over a decade ago, I found my technical brain feeling annoyed at my answer being challenged. I had to remind myself that I DID make the tradeoff over and over again.

I had to remind myself that while it has always been my job to ensure decision-makers had the critical financial and operational information to make informed, sound business decisions, it hasn't been my job to be the technician crunching the numbers for over 10 years

I had to rethink for a moment who, professionally, I was...the person who teaches, guides, and supports the team of technicians and ensures the information I need to make critical, business-altering decision is available so that I can perform my role in the growth and success of the organization.

I have lived through the evolution of leadership. I have had to let go (more than once) of the technician I was. I am not who I was...I am more...and I celebrate that.

Are you ready to make the tradeoff and transition from technician to leader? If so, let us help. Find out how The Law of Cooperative Action™ Professional Mastery Program can help you make this shift faster and easier than you might think possible.