Words Are First Hurdle
For New Tech Managers
lack the language
the value of
NEW MANAGERS STRUGGLE. They also don’t get much help — or sympathy. My last column elicited a lot of heartfelt reader emails about the difficulty of, and lack of support for, the transition from technical work to management. My conversations with those
Paul Glen is the
CEO of Leading
Geeks, an education
and consulting firm
devoted to unlocking
the value of technical
people. You can
contact him at info@
readers also revealed that whatever support they
did get left their biggest need unmet. Training
focused on skills — the mechanics of management
— but the new managers still lacked the language
to truly understand the value of management itself.
That’s right. What they needed most were words.
They can think and speak clearly about techni-
cal work and how it adds value. But when it comes
to the value of management, they have only vague
words and platitudes to guide them. Without the
clarity of language, new managers:
It’s no wonder that so many new managers
cling to their technical work like a drowning man
to a life preserver. At least it lets them know when
they are adding value and being competent.
As I’ve coached managers, I’ve noticed that they
need to progress through three distinct phases.
Phase 1: The language of engineers. New
technical managers come to the job assuming that
a manager is just an engineer with power. They
believe that managers don’t add value; they just
supervise those who do. They retain the assumption that value exclusively comes from building
and fixing things. So, they talk about writing,
developing, designing, building, coding, testing,
deploying, fixing, diagnosing and producing.
Phase 2: The language of authority. As they
begin to differentiate their former role from the
new one, they focus on authority — on status
rather than value. This is a dangerous time.
Managers who linger (or get stuck) in this phase
get branded as self-centered and power-hungry.
In it, they talk primarily about leading, directing,
deciding, planning, approving, monitoring, re-
warding and punishing. As soon as you recognize
this phase, start talking about the next one.