Technical ability doesn’t automatically translate to leadership excellence, so moving from a technician role to an IT manager position can be a big change. Here are five tips to help new IT managers learn the art of management.
You're no longer the technical expert (even if you are)
No matter how good you are at troubleshooting networks or building PCs, when you move to management you are no longer the technical expert. Even if you know how to fix a problem, as a manager you have to give your people the space to do it themselves. The trick is to learn how to ask good questions that help people work things out. Letting go is difficult for a lot of managers, and getting results by following a Socratic leadership style is something that needs practice – but do it right and you’ll be rewarded with a highly functional team.
Leadership or management
While truly inspiring leaders are born, you can learn to be a leader in a business context. In fact, leading will be around 80 per cent of what you do, so you should spend 80 per cent of your professional development time learning how to do it.
A good starting point is a multifactor leadership questionnaire. It differentiates leadership from management and describes five behaviours of effective leaders – read them, understand them and act on them.
Help your peers be successful
Identify your peers – other section heads and line-of-business managers – and work with them to establish how you and your department can help them be successful. There’s a good chance that previous IT managers were seen by others in the organisations as a roadblock. Find ways to help other people achieve what they want to achieve and your success and personal brand are almost guaranteed.
Consider the brand or reputation you want to build for your team. There will already be a brand in place when you take over – and it may not be one you’d buy if it was a product. While you may have to sell your team’s capabilities to other parts of the organisation, remember that your people aren’t the ones who are selling. Under your leadership, they are doing what needs to be done, and people remember their contribution.
Now break the rules
Once you’ve mastered the rules, you’ll know when to break them. There is a well-known IT sales manager who started in the industry as a PC builder at a big reseller. Years down the track, the company, whose sales team he ran at the time, was struggling to deliver a massive order of servers and desktops. PC builders were working 16-hour days and sleeping under desks to keep up with the delivery schedule. One evening, as a crunch point approached, he changed into jeans and a t-shirt went downstairs and started building servers. He broke tip one, but he’s now an industry legend. There’s nothing stopping you from being a pioneer as well.