Back of a coaster is the record of my journey to learn more about the practicalities of leading technical people. My career has always involved being the person people go to when they want a solution. Giving up being the guy that gets things done and becoming the guy that knows who to send is an interesting transition. But the main challenge in trying to get big things done is that you need to be able to achieve more than any one person can.
It also means giving up on thinking you will be the smartest person in the room. I’m lucky today that I have an incredibly talented pool of Engineers and Technicians that genuinely care about their jobs. It wasn’t always the case though. Coming through the military you always could rely on the fact that the person leading you was qualified and the people along side of you wanted to be there. They might be a jerk, they might have incompatible views with you, but you knew you could rely on them to get the job done. When I started leading people in the military I could always rely on this, my team wanted to achieve for me as the boss, and in return they expected me to treat them fairly and to give the the opportunity to succeed.
Doesn’t sound like every place that you’ve worked though, does it? The challenge with applying a military frame of reference in a professional context is the variety of people and motivations that you encounter. People in professional settings don’t always know their jobs. They try to cover their own backsides rather than having the integrity to own up to mistakes, and they don’t always have the best interests of the organisation at heart.
I struggled with this for a number of months in a former role. How do you motivate someone that doesn’t want to be there or doesn’t want to know their job. Some people through no fault of their own end up in roles that they are not capable of achieving. People will tell you that you can help anyone, but its not true, some people don’t want to be helped and the more important thing is to know when to move on. More harm can come from trying to fit a square peg into a round hole than in identifying a situation you know can’t be fixed and taking action to address it. Making hard decisions sometimes means admitting that getting someone on board is beyond you and moving on.
The most important thing is not to compromise your principles in the process. Dont become the sort of manager you decided you didnt want to be. Don’t be afraid to tell someone that works for you that there performance isn’t going to meet the teams objectives in the long term because you think you can bring them around. Most importantly don’t let it influence the way you act towards them or others. I learnt this one the hard way and its something I’m keen not to repeat again.