Technical leaders: Are you unknowingly tarnishing your reputation?

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By Noel DiBona

Special to North Carolina Construction News

More and more technical leaders are falling into the trap of not wanting to do the hard work when it comes to understanding and solving people-related problems. Unfortunately, these mindsets and behaviors can tarnish their reputation leading to strained communications between teammates and other influential leaders in the organization. Not paying attention to people-related issues will also compromise business goals and as a result future growth potential will greatly suffer. As a technical professional I have the greatest respect and admiration for the STEM community, however, there are specific mindsets and behaviors that can stall careers or worse yet, tarnish reputations.

We must remember that technical leadership is not all about solving technical problems, it’s more about inspiring others to be psychologically committed to the success of the overall team, no matter what they need to do to get the job done.

Technical professionals, in the beginning of their careers, gain success because of their abilities to work through a large volume of technical tasks, but now they must focus on their team. As a leader, it’s about managing diverse and complex teams and making progress toward strategic business goals and collaborating with others.

Resist going down into the weeds

Technical leaders can get stuck in the “individual contributor” mode while their suffers lack of direction, or they sense the leader is not engaged, is too busy, or doesn’t care about them.

Leaders cannot force their teammates to be motivated or engaged but they can create the necessary environment so their teammates to want to do the right thing.

Let’s take a closer look at the specific issues that tend to hold back technical leaders:

Mastering people skills: Oftentimes, technical leaders don’t feel confident about mastering people skills. People-related issues go into the “too-hard-to-do column.” It’s messy and ambiguous and we really don’t like getting in the middle of all of that.

Inquisitive minds look for the gaps: As technical professionals we are trained to identify the negatives in innovative designs or concepts. It’s how technical professionals are trained. Engineers, for example are trained to anticipate shortcomings in ideas before spending valuable resources pursuing solutions that are destined to fail. This kills morale, and stifles creativity, eventually turning people away. Productivity suffers and the team does not have the opportunity to help create the right culture.

Always going deep diving into the weeds: It is difficult for technical leaders to resist going back down into the weeds. It’s familiar territory that strokes the ego. Unfortunately, it’s all backwards. Getting into the weeds is draining your precious time, taking it away from the more important part of your job, leadership.

Failure to act on solving people problems: And because it’s so uncomfortable, technical leaders will put people problems at the end of their to-do list and let the problems fester until they become an unnecessarily larger problem.

Become more self-aware

If you are a technical leader and fall prey to these temptations, there is help. A careful accounting of your own drives and needs to learn how you are perceived and to have a more level understanding of how to perceive your teammates is easy to do and can provide a real boost to your leadership performance. Armed with more self-awareness, you will be more adaptable and be more effective in unfamiliar situations or when you are having to solve issues on your team. This newfound ability will allow you to hit curve balls and herd butterflies.

Using people analytics, we can make this journey of self-discovery process rewarding, and even fun.

Spending over 20 years as an executive leader, I understand the challenges of leadership and how important it is to have the right tools to help you deal with people issues. Without access to certain tools, it is difficult, if not impossible, to improve your leadership. It is like navigating a boat without a rudder.

If your team is not working as well as it could, don’t despair. It’s not your fault since you haven’t had the right tools to better understand how to improve your leadership. There are various assessments that will help you better understand your strengths, preferred leadership style, and potential blind spots. We will be covering more details on this topic in subsequent articles.

You may reach the author, Noel DiBona at if you would like more information about this people-based approach to helping STEM professionals learn how to be more effective leaders.

Noel DiBona
Noel DiBona


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