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Turn technicians into people managers

Show them how to develop into leaders

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Rick managed two engineers with the technical know-how to move up in the firm. But all their peers disliked them. Rick urged both engineers to improve their people skills, but they insisted they were not the problem and “everyone else” was.

When you manage technical whizzes who lack the ability to lead, don’t promote them and hope they’ll get the hang of being the boss. And don’t assume enrolling them in a seminar will transform them overnight. Smug technicians might resist the learning points and come away from the session exactly as they went in.

So what should you do? Try these techniques:

Enlist mentors who have outstanding people skills and who share the technicians’ expertise. If you can’t find such leaders within your organization, look outside to key advisers or retired execs. The mentors’ tact and charisma should rub off on the technicians.

Stage “trial runs.” Assign the technicians to run project teams or hold temporary positions of power in which they must manage employees, temps or consultants. Make sure these experiments are controlled so that if the technicians do a poor job of managing and motivating subordinates, you’re prepared to salvage the situation.

Use these trial runs as a training tool. Help the technicians learn from their short-term stints as people managers.

Model what you want. Demonstrate the kind of strong yet sensitive leadership that the technicians can emulate. For example, listen without interrupting or rushing to judge, ask open-ended questions rather than lecturing and praise them for work well done.

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