I recently worked with a technology client whose goal was to move into a management position in the next 6 months. By all standards, he was an expert technologist with decades of experience in problem solving and execution. He was analytical, intelligent and adept at breaking down the steps needed to move forward, creating project plans and completing tasks. For the first two sessions, our discussions revolved around his approach to the action plan he created for obtaining a management position. Was it working? What else could he do to improve it? Our coaching was tactical, rooted firmly in the action steps he created and his progress.
Moving up the ladder
In our third session, the client noted he had a conversation with a colleague where she asked him why he wants to be a manager at this stage in his career. The client was struck by this question, as he had never really explored the “why”. He always knew this is what you are supposed to do…
move up the ladder. He is not alone. Many professionals have the same thought process of wanting to advance without fully understanding what advancement means. Does the desire to be in management fit with their personality, vision, passion and values?
Permission to explore
I asked the client if we could explore “the why, the what and the how” behind his wanting to move into a management position. As we began probing these questions, the client began to shift his perspective and think about the bigger picture. What was the real driver for him in obtaining this position? Why was it important to him? How was it tied to his passions, vision and values? By answering these questions, he started understanding how his decision to seek a management position fit into the larger framework of his life.
What I found most impressive with this client was how he applied these new questions to other aspects of his current day-to-day work. He realized that by asking the bigger questions, he began to see problems and issues more holistically from a 10,000-foot view instead of being in the weeds working on the tactical issues. He began to think more about results and why it is important to see how the problem fits into the greater arena instead of only discussing and executing the tasks involved. He started asking what are the results we want to achieve and why do we want them? He started seeing how a larger view is needed to create the optimal path and solution for any given problem.
If the client is engaged and willing to work hard and get even get a little uncomfortable, coaching has the power to expand perspectives, shift thought patterns and have an immediate impact on results.
Investigating the deeper questions
By taking a step back and investigating a deeper question, “the why”, around his own future goal, he was able to shift the way he saw today’s technical problems being addressed which allowed him to more successfully solve the real business issues. Often, technical leaders struggle with the bigger picture issues, problems and ideas. They excel at analyzing details and solving the smallest of problems, when seeing the bigger picture is needed to create the optimal path and solution.
At the end of our engagement, I asked the client to summarize what his greatest learning and distinctions were. In one word, he said the work was transformational for him as it expanded his self-awareness, why he pursues goals and the importance of understanding the purpose driving the outcomes. In fact, this experience was so powerful for him; he shared what he learned with his son to help him start asking the bigger questions much earlier. What started out as transactional coaching, meant to help the client move towards obtaining a management position, turned into transformational coaching where the client shifted his way of thinking towards a deeper understanding of what was important to him and to his work.
Good for business
With this new knowledge and awareness, the client has started engaging in different thinking patterns required of a management position where he will be responsible for business issues along with the performance of himself and his team. Furthermore, practicing these new behaviors while still in his technical, leading-self position, will allow him to develop the confidence and ability to more easily shift into leading and developing others. All of which, allows for a more successful transition to management, happier employees and an organization with technical managers working in and on the business.
Images courtesy: krossbow