Last week, I finished a two-day class on the 7 Habits for Managers (the FranklinCovey class). I’ve been down this path a few times having attended Leadership Forums a few times, reading through 7 Habits way back in college and the 8th Habit a few years ago. It’s all good stuff, but I entered the class a bit reticent that I wasn’t going to have any big a-has about myself having been through this material before. I was wrong.
Having poured through all this material on a couple of rounds over the past several years, understanding how Covey’s Habits stem from Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) that goes all the way back to the 1920s and even from being in Boy Scouts, I feel like I I have developed very strong, very natural leadership skills…. yet formal recognition of leadership (the “management” word) has often eluded me. What I realized over the last two days, both through the class and in a couple of situations just outside of the class, is this: being a natural leader is one thing; being a leader in an organization is another, and I don’t have the skill/talent to be in that role. I’m not shy about what my plans for my career *have been*, but this is an epiphany that I will be struggling to get comfortable with over the next weeks/months.
It started with a bit of humor my instructor (who knows me from work) employed where he referred to me as the “techie” guy. It got under my skin as it often does to be thought of as the “tech guy.” I’ve often wondered to myself “Why don’t they ever think of me as the Learning Strategy guy?” Right after this question popped up in my head, in class, I realized this was not the right question to be asking. So I asked myself a question so new to me I had to write it down:
*Why do I dislike the perception of me being the tech guy, and what am I doing that’s reinforcing that perception?*
Well, for one thing, I stick out as much as stand out. Leaders stand out from the crowd because of their work, their commitment to the team… I stand out because of those things too, but I call a lot of attention to myself. I mean, I can start with my look. I choose the nerdy glasses because their edgy. I like dressing with a bit of zing. I like recognition. I like sticking out. Organizational leaders don’t stand out because of anything they “do.” Organizational leaders stand out *despite* what they do. In order to stand out, I’m still trying to stand in front of others, and in an organization a leader isn’t out in front. They’re behind the scenes. They blend.
I fit in, but I doubt anyone would say that I blend. That’s a key difference.
Another, larger a-ha, came later. A casual friend of mine joined LinkedIn on Monday who’s looking to leave her 14-year career in teaching and take a chance on doing something, *anything* new. I’m coaching her through this because I’ve been in exactly that place, and I like helping friends out. As I accepted her request to connect, I looked at her profile and noticed another employee in my HR department that she’s connected to, but whom I know only in name. Well, last week I had the opportunity to meet this person, so I just introduced myself to her and immediately asked her how she knew our mutual friend.
What I failed to do was provide any context for why I would even be asking about this person. So, I probably came off as nerd, weirdo, freak or stalker — point is, I got so excited at the chance to solve this little mystery in my head that I forgot about manners.
So… I’m socially awkward. I do a good job of masking it in most social situations, but it’s situations like this where it starts to show up. Friends and coworkers probably find some of my awkwardness both amusing (or annoying) depending on how or when it manifests.
These idiosyncrasies are common among technical leaders in all areas, but not in areas like HR that deal in the people trades. And that’s where I think my communication issues are coming into play. In technical settings, I often felt like I was the nerd who could speak to the non-techies — but the exposure to non-technical people was pretty limited. Now, I’m in pretty limited company and surrounded almost entirely by non-technical people, whom I must interface with almost 100% of the time. It’s different.
People talk about moving up in organizations as “having to play the game,” and while that may be true, that’s not the challenge I face moving up in an organization. I can’t champion the needs or wants of my team if I’m stumbling over my own words or misrepresenting their end goals. In a more technical environment, maybe it’d be more than acceptable. In any organization, style matters as much as substance — and some of my personality traits just don’t play well when it comes to that kind of communication.
It’s probably made acceptable in peer-relationships because (I’d guess) I add enough value to the relationship where people are willing to look and listen past my rambling (and probably what comes across as moodiness). To consult my team, I shouldn’t have to change a thing — but as my circle of influence grows, so too does the population of people who just don’t know me and whom I don’t know. Those miscues are unacceptable in positions of organizational responsibility.
Everyone reading can learn from this, but this should hopefully resonate with other technology-prone people, peers and friends, who have struggled with opportunities to grow as a consultant, as a developer or as a designer. I don’t know that anyone could put their finger on this in a way that I would understand. My idiosyncrasies are not flaws, but they highlight the challenges I have in navigating non-technical waters.