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  • Writer's pictureJohn Bowie

Keys to the Boardroom: Letting Go Your Last Competency

You are the best engineer. Because of this you get promoted to manage engineers. You must forget about being the best engineer now and worry about being the best manager of engineers, a totally different skillset.

The difficult thing for someone like myself going into management is facing up to the necessity to let go of your last competency. Unfortunately, you sort of have to let go of this reign before you really have that one or otherwise you never make the move. It is very scary, especially for a scientist, because as a scientist you're dealing with mathematical equations and very deterministic sorts of things. When you are in management, it is the furthest thing in the world from being deterministic. It is inadequate data, it is gut feel, it is human emotion, and it is all of the things that are almost opposite to the scientific process. And so to let go having been a successful scientist, and to let go what is clearly a career, to do something totally different from your experience was really frightening.

What happens, I think sometimes – among some of our engineering managers who struggle as managers – is that they never quite let go. And therefore, they can never really become the quality manager they need to be. They try to engineer their way through it; they try to retain that technical competency and that technical involvement. They try to apply engineering formulas to the situation where they don't apply rather than really learning, really accepting the notion that management is a separate and distinct discipline that has to be learned in and of itself.

CEO of a Fortune 500 computer and electronics company

Once you choose the management path, it is frightening to see yourself falling behind in the technical skills that you had once mastered. But you have a new set of competencies that you must learn, and one of those is supporting the development of your direct reports. Even if you can perform a task better than the employees you now manage, you are now responsible for helping them grow in their competency rather than for ensuring the best outcome. Managing people means giving your team opportunities to practice, to resolve challenges, and sometimes to fail.

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