How to Manage the Super Smart Techie

Courtesy of TechCareers The role of an IT manager is a diverse job that demands a mix of tech and soft skills, from good communication abilities to tracking emerging technologies. One of the earliest lessons learned is that a 'one-size-fits-all' management approach isn't a good approach. Individual staffers require varying amounts of supervision, feedback and motivation. This is especially true when it comes to managing that super smart staffer—the tech wizard with exceptional skill sets who prefers autonomy and independence over team environments. "They're hard to manage and it can be frustrating to a manager," says Chris Rice, CEO of Blessing White, a consulting firm that helps enterprises create sustainable high-performance organizations. "Organizations are struggling with how to lead, motivate and retain their brightest people," notes Rice. "Expert employees, who are so essential to innovation and competitiveness today, are also demanding, sometimes rebellious, intellectually agile and often insular and uncommunicative with those outside their circle. The brightest minds can be an organization's biggest headache." Rice's firm recently released a survey, "Leading Technical Professionals," reporting that says coaching programmers, scientists, analysts, engineers and other expert employees proves to be the greatest shortcoming of those who manage technical professionals. Smart techies want self management and are often natural problem solvers. They want to keep current; they want to have the new toys. That's why they need a different management schema—one that does not include micro-managing or as Rice puts it "getting in the person's funnel." A good IT leader, he says, is one who understand what makes a tech professional tick and if certain needs of smart techies aren't met, such as consistent professional development, then both the employee and the company find themselves in a lose-lose situation. "You're not going to get the best out of the expert techie if you don't have good leadership that can give them the autonomy as well as loop them into the team environment so they don't get isolated. You have to also provide relevant feedback." The survey's findings indicate that leaders of technical professionals rate themselves as more competent in 'soft' skills like 'building trust with my team' (78 precent claim to be good at this) and 'building collaborative relationships throughout my organization' (66 percent). As Rice translates, today's IT managers are good at being nice, but not so good at helping staff acquire new skills or apply their expertise in challenging and innovative assignments. "This finding is disturbing because technical professionals place high value on personal development and crave exciting work," he says. "Many of these leaders succeeded in the past because of their technical expertise, not their people skills. Most often these leaders are technical professionals themselves. Being technically competent doesn't automatically make you a good leader. Soft skills are essential but people will still leave if they're not achieving their personal goals or if their work is not interesting."