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First time tech exec tips

Many years ago, when I was appointed to my first senior technology leadership role, I had three long conversations with people who were far more senior and experienced than myself. I did a lot of listening and asked the odd question; it was a little daunting. They acknowledged that I could manage the team; however, the role was more than this. There was an expectation that I could make a significant contribution to the broader business.

After reflecting upon the conversations, there were three things that I concluded. The beauty of this organisation was the culture of empowerment, but this came with significant expectations. It was up to me to either make or lose it; the organisation was unbreakable; however, if I was not effective, there were many others lining up to take the opportunity.

Here were my three areas of focus I concluded after those initial conversations, I asked those leaders after twelve months that I had been in the role, was this the right thing? They asked me if I thought it was? Well, probably, not actually yes! The reply was; ‘well if this is working for you, it’s working for us.’

Leading the team

  • Connect the group and have them co-create how they would like to work with one another

  • Establish a shared space and on the walls make visible what we were working on, make sure these things are measured

  • Hire people smarter and different to you and encourage them to have a voice. Your role is to work with the business. Seek to create broader connections within the industry to anticipate what is next and avoid the temptation of working in the technology team

  • Lead with values, with good values; you are not required to be present all the time. If a decision is required and the values are in place, the team generally makes the right one.

Influencing the broader business

  • Involving others in the emergence of the team, explaining what the team is and what it will be doing, set out the stall. For technology leaders; this is likely to include a strategic document for three years (1000 days) and a quarterly business plan, refreshed and reissued quarterly

  • Prioritising the business, people and then technology. Technology should support a process or resolve a problem rather than be implemented because it was interesting. Acknowledge that industries, geographies and departments mature at different rates and align what is next for them, not what is best

  • Get out into the business and build genuine relationships with those in the organisation. Seek to serve your colleagues but not be subservient and be prepared to challenge constructively.

Sharing thinking

  • Some teams serve multiple functions, connect one function with another and encourage idea-sharing. These are not your ideas; sometimes you may mature an idea so it can scale however it was far more effective to be a facilitator of an idea rather than owning it

  • Sharing something weekly at the same time in the same way. At a previous organisation, I was responsible for measuring culture; I learnt something interesting about some of the well-regarded leaders. They communicated weekly in their words; their note included an industry perspective, something their team was working on and something small about themselves. When I started to do this, it helped me connect better with my team and then those across the organisation. When I met somebody that I didn’t know there was a level of familiarity

  • Being available to listen, let me repeat listen. Many upon finding their voice want to shout professionally, be the most dominant voice in any room all the time. The gift of finding your voice is to allow others to share their voice, if you establish a platform, share the stage with others. Remember, this is about sharing thinking and not just your thoughts.

Significant learning for anyone transitioning into a leadership role is the dependency on ‘others’ for outcomes. Micromanagement is not sustainable, good people will leave, and you will become exhausted. The ‘others’ are beyond your immediate leadership team; they are within the organisation and external to your organisation. Sometimes first-time leaders adopt a very combative approach with those external organisations that serve them, initially this may have some cost-benefit however overtime value is almost always diminished.


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