The mythos of the tech firm is that a good technician who is passionate about their career gets frustrated working for others, has a different vision, and then decides to go into business for themselves. They are then wildly successful, surpassing all of those previous places they worked. But the reality is that many firms aren’t wildly successful, and the new business-owner continues to founder; this is usually brushed off with the statement that these are tech people, not businesspeople. Some never get out of tech mode and they don’t make it or end up with a job instead of a business. The reasons cited usually focus on administrative tasks. They don’t know accounting; they don’t do enough marketing; they spend too much time working in the business and not on the business. The reality is that some people never really intended to have a business. What they really wanted was to earn a larger percentage of the $120 hourly rate their boss charged for their time. And that’s fine. That is how you create your own job, but it’s not how you create a business. To create a thriving business, especially a tech business, you must be a leader.
Some people rise to become great techs in their career. A fewer number of people rise to become great managers. Fewer still rise above all others to become leaders and a business can’t be successful without leadership. A wildly successful business has to have a leader at the helm.
A tech leader is different from a tech manager
A great manager is an implementer. They are great at motivating people, keeping them on task, and keeping track of a lot of moving parts. They are usually very good at working with customers to keep them happy and chasing down anomalies to the standard process. They support everyone to enable them to stay on task. They answer emails and phone calls rapidly and have excellent customer service skills. They are good at onboarding new employees and might even be involved in the hiring process itself. Every business needs a good manager. Every tech business needs great techs. These people are invaluable, but they are not tech leaders.
A leader is a person who thinks not of how to solve a problem that a client has encountered today. Nor do they think about how to keep customers happy today. Those are the managers’ problems to solve. Instead, their mind is focused on the future. They have a vision of where the company is going. They know what the customer is going to want or expect from the company next year. And they make moves to put the business into the place where the best advantage will be next year, two years from now, and five years from now.
They track the pulse of the economy. Even more importantly, they track the pulse of their clients’ personal economy. What is happening in their industry? Is there a technology revolution coming? Who are they competing with? What do they need from technology to stay on top of the changing competitive landscape? Spread that across the entire client base. A leader looks forward to what technology is coming down the line and is most likely to be widely adopted in the long term. They move their company toward that direction.
For the manager, the staff are the pawns on the chessboard and the win is great customer service. For the leader, the business itself is the pawn on the chessboard with its competitors also on the board; the goal is to anticipate moves in the market to keep the business not only safe but thriving.
Leadership as value
I asked my staff what makes a great tech leader and more importantly if they like seeing a leader in the corporate structure or whether their manager is really all that matters to them. Then I asked clients the same thing. Do they care about service? Or do they care about leadership?
As anticipated, everyone cares about both. But the very interesting part was that my employees cared as much about leadership as they did about management. They expressed that the manager helps them do their job, but the leader helps them decide to stay with the company and feel part of something bigger, something important. Leadership although not directly involved in the day-to-day activities of the employees makes them want to work for the company they are working for.
From clients, I was told that service was the most important thing, but that leadership was critical to keeping them as a client. They need and want that fast helpdesk response time, that complex issue solved, the security managed. But they also believed that there were competing firms with cheaper pricing and great service doing those same things. However, when they get that competitor’s marketing material the thing that weighs in our favor is leadership. Leadership is the top value in client retention. Clients stay with the business, if there isn’t a service problem and because they believe that the company has great leadership and vision to direct their technology needs.
Setting aside all of the long-term benefits of placing your business well on the chessboard among competitors, we have two very tangible reasons to communicate leadership. One is to retain clients and the other is to retain employees. The question then is how do leaders communicate value to these groups that they rarely interact with directly?
That is really the big secret about leadership. It’s indirect communication. Leadership leads by example. Not by the example of demonstrating what it looks like to be a great employee but by the example of what it is to be a well-informed professional who sees both the needs of the employee and the needs of the industry. The leader sees the needs of clients today and the needs that they will have in the future.
Communication is all about being visible as you go about your activities. Visibly communicating to the managers. Visibly communicating with clients. Visibly participating in webinars, panels, and developing the persona of a thought leader. Become visible. Clients and employees want to know what the leadership is up to. What conferences are they speaking at or attending? What important news came from that? What webinar panels are they sitting on? How do the latest announcements in business and technology affect what we’re doing? What blog articles have they written? What important trends are they seeing? Who did they meet with recently? What new skills are going to be needed? Where are the trends? Being visible is the key to great leadership. When you’re a tech leader, your responsibility is to be a great communicator.
Visibility is how leaders communicate their value. Visibility means being an open book, yes, but it also means being a great communicator. Not every communication has to be grand, but every leader needs to communicate with all of the stakeholders in the company.
A great tech leader is an open book of future possibilities. Others will find that inspiring enough to stick with you through good times and bad. Being that open book provides that tangible quality that others feel connected to and it’s the thing that truly represents your unique value that your competitors can’t compete with.
Featured image: Business photo created by Freepik