When I was promoted all those years ago due to my technical skills I honestly thought that the above title statement was true. My boss had promoted me because I was good at my job and he thought I was good enough to lead. Good grief were we both living in la la land (not literally this was Glasgow in the 80’s). SO after I had celebrated my greatness with my friends and family I settled down to lead my team. The first day was fine and everything went well. Even the second and third days were pretty good. After a few weeks I could see the cracks opening up in my skill set. For some reason that was unknown to me my engineers were not operating with the strict logic that I applied to my engineering job. As a manager I was starting to see that people were not computers and they did not follow Boolean or any other kind of logic. I was ‘herding cats’. Setting them off in one direction was easy but after 5 seconds they had all ran off in different directions.
What did I do? Well this sounds simple but it is the step where a lot of new leaders fail…I asked for help. Over the years I have seen many, many managers fail to take this step and ultimately fail as leaders because of it. As I was working for a large UK electronics company (not naming names to protect the guilty), I had plenty of options about where to go for help. My first port of call was the manager who had promoted me. He was as much use as a chocolate teapot. Not surprising really as he was the one who had made a blunder by promoting me and just ‘letting me got on with it’. Next person I tried was his boss and he was even worse – Do not bother me. Are you so bad at your job that I have to fire you? – Just get it done. Where 3 of the cleaner replies from him. Please remember that in those days there was no email – I was getting these rejections right into my puzzled face. Eventually I found a manager in a similar role to mine who had also been an engineer first and he had been successful. Even though this guy did not even work in my building I contacted him and we agreed to meet. Unbeknownst to me, the green behind the ears raw manager, I had made my first real step to ‘Learning Leading’. – I had found my Mentor.
His first question was easy: Have you read any management books? No I had not. He then asked me: When you learned about engineering, did you read any books? Yes, hundreds. His next question was the one that that dropped the penny: So why do you think your a better engineer than a manager? My answer: Because I’m dumb and I should’ve thought of that….. My first real lesson in leadership was over but the Learning had begun.
Reading books does not make you a leader but it does highlight a very important concept. Leadership is a subject that has to be learned. Real leaders in history come across as natural which makes us think they were born that way. They were not, they studied their subject or subjects very hard. They researched options and analysed results and they made plenty of mistakes — but they Learned from them.
I was still ‘Herding Cats’ with my team. They were all over the place but with some knowledge and mentoring I was on my way.