If you are working in a technology company or fast-paced startup, you are likely working with young and inexperienced managers who are facing new challenges and needing development in key areas of their jobs.
Visier Research recently reported that technology companies have a systemic ageism built into their culture. They report that the average tech worker is 38 years old, compared to 43 for non-tech workers. The average manager in the tech industry is 42 years old, compares to 47 in others. This also means that many millennials are now moving into managerial roles.
If things are going reasonably well, the company is growing at breakneck speed and each week is full of new ideas, new team members and upgrades to work projects and processes. In other words, things are changing fast and there are lots of first-time experiences.
If things are going poorly or growth is flat, your company is facing challenges about how to stop the bleeding, how to attract and retain talent and how to motivate a team to take a new direction. In this case, things need to change fast and there are many unknown risks and opportunities with an inexperienced team.
The problem is, whichever way your business is developing, leading and managing people to change is a huge part of the equation. In addition, many of the essential business and management skills are being developed on-the-fly (if at all) and personal development is often thrown out the window.
This is where executive coaching can act as a powerful lever to help augment and improve upon HR employee development and business training programs to provide custom developmental objectives and a path to growth for inexperienced executives.
- Lack of focus
- Lack of motivation, commitment, and passion
- Too much pride, resulting in an unwillingness to see or listen
- Taking advice from the wrong people
- Lack of good mentorship
- Lack of general and domain-specific business knowledge: finance, operations, and marketing
- Raising too much money too soon
Why high-tech executives need a coach
Here are some common situations where executive coaching can help:
It’s lonely at the top and I can’t see below
Many tech managers and even C-level executives are in their first-time leadership role. Sometimes this is an advantage, as they are creating new vistas. However, many are also having their first and only experience working for a company and yet are expected to lead the company to achieve ambitious goals and outwit the competition.
The problem with being the leader is that there are blind spots and it can be impossible to get honest feedback. This often means there is no clear road map for personal and professional development. These young executives are also highly compensated or owners of the company and are thereby motivated differently than their team and employees.
You just promoted your best engineer!
Congratulations and I’m sorry. While it is exciting that your talented engineer is ready for the next challenge, ready to leave their imprint on the junior engineer team, this can go horribly wrong. You are now asking for a completely different skill from one of your most talented technicians. He or she may have spent the last five or more years coding around the clock, but hasn’t ever had to be responsible for HR, accountability, team morale, setting goals, retaining other key performers and so on. Having an experienced mentor or manager to help them set up the systems and structure and develop their own personal leadership style can be a great way of opening up new vistas for your engineer turned manager.
The world of tech is full of agile/lean methodologies that encourage teams to learn by doing/testing, fail fast, communicate briefly and at all cost, make progress on the overarching growth of the business. This rapid pace of change is fantastic for small businesses that are trying to innovate, but it can be very hard on teams and employee development. Not all of us handle failure the same way. How quickly can we change our hearts and minds to go in a new direction? Executive coaches can give leaders support and direction in addressing this constant change that is bubbling up each week by helping them be aware of their own communication style (and their blind spots) to help provide more confidence and support to the team in a constant state of flux.
Your executive is doing when they should be managing
One of the most common transitions any manager has gone through is the right to oversee versus do the work. Most new managers have trouble finding the right calibration level of delegation versus oversight versus do it myself for critical projects.
It’s easy to assign meaningless work to a direct report but when the stakes are high, you need to be able to trust the team and manage them to success. This is even harder for executives who are now delegating large initiatives or projects to managers who are then delegating to their staff of “doers.” Some executives micromanage while others are too hands off and let the details slip.
Struggling with communication skills
Young managers often don’t see the need to calibrate their communication style to the audience they are communicating with. For more seasoned managers and executives, the challenge can often be their own awareness of how they communicate and how the messages are received. Creating trust and a safe zone for giving and receiving feedback, for example, is critical in developing your staff. Successful executives have to develop their own style but also be aware of the benefits and shortcomings of how they are being perceived.
Here are two of the most common communication challenges for young managers:
- Managing up: Inexperienced managers often don’t realize it is their job to also “manage up” to their bosses (and in some cases board members), who may not have any idea what is going on several layers below.
- Giving feedback: It can be hard for some to be open and honest with their boss or even colleagues about development areas. Others are too honest or do so without the subtlety required to help others grow and improve.
Lacking important business skills
Sometimes coaching also includes a bit of consulting. Good coaches know how to draw the line but often executive coaches find room to teach or at least point out business skills that need sharpening. Management skills are often lacking as well as situational awareness and business skills for topics related to HR, negotiation, digital marketing, operations, accounting, finance and more.
What can a coach do?
I have witnessed all of the above situations either personally or while coaching executives and high-potential leaders. Career development is not a clear and straight path but rather more of a windy road that can be foggy and full of uncertainty. In my career, I found myself in leadership positions at two different startups that quickly challenged my management ability and leadership acumen. It was sink or swim! Luckily, I was able to find some great mentors, coaches and similar-level executives nearby to help me transcend the immediate challenges and take an honest look at how I needed to develop to lead my team to success. I have been extremely lucky and my career has developed at a very fast pace, but it wasn’t always easy. Bringing the right coach into the mix can surely help develop the team.
I am passionate about coaching because of the amazing benefits I experienced first hand in working with several excellent coaches. I was able to improve my leadership abilities, find more joy in my work, and develop more well-rounded communication skills. I realized through my own development that leading technology businesses is more about guiding how people grow and adapt to change than leaving it up to chance. Stress happens to us all, but how you deal with it is up to you. Having a mentor, guide, and/or coach can help define your path and keep you moving in the right direction.
Are you thinking of hiring an executive coach to help develop your young tech leaders? Visit Mainsail Coaches and get executive coach recommendations for yourself or leaders in your organization.