GeeK 5

In my experience in coaching geeks, I’ve seen five recurring themes.  Some or all of these might apply to you.  Many of my coaching suggestions will center on what I think of as the Geek 5.  If you are struggling to advance or to excel in a professional context, consider your standing on these five areas.

  1. Broader role – Geeks often prefer to stay in the cocoon of their technical specialty.  They resist giving up their expertise to move in to broader roles.  Sometimes they are pushed in a new direction and sometimes they pursue a new role to increase status and salary.  To be successful, a geek has to find peace with this decision.  In addition, geeks tend to have analytical work styles and introverted personalities.  These tendencies can make it less natural to focus on professional success strategies such as developing relationships, selling ideas and personal branding.
  2. Organizational savvy – Organizational savvy is about understanding how businesses or organizations work – and specifically how to get things done easily and effectively  in your workplace.  Some geeks refer to this as “playing politics” and cringe at the thought. “Politics” does not have to be a dirty word.  Organizational savvy is about understanding how to get things done, build networks, communicate effectively and protect yourself.  You’ve got to learn the rules of the game in order to win.
  3.  Managing people – Technical experts often make it to a mid-career point as well-paid individual contributors.  They are responsible for their own production, performance and success.  When they move into their first role managing other people, they are often missing basic knowledge around directing the work of others, delegating, communicating expectations, having performance conversations and developing their direct reports.  Managing people well is not an easy thing to learn – and it is not as clear-cut as technical knowledge.  A chemist who knows that two chemicals will always react the same way can struggle when two employees need completely different management styles. 
  4. Leadership skills – With a narrow technical focus, geeks are often not stretched into bigger leadership roles.  Leadership means setting a vision and clarity of intent for the organization or group, so everyone is moving in the same direction.  It involves building cross-functional relationships and always considering the systemic impact of decisions.  It involves strategy and motivating others.  It is often fuzzy to define, but yet remains critical to success.  Leadership skills are gained through experience and by learning from other leaders.
  5. Business acumen – Geeks who are not already in financial and business areas often lack basic business and financial fundamentals.  Moving into higher level roles or getting attention outside a technical area, requires geeks to think about bigger organizational issues.  This often involves an ability to understand and discuss financial metrics like EPS, EBIT, Margin, etc.  If you don’t know what these are, my point is made.  Go look them up.

1 Comment

  1. Wendy Farrell  •  Jan 22, 2010 @11:56 am

    Much like you, I’ve spent most of my career in HR-related areas, working closely with a lot of geeks, and you’ve really nailed the Geek 5. Many of my technical colleagues have struggled with the decision of staying technical (but maybe limiting career advancement) versus moving into a broader role. The Geek 5 are the most common gaps I’ve seen in the technical professionals I’ve worked with. So thanks for formalizing the challenges that geeks face when considering career development opportunities!

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