You know the ‘techie’ stereotypes – introverted, intensely smart, socially awkward, individualistic and mostly, male. While we know these subjective, there do seem to be some common threads among IT professionals, and many report having a hard time communicating in a way that positions them for leadership roles.
We’ve gathered five of the most-reported roadblocks and paired them with effective strategies to break-through the barriers.
1. Nix the lingo
Speaking in tech-talk may work well with your manager, but if you want co-workers to see you as approachable, you’ll need to communicate in a language they understand. For example, you need to know how to work the cloud, but a sales rep needs to know how to sell it. So, if they come to you for a project update and you start talking about how penetration testing is impacting the deadline, you’ll lose them – and next time they’ll go to someone else. Eventually, you’ll be pigeonholed into a specific role. Try to isolate ‘the ask’ and report on just that – are they simply following up on progress? Looking to find out if delivery is on time? If you keep it simple and relevant to who’s inquiring, people will see you as someone they can turn to for help.
2. Nail the non-verbal cues
A lot of IT techs struggle with this one. The effect of spending countless hours in front of a screen every day is no joke – it can affect things like posture, body language, tendencies around eye-contact – all of which go a long way in getting the top-level to see you as leadership material. Make sure you’re covering the basic communication staples – shaking hands when you meet someone new, making eye contact, saying good morning… these simple things will improve your work relationships significantly.
3. Harness the power of email
As long as it fits with the norm for your company culture, emails can be a great way to express your thoughts with the bonus of being able to edit. Written communication allows more time to organize your thoughts and make sure you’re addressing things completely. You can even walk away and re-read the email later to make sure you’re coming across the right way – you’re completely in control of how you sound. Also, if you’re having a particularly stressful day, email can hide that in a way non-verbal cues can’t.
4. Do your recon
Meeting someone new? Do some online research to find out what path they were on before they crossed paths with you. LinkedIn is a great place to get information about someone’s experience and skill set – which you can then use to ask insightful questions that will impress the person you’re meeting and others in the room (read: your manager will be impressed at how prepared and invested you are). Doing your homework will help you avoid a) assuming someone has experience where they don’t, or b) coming off as condescending – which are both communication killers.
5. Be vocabulary savvy
Sharing knowledge is one of the best ways to build relationships. What good is your wealth of expertise if you can’t share it? Build a collection of plain-language terms to easily describe the tech terms you know – this will help you have more relatable conversations with people who are outside of your department. Listen to podcasts, pay attention to conversations, and learn about some of the other roles in your company and how they relate to your role. This will boost strategic thinking and help you come up with new business ideas.
In addition to the above, one of the most important things you can do to develop leadership skills is be mindful and stay present during interactions with others. This relays a natural genuineness that’s hard to duplicate.
Have you made the leap into tech leadership? Share your biggest tip for advancement below.