“as a new CTO I struggled with the jump from dev to management, especially at a time of growth and change at my company. It wasn’t always clear what that change needed to look like”
These comments from one of our mentees is not untypical of the challenges faced, particularly by newly appointed CTOs and what we term Accidental CTOs.
For many new and not so new tech leaders, this transition into leadership is riddled with many often unseen challenges so we’ve put together an article based around some of the most common issues faced by mentees, with some mentoring tips thrown in for free …
1.Building High-Performance Teams
You might have been part of high performing teams but now you’re in a position of having to build one, a daunting prospect for many.
There is an assumption (and sometimes a reality) that tech leaders and managers aren’t the best at or indeed, are uninterested in people management. One of the key blockages for companies finding effective tech leaders is the lack of soft skills and in particular skills relating to people management, that missing human element.
There is in the modern workforce the added element of managing remote teams. Our team here at CTO Academy is remote and whilst we are firm believers in the value and impact of remote teams, it brings with it different management challenges in particular how to create a cohesive unit, pulling in the same direction, when you don’t have that regular human contact?
Tech is made by humans for humans – if those responsible for crafting these technologies don’t perform well as a team, long-term success is less likely and if responsiveness and innovation are core values of the tech industry, they’re less likely to be achieved without highly engaged and empowered teams.
Mentoring tip: Don’t hire people only for their skill and talent. Be mindful about culture fit and include your team within the interview process. There’s sufficient empirical evidence to show that if team members are not working well with each other, the impact is directly felt by that piece of tech they’re working on together!
2. Moving From Team Player to Tech Leader
If you’re the new CEO of a tech company, chances are you have gained that place rightfully because of your performance and skill. However, as a leader, the focus shifts from what you can produce to what you can inspire others to produce. You move from the technical to the managerial and if you’re a new tech leader struggling to inspire your employees, you’re not alone. A staggering 93% of tech leaders admit they require management coaching.
Mentoring tip: Learn to delegate. You can’t sit behind the keyboard anymore, you have to relinquish some/all of the technical and focus on being a manager. Expand your awareness about yourself and your team members. Just as you understand your strengths and weaknesses, dive deeper into the skills, challenges, and traits of your employees. This helps you personalise your management according to each person’s personality.
3. Effective Communication
Communication, that old chestnut. If there’s one issue that recurs within our courses and mentoring, it’s communication.
If you can’t clearly and effectively communicate to your team members what needs to be done, you could be losing out on big wins.
And we’re not talking here about your ability to public speak or hold a room, an argument, a stand up. It’s about authenticity, judgment, clarity, consistency and listening. So much of good communication is wrapped up in good listening.
Strong communication skills are also super important when communicating with your executive team and CEO, many of whom might be non-technologists. You need to reduce tech speak and tech team acronyms to find a vocabulary and clarity that avoids misunderstandings and skewed expectations at board level.
Mentoring tip: Learn to listen, allow others to voice their opinions and make them feel heard. If they know their opinions are considered, they will be more willing to support a decision even if they were initially against it. Speak with clarity and consistency across the business.
4. Stress Management
If you want to avoid bouts of stress and anxiety, then a tech leadership role might not be for you but you will need to manage those moments and if necessary, take your foot off the gas.
You need to be able to spot signs and have an outlet, if the burdens of leadership start to overwhelm you. It happens to the biggest and the best, there should be no embarrassment or shame in putting your hand up for help.
Because stress can quickly build up and not only affect your productivity, performance and decision-making skills but very quickly impact on other personal areas of your life.
In addition as leader, you need to have strong guidance in place for employees on how to manage their stress.
Burnout is a formidable enemy of the tech industry, with the relentless pace, tight timelines and short project cycles putting intense pressure on tech teams and leaders.
Mentoring tip: Understand the factors that trigger stress and anxiety, for you and for others, and actively work to eliminate them. Train your employees to practice mindfulness – among other techniques – to mitigate the physical and mental effects of stress and emotional exhaustion. Make sure you have checks and measures for yourself and by extension for your team.
5. Process & Systems
We’ve left this to last but it’s perhaps the number one issue our new CTO mentees face. Without the right processes and systems in place, they can be easily overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the tasks in front of them.
An absolute key element of any CTO role is to oversee the development and correct operation of information systems from the point of view of execution, though in some larger companies there is crossover here with the CIO role.
Generally though the CTO is responsible for the technical teams, the process and implementing new strategies to improve the final product. The Start Up CTO or Accidental CTO will often have to create these systems and processes from scratch and if the team/business is experiencing rapid growth, that’s a super daunting task.
Mentoring tip: This is probably the area our mentees, particularly at early stage companies, need more help with. Understanding what is important, what can be left for now, what can wait for tomorrow. Understanding how everything fits together and the why, where and how of prioritising.
Mentoring is not just for senior executives
Some might think that mentoring is only for large companies and senior executives but CTOs at all levels feel vulnerable with the weight of decision making and a sense of vulnerability at the top.
Most senior executive roles crossover where incumbents often run ideas and brainwaves past colleagues but for many CTOs, particularly if the board is full of non-technologists, that outlet doesn’t exist and they can often feel isolated.
Mentoring provides you with an experienced, objective and reassuring outlet for your day to day pressures. We know the impact it can have on the operational day to day for CTOs, particularly early stage and inexperienced CTOs.
For some of the challenges listed above and many more that will cross your desk, mentors can become a powerful external ally.
If you’d like to find out more about how CTO Academy mentors can help, visit the mentoring page on our website.
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