Starting out in an IT leadership role? Listen to leadership newcomer Quincy Jones and what he has learned from his transition into IT leadership from IT technologist.

Q

Quincy Jones started his IT career in 1996. He started working in a print server room. One day he was told, “Here’s 486, see what you can do.” His was response “ok, what’s a 486?” So, it was a long time ago. He managed to graduate from this point over the years up each level of the technology ladder. Quincy sent time in different helpdesk environments along the way and went on to hands on desktop support roles. From there, he got into systems admin level work for server and storage support. It’s now been over 20 years in the IT game. Knowledge piles up over this long process.

Quincy has been in an IT manager role for a year and a half now. Unofficially, he has always been steered towards a transition into IT leadership. People have always naturally come to Quincy for advice. During this time, he has reviewed and revisited mentally why he would want to go into an IT leadership role.

Tapped leadership

Q: Making the role transition into IT leadership, was it a tap on the shoulder? A: It was an invite from a friend to an opportunity. Quincy came in as a sys admin with a small team. He began learning the environment and company politics. He was attempting to integrate into the environment with the possibility of a manager role in he future. Quincy had previously been offered a manager style role, but didn’t take it at the time. In this instance however, he decided to put his name in the hat and see how it would turn out.

This was the instance from a timing perspective that made the most sense for him to jump into management with a transition into IT leadership. You get to a point in your career where you review at what you’ve done and how things are going.  You ask yourself what you want to do and where you see yourself. For a long time, Quincy always considered it, but never committed to the role. It kept coming up however, and he decided to give it a go. Sometimes, if you don’t take the opportunity officially, you end up doing it anyway. So, in this case, he decided to take the manager role in an official capacity.

Unlearn what you have learned

Q: How has this worked out? What have you learned? A: This has always been viewed a black and white scenario. You perceive things a certain way being on one side of the aisle for a while. Once you are on the other side with a transition into IT leadership, there is a bit of a realization moment for why certain things can’t be done. That’s only a realization you come to when taking on the official role. The management role is not as cut and dry as you think it is when you are not a manager.

As a manager, the middle ground now needs to be considered. For Quincy, that’s a little difficult as he is more black and white, left or right by nature. As a manager, he is responsible for others and accountable. Not only accountable for a technology, but people. How does this differ for him now in an official manage role? It’s everything he thought it wouldn’t be. Technology is exactly what is meant to be…ones and zeros. People are people and are variable. Quincy prefers to let people be who they are meant to be. But, in certain environments you have to adjust for this variable human nature. Being able to adapt for the situation as necessary. But, also letting people be who they are so everyone can learn from each other and treat each other well.

Experience focus

Even in doing this, we are all adults and everyone speculates differently. This is where you learn what it takes to keep your tech on track and your staff on task. Keeping them focused and corralled. You see all sides of the spectrum in this management role. Maybe there are those who need some leadership more than others. You have to keep in mind, everyone if different and everyone has their bad days. So, respect that and keep it in mind with the mission and goal.

Your experience of being a technical person and your experience with those managers who you respect and admire comes into play here. Combine all the best parts you can and apply it in certain situations. – me

Listen well

Working with managers previously, you learn you have to be a good listener. There are some people who want you to just do what they say. They are more of a team lead than a manager. They are in charge, but not a leader. A leader will take the time to listen and understand. They will help you become better and grow. They will critique instead of criticize. This is leadership. The bulk of the activity of being a leader lies in understanding and acting on this to take on the role during the transition into IT leadership successfully.

Managing without

Quincy has realized the concept of managing without. It is an art form. If you can master managing without, you can be a true leader. “Without” means you have no resources or budget or influence. When you approach a leadership role, you show if you can make things happen and get things done with little to no resources. If you are good at it, then you are put into a leadership position managing within and of yourself. Managing without at its core is taking what you have in hand and making the best of it.

When you are a technical person, you may not understand the limitations of managing without. You can ask the question: Should the leader try to protect the troops from the reality or share the details with them? This is the career long struggle in leadership. Employees know they need X. But, as a leader, you know it can’t happen for whatever reason. The reality is there are things different levels of leadership have to contend with and it can’t all be presented to everyone in its full view. Right wrong or indifferent, it’s a gray area of what details you can share with people. It’s almost like parenting. You’ve had this experience and exposure of being the tech worker. You learn over time what to present to one staff member or another. The gray area is there for you to find success or not.

It’s sounds horrible, but it’s needed to define the success of being without. Your leader may not come to you with an adequate budget for the year. They may come to you without a budget. It’s pill you have to swallow, but it’s also a moment. So, try to live the moment the best you can for you and your staff.

Truth and lies

Q: Does it make you feel you are not telling the full truth to everyone? Aka lies. A: Yeah, it can feel that way. Quincy looks at it as the dirty word “manipulation” and he admits he doesn’t like that word or what it stands for at all. Within organizations, there is manipulation. This is a fact. You can’t create a utopia in chaos (in extreme cases) while everyone else suffers. At the end of the day, it can seem like manipulation in managing downstream, but this can happen upstream as well. It’s for a common goal to get a task done. You don’t do things to hurt anyone or take anyone down and there is a line you shouldn’t cross. Manipulation may not be seen as the right word, but you might be kidding yourself according to Quincy as it does exist. There are gray areas where you have to decide what information you can share. Some people need to hear what they need to hear at a certain time. It’s a tactical choice to make.

Early on, you want to be a great leader and you want to people to grow along with you and gain from the experience. But, you can see it early on where you share the whole truth and it ends up being a horrible choice on your part. That’s when you realize, the gray is needed. Understanding how a person listens and reacts to what is being presented to them is a critical skill to develop.

Managing above

Managing your manager or leading your leader above you. Taking their goals and desires and processing them yourself. Then taking it back to them to deliver the objective. The journey there may not be what they want or what they approve of if they knew what you were intending to do. But, everyone wants something done at the end of the day. Sometimes you have the person you report to who wants only the go/no go. In that case, you are in a great position as it gives you flexibility. In the cases where you are reporting to a micro manager, it’s more painful as everything is then scrutinized. Although micro managers can have their place. Managing your manager is managing their expectations so you can meet them and not drive yourself nutty trying to meet a goal the exact way they want. It’s a different touch depending on the person.

How does it feel?

How well is Quincy handling the transition into IT leadership? You have to ask yourself this more than once during your time in the position. You either go to a mentor or someone who is a foe to get some type of feedback. It can be a daily or weekly or whatever. But you need this in order to check your temperature and it has to be from someone who will give you the truth. Someone who is long tenured may have an answer, but can they really even say they are being truthful?  It’s hard to say. Leverage someone downstream and upstream to assist with your introspective Q and A’s.

What have I done?

Q: Do you ever ask yourself what have I done? A: Yes! You have accepted a challenge like anything else in life whereas everyone wants comfort. You need to ask; do you want to be comfortable all the time where you could be stuck or do you want to be uncomfortable and ask yourself what you have done? You can have these moments in various ways. It’s where you want to be slightly uncomfortable. If you can deal and digest what you are facing at that moment without folding, you can get to a higher stage of comfort and then deal with the next uncomfortable goal or task. This is how you grow and it’s not easy by any means. It’s also not meant to be easy and a building process. So, ask yourself: How am I progressing? Am I too uncomfortable or uncomfortable enough? Or do I need to take a step back and not transition into IT leadership?

The goal

Q: Do you find in this role you get out of it what you want out of it? What is your goal? A: Quincy is looking for experience, exposure and momentum. He is the type to understand his reality and wants to see what he can do for those around him in the moment. Who is with him on the journey at this point and what can he do for them? If a person wants to be comfortable, he is going to try and push and help them to be a little uncomfortable. He also wants to help those who are the rock stars and guide them. He doesn’t want to get held up on what has happened in the past. That is, not be hung up on failures. He sees some who fail at something and then never want to do it again. Quincy is of the mind you need to learn from your failure so you are better equipped for it the next time. You do need to ask what you are doing if you keep having the same failure, but that’s a more personal question. If Quincy fails, he wants to keep moving.

Me-Leadership is trying to balance various things. Making them better and pushing things forward. Leaders should strive to help others. Comfort is an illusion. It can be present but, it’s not always there. The reality is comfort is not going to last and you have to be ready for the change. When you are first leading people, you will not make the right moves. You will stumble and fall. From those failures, you can learn. You can also learn from the experiences, failures and successes others. You can do something positive with it and help others and yourself…Or, go a darker path.

Other leaders

Others Quincy knows whom have attempted the transition into IT leadership found it didn’t work out for them. So, they went back to familiar environments. Quincy helped where he could and recognized if a person went through it and grasped it wasn’t for them, good for them on the realization. Sometimes it depends on where you are in your life and/or career and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you are doing the same thing over and over and don’t like it and want to step back. So, it’s a deeply personal choice to determine if you should transition into IT leadership if the opportunity arises. You have a choice to continue in a leadership role or not and there is no shame in not wanting it. You have to ask what motivates you to carry a certain load and discomfort. Quincy is comfortable with his level of discomfort and he evaluates it personally regularly. In leadership, it’s the people side some people have an issue with and it can be difficult for a technical person to adapt to it.

Choices or decisions win out. Quincy thinks of choices and how influential they are in leadership. Just keep in mind, those choices are powerful and not as easy as you might think.

Related Episode links:

Episode 9: IT Leadership with Kevin Nicholls

Episode 6: Mentoring & Motivation with Khris Hruska

IT/Geek Speak this episode:

  • Sys Admin – System Administrator. Usually a person who manages servers, networks, etc for a business.
  • 486 – One of Intel’s more popular computer processor lines. IT people had a tendency to describe a system by the processor. 386 came became 486 and 586 came after 486…although 586 was usually known by the more common brand “Pentium.”

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