T-Shaped learning curves

Being good at what you do doesn’t make you a good manager or leader at it. Tough but true. As Tim Brown IDEO’s CEO says “They have a principal skill that describes the vertical leg of the T – they’re mechanical engineers or industrial designers”. He was talking about the people who design user interfaces, but the principle is valid for anyone moving ‘up the scale’ of promotion.

T_curveYou can be a great accountant, for example (the vertical of the T) but as soon as you get promoted and become in charge of accountants, that’s only the narrow fulcrum where the horizontal line balances on the vertical line of technical skills. In other words, you need to broaden out, pretty darned fast. What’s on the rest of the horizontal is the kind of stuff we training (obviously!).

So what’s on the horizontal? The obvious… anything to do with people… motivation, delegation, performance management, making presentations, time management, being emotionally intelligent, dealing with conflict, prioritisation… you get the idea.

But as the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy famously said “Don’t panic”. A lot of these things are things that ‘normal people’ have experience of. Anyone who’s tried to coax kids into doing their homework or instrument pracice will understand motivation and performance management. The only difference is that when you’re dealing with adults, a lot of this kind of thing goes out of the window and we forget what we know. We fall back on fear-based approaches designed to cover our backs and minimise the damage if things go wrong.

But that’s now how we raised our kids, is it!?  We didn’t (just) try to stop them screwing up… we tried to help them fly.

Why is leadership of adults different in any way except that you can use longer words and that kids are often more sensible than grown ups….? ;)