Engineering Leadership Quick Assessment

One reason that executive roles can be fulfilling for years is that there is always something to improve, often considerably. No matter how good you are at what you already do, it is unlikely that you are great at all things. While some see this as discouraging, I live for this and have the best time with clients who are adamant about improving a bit. Like the athletes who are happy shaving off fractions of a second from their record, so should you be striving to improve. Otherwise, why are we doing this? Today’s article offers a quick diagnostic to see which management style and directionality you default to. Understanding that will help you leverage your strengths and pick out potential directions for improvement.

The Axes

I’m a consultant and, therefore, always prone to putting things on 2×2 charts. In this one, let us consider two different spectrums.

Management Style: When faced with a problem, what is your knee-jerk reaction? For some leaders, there is always the rush to roll their sleeves and start helping. Others envision a chessboard and help the different pieces advance. The former are the executors who get things done themselves. The latter are the coaches.

Directionality: At what altitude do you seem to work most effectively? The more inward your directionality is, the more you work internally with your direct reports and the entire organization. This could include people leadership, processes, etc. On the other hand, if you gravitate outward then you are the type of leader that’s always talking with others in the company. Perhaps you’re chatting with people from customer success, or you shine in executive meetings.

Naturally, you are not likely to be positioned at the extremes of these spectrums but somewhere along the line. Nevertheless, consider where you are most likely to operate.

Leader Archetypes

Equipped with the above definitions, you can go ahead and position yourself on the chart:

Cultivators: Well, if you’re a coach that focuses on your team—assuming you’re a good one—your most significant impact tends to be in growing the people in your organization. You know how some companies have a network of alumni that seem to all be remarkable and end up starting lots of successful ventures? Often, those can trace their success back to a coach that helped cultivate such a culture. Most articles and advice you read about tech leadership as a VPE are about making you better at this.

Movers: When you’re still focused on your team but tend to get your hands dirty and help push things forward, you’re no longer like a little Yoda that helps people by prodding them on and giving guidance. You are a role model and show them how things are done. Such leadership can be a great engine of fast improvement and execution. Many tech leaders start as movers and slowly try to learn to let go, so they make space for others to shine. I think striking the right balance here is an art.

Force Multipliers: What does it mean to be an outward-oriented coach? In my work, it’s rare to see employee executives even consider such a position. “What? You want me to help my peers/CEO?” Yup! Don’t think you need to hold formal coaching sessions with them, but you fall into this quadrant if you feel free to teach your peers and help them think about ways to leverage your tech even more. Thus you create more value overall and find opportunities to generate even more tech capital (for more on that, grab the free sample chapter from my book about it here).

Shakers: Last but not least, this quadrant is filled with those born for the boardroom. Often already cofounders but not necessarily, these leaders have allies in the C-suite to push their agendas and love shaping the company’s strategy. Some Big Tech company all of a sudden has a press release about entering your space? The shakers are those who immediately get to work about the new possibilities this brings as opposed to cowering in the corner.

Growth Opportunities

My experience shows that each one of these can be incredibly impactful. There are no “wrong” answers here. If you now realize better where your strengths lie, you can channel your energy toward more impact. Nevertheless, as I already said, there’s no stasis here. You should always look for opportunities to grow.

While we are most at ease within our comfort zone and can enter “flow” quickly, sometimes one has to actively push to leave the comfort zone. No, we don’t want to leave it, but to expand it. How should you go about doing that?

If you’re like most people I work with, when you read the previous passages, you saw which quadrant is your current “home base” but also felt a slight pull toward another one. Great! Consider how you can take steps in that direction. I added small arrows to the chart, indicating easier moves because they involve changes along a single axis. For a mover to become more of a shaker, all it takes is to ensure you are in the right meetings and then… speak up! Are you a mover that has to delegate more? Becoming more of a cultivator means you have to… do less! This isn’t rocket science.

And if you need help working on these, you can contact me or consider joining my free community for execs in tech—the Leading Edge Club!