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Trapped in a Manager's Body

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One of my most memorable coaching experiences occurred when a bright scientist in our Pharmaceuticals division came to my office one day and said, "Help me. I feel like I am trapped in a manager's body." Armed with an impressive list of educational credentials and research accomplishments, he had recently moved into his first leadership role and was struggling.

The discussion that followed prompted me to do more research on the typical struggles technically oriented people deal with when making the transition from the "hands-on" technical person to the leader of other technical people.

Here is a brief list of what I found are the fundamental things that create stress and frustration for these new leaders:

  • They want logic and reason to solve all problems
  • They tend to overlook the feeling and emotional content of interactions and situations
  • They want people to behave rationally
  • They want a methodical process to solve problems
  • They want predictability
  • They want data in making decisions and solving problems
  • They sometimes think that the level of education a person has will be reflected in their performance and conduct
  • They focus on ability but tend not to think about the willingness factor in others
  • They sometimes are reluctant to address performance issues with highly educated people for fear of offending them
  • They still want to "practice their craft" and may tend to ignore the management work
  • They have not yet learned the skill and impact of influence management; the science doesn't always make the sale
  • They often resist the use of common business language; for example, this person did not want to rate anyone's performance as "Average" because he felt that was inappropriate language for anyone with a PhD and post-doctoral experience
  • They need to develop core business acumen and how the science relates to profit and revenue; this person had observed his manager being stopped in his track during a business presentation of a new drug being developed when the focus of the presentation of the science was what the molecules might do; after about 8 slides of scientific jargon and molecular structures reinforced by scientific enthusiasm, the CEO stopped the presentation and asked, "At what point will this make money and what is our projection of the market potential?"
  • Their scientific curiosity which can often be exercised through the process of experimentation doesn't always translate into a willingness to take risk and think outside the box in the managerial part of their job.

So, if you are a scientist in transition, a non-scientist working with one or a scientist who has made the transition, try to be attentive to those moments when the feeling of being trapped in a manager's body is the issue.

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