A Manager of People, Not Molecules

2 min. read

People often describe their move from technical expert to leader as anything but planned, methodical, or organized.

For many, it resembles going into the operating room as a patient where the surgeon gives you a scalpel and tells you to remove your own appendix. Meanwhile, he and the staff go to lunch. “Good luck,” he says. “Call me if you need anything.” 

Although it’s usually not that bad, I have worked with a ton of clients who have said the transition was a  bruising experience, and they have the scars to prove it.

That was not the case, however, with Danila Ferraz. 

Danila is a principal scientist and R&D innovation leader with a love for “concrete, cement, and rheology.” 

Several years ago I met her manager through a leadership development program I co-facilitated. I had recently published Leader Evolution: From Technical Expert to Strategic Leadership.  Knowing the concepts and activities, Danila’s manager saw it as an effective way to prepare Danila for a management position. 

Danila’s manager is a more thoughtful, intentional leader. Their approach: baby steps. 

Together they determined the topics that were most important.

Each week they selected a section to read and study.

The next week they would discuss it, specifically the tools and techniques. 

Danila said the biggest takeaway for her was a change in mindset – how to best motivate and guide her team. Among the techniques, she found most effective was the use of small recognitions throughout the year, giving feedback, and matching the requirements of the work with the needs and interests of the staff. She was excited to find a way to give her team of professionals the time to publish – something they liked to do. 

Here’s some great food for thought from Danila after this experience:

  1. Using a book for leadership development works best when you and your manager select a short section to read, study, and practice.
  2. Better to stay focused than make assignments complicated.
  3. Think of it as “ant’s work,” using very small pieces such as one or two specific behaviors.
  4. You need to change your mindset to one of motivating, not directing, your staff. Give them opportunities to do what they truly enjoy.
  5. Know what’s important to accomplish, and find ways to match those needs with an individual’s interests for what they like to do.
  6. Taking care of people on the team requires a plan – to find them, and to keep them.

After the conversation with Danila, I said: “You sound very happy in your job.” 

Danila replied: “Yes. I love this.” 

Danila’s team is very fortunate … as much as she loves molecules, she loves helping them succeed even more.