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Inspiring Leaders – technical v management

29 June 2021
Written by Maria Bonikowska

About the blog series…

On the 29th April, six female leaders came together to chat and answer questions on our careers, what inspired us, what drove our decision making and many more topics raised by the audience. We weren’t able to get to all of the questions, so we each agreed to take one key question topic from the event and address it. Our next guest blog is by Maria Bonikowska, General Manager at Air Liquide Maritime Energy who looks at technical v management as a theme… 

Dear Readers and Leaders,

Today, I would like you to join me in discussing the dilemma of staying on the technical track or becoming a manager – is there really an answer to this question?

No one can better answer this question than you!

The good news is that both paths have a common denominator – leadership. To succeed – no matter which career path – we need to be credible, gain the respect of the teams and peers, attract people to follow us and thus become a leader for them. And what about the things that could push you in one or the other direction?

Let’s start with an easy case – my home experience. Both my husband and I are engineers and none of us ever hesitated which path to take. I joined a company – “a full house” of engineers, but my natural strengths turned out to be in sales and people management. Quite quickly, I started to drift away from engineering and purely industrial challenges. Although, to be fair, it would probably be difficult for me to progress without engineering knowledge as there is a technical component in all we do, so the engineering background is an enabler for me. Likewise, any other profession can be an enabler to leadership.

My husband, on the contrary, prefers to face well-defined challenges with limited people management. He is not a man of conflict and would always avoid stressful situations.

What is behind our choices? Personalities, for sure. I’m an extrovert and outgoing person. People around me are the most important element. I learn from them, and they learn from working with me. To see people develop is an amazing reward for me. This is probably possible on both tracks. But there is more – I’m passionate about creating a vision, moving the organization forward – developing activity. Most comments are about my passion and intrinsic energy, commitment to the business, decision making, motivating others and determination from my peer reviews. It would be unfair not to add that in my professional life, I have met and worked for inspiring managers who have given me a lot of autonomy and allowed me to push the barriers, move the horizon and trust my choices. Definitely not negligible. It made my choice for my path much easier.

My husband prefers to tackle technical problems in a detailed way, looking for the best solution and taking time for analyzes, looking for alternatives to deliver a complete outcome. Precise one. He is in a role that he is comfortable with and enjoys. On a personal note, you can see that the opposites attract!

Independently of the path, it is fundamental to trust in our choices and remain authentic; otherwise, it is impossible to be credible. In addition, the doubts will impact our performance and how we are perceived by peers and/or team members. Personally, I cannot even imagine the situation of constantly questioning the job I’m doing and spending my time on “what if …” We can question so many things, but what does it serve? It is like with any other decision – make it and give it a chance. If you think it wasn’t a good one, learn from it and do not go for it again.

There is nothing wrong in trying to change the path; see if you like it and say “Thank you but no thank you” or “I’m in the right place”. You need to feel that your work moves you forward, brings added value, and you enjoy it! At the end of each day, I reflect on the day, and there is always a positive! Needless to say that little wins sustained me through many difficult times. I’m keeping my glass always half full.

Each path has its hurdles, frustrations, challenges, and great moments of satisfaction. The question is which one is for you – to give you motivation every day, enjoy it, and be proud of your accomplishments.

There comes a moment in your professional life that you reflect on the past. After years it is much easier to justify the choice as you know much better who you are than the person who has just graduated from university. But for those who are not yet at this point, I would advise staying authentic and sticking to your values.

I want to share with you one of the questions that came after our evening in April: “How do you make sure women in non-technical roles are included in the conversation and elevated as well? There seems to be unconscious bias from women in technical roles against women in non-technical in the industry.”

As I have already mentioned, my engineering background is a catalyst to a certain extent. In most cases, I always have a heavy technology part in the decision process, and I’m trying to understand it to the point I need to. So, I ask questions, talk to the subject matter experts. The only person who can exclude you from the conversation is you. It is OK to ask for an explanation. Just give a reason why you need it. We are all humans, we don’t know it all and as we say every day is a school day. In the company I work for, we have subject matter experts in very specific domains with a lot of experience, and sometimes even they need to check to give you a complete understanding of all options.

And for the bias, I would leave for our own thoughts…

Do not hesitate to share your comments and thoughts – I’m a strong believer in a dialogue! There is always an interesting outcome, and we will continue our blog to share other topics from your comments after the evening meeting.

This blog is inspired by the book “The Manager’s Path” by Camille Fournier and discussions with my husband…

Watch this space for more advice from my fellow industry leaders, and if you missed the Inspiring Leaders event which took place back in April, catch up here:

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