Why Tech Leaders Leave Your Organization


If you’re responsible for the success of a technology company or team, you’re likely noticing that’s it’s becoming increasingly challenging to sustain momentum with your workforce.


It’s no secret that technology companies and technical teams struggle to retain talented leaders. Perhaps your engineering managers or senior developers are stepping down to become individual contributors or leaving for another employer.

You’re not alone. The Global Leadership Forecast 2018 by EY demonstrates that technology companies have the lowest leadership success rate (61%). Two out of five leadership assignments are considered failures.


Have you wondered why these talented technologists thrive until they are placed as leaders? As I coach leaders in technology companies and teams, some alarming trends stand out. Below are the most common mistakes I see.


1) Poor Selection Criteria

The most common problem I see these companies making is that they are using the wrong criteria to recruit and promote technology leaders. Selection is being made almost exclusively based on technical experience and expertise.


These individuals have a proven track record of success as software architects, engineers, or developers. Little to no consideration is given to evaluating their history or potential for leading individuals and teams. Technical skills are radically different than people skills.


2) Insufficient Management Training

It’s essential that your gifted technologists receive adequate management training and short-term leadership assignments before and after formal assignment to a managerial role. By giving them these opportunities, you prepare them to get priceless experience and feedback before the stakes are high.


Leadership development requires a proactive and structured approach and should not be left to individuals to take a DIY approach. Formal management training prepares them to be more skillful and confident in more people-oriented roles.


3) Unclear Career Path

Technology leaders often report to me that they have an unclear career path in their organization. There is often one murky path into team management and little to no path into more specialized technical roles or program/project management roles.


Almost weekly a disheartened tech leader discloses to me in confidence that they loved their “hands on the keyboard” work and have learned to loathe putting out “people fires”. They move into management because it was the only discernable path to progress on.


4) Burnout

As technology leaders find themselves pulled away from the work they love into leadership roles for which they’re unprepared, they struggle to find their work meaningful, and spiral into disengagement and burnout.


Because their technical skills are in high demand, they easily transition back to a more technical role, and quite often they change employers in the process. At 15%, annual turnover is higher in technology than any other sector. In the war for talent, you can’t afford to lose your gifted technologists to burnout.


Key Takeaways

If your organization is losing too many tech leaders, one more of these issues may be the cause. Instead of pointing to the leaders themselves as the problem, examine the recruiting and development practices of your organization to see if you’ve making any of these mistakes.


To foster the success of technology companies and teams, select leaders based on their potential to lead people, equip them with the proper management training and support, provide clear career path options and keep your talented technical people highly engaged in the most suitable roles.