Leadership Training for Geeks: How Companies Can Do a Much Better Job at Leveraging Brainpower

Leveraging companies brainpower by Top-Notch CEO

How Companies Can Do a Much Better Job at Leveraging Brainpower

*This guest post and interview originally appeared on the Top-Notch CEO blog on May 31, 2017, and is contributed by Dr. Stephie Althouse, an Intelliversity faculty member. 

Imagine this picture: You are passionate about a certain area, let’s say science or law or … you name it. You go to school for it to learn more. Let’s call that school “geek school” because it helps you to deepen your knowledge in that expert area.  Some years later, you emerge from said school, with in-depth knowledge in this area. As you continue to pursue work in this field (or a related one), you become a top expert.  Now, these questions emerge:

  • What are the career opportunities – and hurdles to these opportunities – for you as a top expert in your field (or “geek” as we lovingly call ourselves as well as you)?
  • What are the opportunities for “geeky” companies, i.e., those that require high brain-powered top experts to do what they do, in leveraging their geeks effectively?
  • And finally, what opportunities and challenges do top experts (aka geeks) face when they start their own businesses?

Robert Donnell from P5Marketing asked our founder, Dr. Stephie, for an interview to illuminate us on these questions about leadership training for geeks as she affectionately calls them (and herself!).

Here is the podcast as well as the transcription of it. Enjoy! And please follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook and contribute your experiences to this conversation. Thank you!

Here is the link to the post with the podcast if you would like to listen.

Want to read the interview? Great! Here it is:

Robert: Hi, this is Robert with P5 Radio, and this is part of our on-going series of conversations with people who are making a difference, people we think you ought to be listening to. Our guest is Dr. Stephie Althouse. Dr. Althouse is the Founder and CEO of Top-Notch CEO™, which is a consulting firm and … I should ask you, a consulting firm and educational center for geeks, is that correct, Dr. Althouse?

Dr. Stephie: Yes, Top-Notch CEO is the umbrella company. and we have Visiting CEO™, which provides hands-on executive support for geeky companies, and then we have the Top-Notch CEO Academy™ which provides leadership and business training and coaching for Geeks by Geeks, including women in STEM. It's all about high-talent companies leveraging their brainpower.

The One Thing That Ties It All Together Is That Your Business Is Focused On Geeks.

Robert: Well, that’s a mouthful but the one thing I heard that ties it all together is that your business is focused on geeks. I know last week we had a little fun, and anybody who didn’t get last week’s podcast I think it’s available on your blog. We talked a lot about “You might be a geek if,” and we had a little bit of fun with it …

Dr. Stephie: You got to go and check it out.

Robert: You might just repeat what your definition of geek is for anybody who missed that first one.

Your Definition of Geek…

Dr. Stephie: The serious version is that you are extremely passionate about the particular area that is your expert area, and you’re also very, very good; very, very knowledgeable about that area, probably even a top expert. That’s our definition of geek and it has nothing to do with socially awkward or anything else. Then we have added some fun things about smart people often are capable of making really cool puns and torture … I mean, amuse their friends with that, etc., etc., and we had some fun with that.

Robert: Great. In a nutshell, you provide leadership training and business coaching, and as you say “For Geeks by Geeks.” Why is there really a need for that?

Why is There Really a Need for Business Coaching  and Leadership Training For Geeks by Geeks?

Dr. Stephie: Yes, thank you for asking that. This is it in a nutshell, really: You go to a geek school. Let’s say, I have a Ph.D. in chemistry, so my geek school was chemistry graduate school and then post-doctoral research, etc. All of that training was focused on chemistry and physics and math, but not on leadership training, not on understanding how business really works. Therefore you come out kind of clueless about (those things). “Okay, so I have this great innovation. We’re making all these scientific advances, how could this ever help anyone?” For example, if you were developing a landmine detector, and this is a technology that could really save lives, it still has to get out of your laboratory where you developed it into the world where it can make a difference. The same is true for practically any and all outcome of any kind of “geek art”.

The same could even be applied to say, lawyers. Their geek school is law school. But you open a law firm and now you’re in business, and you’ve never been trained how to do that. That’s what we’re talking about: There is this big gap between talent on one hand which we call the geeky area and the result that you could get from that which we could call success or we call it wealth, which we’ve talked about in another interview. It’s basically a three-legged stool which is composed of the monetary reward, the impact that you create with your talent (your geeky area), and the quality of life that you create. That, in a nutshell, is what we’re bridging, the gap between talent and the outcome of that talent. You invent the perfect tire now you got to put the rubber on the road somehow.

Robert: Right. Right. Are there geeks out there who aren’t ready or who aren’t really suitable for this kind of training and coaching?

Are There Geeks Out There Who Aren’t Ready or Who Aren’t Suitable for this Kind of  Training and Coaching?

Dr. Stephie: The people we love to work with and who are most successful in working with us are of course the ones who seek that professional and personal development, and who don’t want to just sit in a corner and work on their “geeky things;” not that there’s something wrong with that. However, if they have a desire to step up and become a better leader if they have the desire to really understand how business works then we’re a great choice.

Sometimes in large companies, there’s actually a track where you can just be a technical expert basically all of your career. In most companies though that’s not the case. In most companies, especially small and mid-sized companies, that track usually does not exists. Your career will at some point be limited, the success of it will be limited by your lack of leadership skills and your lack of business understanding. It can hold you back severely. The contrary is also true, it can be an unfair advantage if you will, if you do have those skills.

Robert: I think everybody deserves an unfair advantage.

Dr. Stephie: Right, and there’s always those who will and those who won’t.

You Are Also Working with Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Are Women in STEM geeks, too?

Robert: I also noticed that you talk on your website about working with women in STEM, STEM being Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Are women in STEM geeks, too?

Dr. Stephie: Absolutely, yes. It’s a sub-niche. We work with geeks of various flavors, male and female, and we also really love to go into the sub-niche of women in STEM. I am myself a woman in STEM, I know what that’s like. I have a lot of experiences with it, and I feel like I have a lot to give to women in STEM, that’s why we decided to make that a notable focus area for our company.

Robert: Perfect. You mentioned … Actually, with the last question, we were talking about geeks who are not yet suitable, but is there like a series of stages that many geeks go through as they go through their career?

Is There A Series of Stages that Many Geeks Go Through as They Go Through Their Career?

Dr. Stephie: Yes, absolutely. I think in the early stage, of course, you go to your “geek school” and that oftentimes is a very much an all-consuming activity, especially if you go into hard sciences or … I have never been to law school so I can’t say, but I think it’s also a pretty consuming activity. You’re focused on going to that school and learning your “geek art” and getting really good at it. Then as you go into the job market, now you have your Ph.D. or your MS or your BA or whatever it is and the joke is that “Now, I want a J-O-B.” Most of the people will start their career after the education is finished with … I mean, it’s never finished, but they will go into a company and have a job. Then as they progress in that they will be put into the position or the opportunity to take on more leadership responsibility.

Oftentimes though for a Ph.D. level person that starts right at the beginning. Right at the beginning (of your career in a company), you might be a leader of a project, you might have some people working with you and for you. All of a sudden, you’re in a situation that you hope your good senses get you through. There is some trial and error and learning, maybe a little bit of guidance here and there, but for the most part, this is something that you do without really particularly being prepared for it. Then as your career advances … the people who usually advance the most are the people who show better leadership skills, a better understanding of business and so forth. That often has to do with them taking some time for it, and that they care to acquire some of it in some way.

We Provide a Very Systematic, Pragmatic, Practical way to acquire these skills so that you don’t have to Stop What You’re Doing.

We provide an actually very systematic way, a very pragmatic way, a very practical hard knocks kind of way to acquire these skills so that you don’t have to actually stop what you’re doing. I actually considered doing that – but then ended up not doing it -, to go to an MBA school and spend two, three years and God knows how many hundreds of thousands of dollars on an MBA degree. But rather keep going in the field that you are a top expert in, and at the same time flesh out your skill sets with leadership and with business understanding. Therefore, you are able to progress up the leadership ladder (faster and further) within a company. Of course, oftentimes there are more advancement levels in larger companies. Smaller companies tend to have a flatter structure. Or at some point, you may find yourself saying, “You know what? It’s time for me to be an entrepreneur and step out and do that.” Then you really need the leadership and business skills, or else you’re going to be toast.

Robert: All right.

Dr. Stephie: That’s scientific for, “Ouch, I’m in trouble.”

What Kind of an ROI Should Companies and Corporations Expect From the Kind of Work That You Do With Their Geeks?

Robert: Ouch. Well, and I’m sitting here and kind of looking at this from the other side. I mean we’ve been talking about seeing it from the viewpoint of a geek themselves, how … I mean it seems to me that companies that employ large numbers of geeks are making a significant investment in making sure they’re productive, making sure they’re happy, making sure they’re retained because turnover’s so expensive. What kind of an ROI should companies and corporations expect from the kind of work that you do for their geeks?

Dr. Stephie: A tremendous ROI. I mean this is not measured in a few percent, but measured in factors of fairly large numbers. For example, if you think about even a starting Ph.D. is going to make a high-end … What is that, a high-end five-figure income? After a little bit of progression, a six-figure income. It can even start perhaps at a six-figure income depending on what exactly the field is.

Oftentimes the Loss of a High-Talent Geek Equates to Something like a Two or Three Times of Their Annual Salary. That’s Serious Money. (Then there is) the Drain of Talent From the Company.

Oftentimes the loss of someone equates to something like a two or three times of an annual salary of a person like this. You can see that that’s extremely serious money. (Then there is) the drain of talent from a company. I mean we’re not talking about people who are selling socks, nothing against people who sell socks by the way, but we’re talking about people who have a (tremendous) skillset. Maybe you will scour not just one country but multiple countries to even attract this talent to your company. A company I worked for, they had basically at least a third, if not half of the world’s pool of expertise in a particular field attracted to their company. Think about that.

It’s hard to even replace those people, no matter what the money looks like. You want to keep those people. Especially, the people who are willing to also understand the business side and who have enough leadership abilities or at least the willingness to acquire it. (That way) they can really help mitigate that gap between the geek talent area, which a lot of high-tech companies are really, really good at, and converting that, transforming that into commercial success and business success, and therefore rewards for everyone involved. That chasm, those people are the best at helping the crossing of that chasm.

Easier to Take a Person Who Has Technical Expertise and Train Them in Business and Leadership, If They’re Willing, and Let Them Progress Through Higher and Higher Leadership Positions That Way

In my experience, if you hire let’s say a business person, a marketing person who has no technical expertise, they find it oftentimes very, very difficult to, a) understand the technical area, and b) earn the respect of the scientists they’re working with. It is in my experience easier to take a person who has the technical expertise and train them in business and leadership, if they’re willing, and let them progress through higher and higher leadership positions that way.

Robert: Makes sense. These principles apply, I mean we’ve been talking about kind of a large corporate setting with a fair number of geeks that are working there. But I mean you work with smaller companies and you also work with entrepreneurial geeks as well, right?

We Also Work With Executives. And, Of Course, The moment A Geek Says, “I’m Going to Start My Own Company,” Now They’re a Business Owner and CEO of Their Own Business

Dr. Stephie: Yes, absolutely, we do, and when you think about … We work also with executives. And, of course, the moment a geek quits a company and says, “I’m going to start my own company,” now they’re a business owner and now they are actually a CEO of their own business. Now they need to think like a top-notch CEO and be rewarded like one – or they don’t think like one they might be out of business soon after they started.

Robert: Well, we don’t want dwell on that, but I think you do have the antidote for that problem. I want to call out the name of your website and the company to everybody again so that they can contact you. Because on your website you do offer a free personal consultation with people that might be interested in learning from you and availing themselves of your service. My guest was Dr. Stephie Althouse, …

Dr. Stephie: If I may?

Robert: Yes, please.

The Same “Geeky Passion” That We Talked About at the Beginning is What We Apply in Our Work With Geeks

Dr. Stephie: If I may add one thing to this. I just want to convey that the same geeky passion that we talked about at the beginning of the interview is what we apply in our work. We’re extremely passionate about sharing with the people we work with all the things that we have learned over the years to really transform your talent, your tremendous talent that we so honor, into making a difference, into creating the money that you need to continue working on what you love to do and also take care of your children, yourself, etc., etc., and also enjoying a great quality of life because you deserve it.

I have an extreme passion, and the people working in our company have an extreme passion, for making sure that your talent gets lived out loud on. I’m not sure if that was grammatically correct, but anyway that you can live out loud on your talent. My worst nightmare is that someone might have a tombstone on their grave that says, “Still so much talent inside; too bad nobody cared to unlock it.” We really care to unlock it.

Robert: All right. Thank you! You can find Dr. Stephie on the web at topnotchceo.com and that’s where you can sign-up, and she’ll do a personal consultation with you. I think that’s a great service and people should avail themselves of them.

Dr. Stephie: It’s actually free.

Robert: Dr. Stephie, I’d like to thank you for joining us on this segment. I look forward to the next segment and we’ll see you on the radio.

Dr. Stephie: Thank you.

Robert: All right.

For more about Top-Notch CEO’s Business and Leadership training opportunities for top experts, visit their page.