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What I learnt as a team leader

What I learnt as a team leader

<Originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse>

I have had the good fortune of leading and influencing software development teams for close to six years now. Its been an exciting, frustrating, taxing and learning journey. As part of the second post in my two-part share on team leadership, I am going to talk about a few key things that I have learned.

In no particular order:

You can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t try - No matter how hard a leader tries, there will always be people who do not agree or subscribe to your leadership. This is OK. Going down the path of trying, is likely to end up alienating the whole team. There could be several reasons for this, two of which are:

  • They do not want to be on the team and it has nothing to do with your leadership
  • They have a working style that directly conflicts with your own

Listen carefully - A large part of leading is helping others succeed. The first step to that, is listening to what they have to say and help them pan that nugget of gold. This has been particularly hard in certain teams and very easy in others. It's one of my own ongoing areas for improvement, so if it doesn't come easy, do not worry you are not alone.

Be accessible and visible, but step away now and again - Its extremely important for leaders to be visible both to their team and the outside world. It reassures everyone there is someone at the helm. It is even more important for them to be accessible so teams can make the most out of their knowledge and learn from them.

However, it is also a good idea to step away sometimes and give other team members a chance to test their leadership ability without a safety net.

Consciously plan your succession - Building on what I mentioned above about stepping away from the team. Its extremely important to constantly groom the next generation of leaders. Each leader should be at any time grooming at least 2 successors. This avoids an over reliance on your presence for the entire lifetime of the team and also helps the team continue to flourish even when you are not around anymore.

A few other things about succession planning:

  • It’s never too early to start
  • If you make yourself redundant, you have succeeded as a leader
  • Once you are confident about your successor(s), move on and let them take center stage, or move them to their own independent leadership positions

Leadership committees rarely work, it often just leads to confusion - There has been a lot said and done to promote leadership by committee. In my experience, this just leads to a lot of confusion and ineffective goal setting, most of the time.  A set of individuals no matter how aligned will have differences of opinion.

There is a time and place for leadership by committee, but if speed of execution and coherence of strategy are required, there needs to be a leader for the leadership committee as well. 

Dive for details, don't swim in the depths - Most first timers can't let go of the details. They have grown up from being individual contributors where the details was what made you great. I am not saying details are not important, however, they should not be the sole focus of leaders.

Someone described this aspect of leadership to me as soaring high above most of the time, but making quick forays to the depth when details are required to make strategic choices.

If you get bogged down in the details all the time, you will likely make choices that are optimized for the short term rather than long term.

There are few other things, that may be useful to know:

  • Leading where you are welcomed is much more satisfying and fruitful than leading where you are considered a threat
  • Set goals for yourself and track if you are headed in the right direction
  • Do not be afraid to have difficult conversations with people
  • Do not hesitate to walk away from an situation that is just not working out

This is the second of two posts on team leadership that I am posting here on LinkedIn. If you would like to read the first one, you can go to "What makes a good team leader?" 

The importance of Listening in leadership and coaching

The importance of Listening in leadership and coaching

What makes a good team leader?

What makes a good team leader?