Management, Technical Leadership

8 Things You Will Hate as a Team Leader

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Are you aspiring to a leadership position? Here’s a few reasons why you may wish to reconsider.

This list is not meant to scare you away from a job of a team leader, but rather to make you realize the challenges that you will most probably face (sometimes even daily), and thus help you prepare for them. How you deal with such difficulties will not only impact your team’s performance, but also your motivation for growing further in this role.

1. No Direct Control Over Results

This might be the hardest thing you will learn during your first few weeks. As a developer, you used to have a direct impact over the end result of your work. When you didn’t put enough attention to your task, you got into problems e.g. with code quality and had to spend extra time fixing issues later. If you wanted to do something really well, it was usually enough to work hard on it yourself. While you were part of a team, most of the time your performance was assessed based on your own actions.

When leading a team, this is different. Your team’s results are your results now, and you can’t usually impact them directly. As one of my fellow managers put it (thank you, Gosia):

‘As leaders, we can’t control our team’s results, but we can control the behaviors that lead to the results.’

This is essential to understand and accept, otherwise you will keep getting frustrated by lots of things being done differently than you are used to, ending up micromanaging your employees. And that’s a short path to failure.

2. Giving Feedback and Punishing Employees

Giving feedback is an activity that should be happening all the time, and should not be limited to managers. For instance, developers have a frequent opportunity for that during code review sessions. The reality is different though, and many of us tend to avoid giving feedback, especially when it’s negative (constructive).

Here’s some bad news: it doesn’t become any easier when you’re the boss (unless you’re a mad tyrant, that is). It is something you’ll just have to learn to do effectively. Having difficult conversations frequently seems to be the only way to make it less painful. Also, be prepared for extreme situations, when you may have to punish or even fire a team member.

3. Increased Stress

Every job can be stressful, and it’s often a sign that you really care about the outcome – which is a good thing in general. However, as a leader, you will get into stressful situations much more often. A ‘comfort zone’? If you want to be good, you’ll need to forget what that thing is.

It gets easier over time and with more experience, there are also several techniques to reduce it, but it won’t go away entirely. Increased responsibility will always come with additional stress and one just has to learn to live with it.

4. Leader’s Loneliness

Partying together, sharing personal feelings and problems, making funny jokes? That may still happen, but don’t expect your employees to be as eager to do that with you after you become their boss. If you focused on growing relationships with them only, you may actually be feeling a bit lonely now.

We’re spending a lot of time at work, so many of us need to have some deeper relationships with other employees – regardless of how rich our social life is in general. Building such relationships with your new peers or other managers can take some time, and you may never really get that close with them.

lonely photo

5. No Longer on the Coolest Tasks

As a developer, you probably enjoyed work the most when you were dealing with really interesting, difficult or innovative tasks. As a leader you now should be letting others perform the most exciting ones. And it will hurt, for at least two reasons: you won’t be getting the fun from solving them, and they won’t get implemented in the same way that you imagined.

What can help you deal with that is realizing that every time you let your employees perform exciting work, their engagement rises, and your team’s results will improve thanks to that. Which will, eventually, lead to more exciting projects for the team and yourself. Possibly.

6. Limited Transparency

Transparency is the corner stone of many modern leadership models. Despite that, you won’t always be able to stay as transparent with your employees as you would like. For instance, there might be an important decision affecting the team, which your management doesn’t allow you to share yet (e.g. project getting closed, or department re-structured). Another scenario would be when you cannot share some information about one of the employees.

It is painful to watch your people’s efforts, knowing that they are not optimal (to say the least) considering the upcoming change, but the alternative of violating the rules is even worse. You’ll just need to learn how to cope with your own frustration, and how to maintain the trust of your team in such situations.

7. Can’t Be Liked By Everyone

If you are, you’re either a truly great leader, or a very bad one. It’s obvious that you can’t please everybody, and I don’t just mean your employees. A part of a leader’s job is to protect the team, and that will sometimes put you in a position of conflict with other parties (e.g. business stakeholders). Staying calm and explaining things patiently won’t always be enough – some people just tend to get emotional when things don’t go their way, and it may take some time before they understand your reasons.

8. Changing a Job

Good software developers usually don’t have problems when they decide to change a project or company. For leaders, the choice of truly interesting positions is much more limited. It may require a few months (rather than weeks) to find something that fits you really well, and that you’re a great fit for. Technical skills probably won’t be the deciding factor anymore.

In such role you’re also expected to stay longer at companies, showing that you can actually build something that lasts. Frequent job changes will make you much less trustworthy than in case of purely technical employees. Therefore, you should be much more careful when deciding to move, as well as choosing your next company.

Summary

I saw several people resign from a leader’s job after a few months because of the reasons listed above. For many they can be serious problems in the beginning, but I believe that once you accept them and learn how to deal with them, the role can become truly enjoyable for you. Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments.

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