Management, Technical Leadership

Help! There Are Introverts in My Team

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In my last post I described some theory behind introversion, and mentioned that probably most software developers demonstrate such type of personality. Today let’s discuss some practical implications it may have for your team and things to consider as a leader.

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Brainstorming should be abandoned. You won’t get the best ideas, you’ll just hear the ones your extroverts can come up with off the cuff. Introverts need time to think through a problem, and they won’t usually say anything just to appear ‘creative’. Use different discussion patterns instead, and if you really care about valuable input, give your people some time to prepare.

Open spaces are counter-productive. They result in your most talented introverts being frequently distracted by the most ‘active’ employees. And you thought you can just put people together into a large room so that they ‘communicate’ and be more creative? Think again.

Some agile techniques require a second thought. Pair programming? Maybe two developers working closely together, communicating all day long, is still fine from an introvert’s perspective – when they know each other well… That’s yet to be researched though. Maybe that’s why some people consider such techniques to do more harm than good.

Review your recognition approach. Many of your team members might not actually enjoy the ‘unique opportunity’ to present their idea in front of the whole company… Some might even see it as punishment. You may still need them to do this, but don’t pretend it’s a reward in such case.

Collaboration is not always the way. We might have been too aggressive in promoting the collaborative style of work, thinking it’s a solution to all problems. Allow your people to work in a bit of isolation sometimes, give them more privacy, and see if the results won’t actually be better.

Limit the number of meetings. Well, nothing new here… Just one more reason to do it (does anyone even need it?!).

These are just some basic observations. I’m sure once you start to look at your team’s everyday work from this perspective, you will notice many more situations in which the environment doesn’t help your introvert team members. Feel free to share them in the comments.

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Management

The Quiet Revolution?

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The topic of introversion is particularly important in the IT industry, which seems to attract many people with such mindset. In this article I am reviewing ‘the book that started the Quiet Revolution’ (or at least that’s how it’s been advertised). Is it really that powerful? Read on to find out.

The Extrovert Ideal Considered Harmful

Susan Cain starts her book – ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ – with a brave attack on the icons of modern self-help techniques and business approaches, like Anthony Robbins, Dale Carnegie and the Harvard Business School. While the personality model promoted by them has dominated the Western world, she argues that it’s actually harmful for a large part of our society. The ideal of a dynamic, open, outgoing individual, attracting others’ attention, with great presentation skills, showing a lot of ‘energy’ and raising many ideas, is not natural for at least one third of the world’s population.

Those people, who we call ‘introverts’ for the lack of a better term, seem to prefer thinking before acting, calm behavior, limited amount of social interactions, careful decision making and working individually rather than in groups. On the other hand, they lead a very rich ‘internal’ life and usually have great imagination. Because of all these traits, introverts are often seen as shy, unpleasant, sad, or even cynical and unhappy. In most cases, this is far from true, yet extroverts find it very difficult to understand.

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Why are you so sad today?

– is one of typical, frustrating questions that introverts would repeatedly hear from family or co-workers. Many of them give in and try to comply with the established standards of behavior. They would fake enjoying interactions with people, appearing open and expressive – just to be more ‘successful’.

Susan claims that such forced behavior is not necessary, and many famous people achieved something spectacular not just despite their introverted nature – but even thanks to it. Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Gandhi, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton – she gives many examples of very successful people who demonstrated behaviors typical for introverts on a daily basis.

Introverts Are Not ‘Cool’

The author tries to understand the reasons behind such behaviors. One lead is that many introverts are also oversensitive (in psychological sense). It means they would feel stronger emotions in reaction to a beautiful piece of music or a poem, but also to explicit violence and ugliness, than an average extrovert. They also tend to be meticulous and conscientious. That’s why they feel more nervous in situations like meeting new people or presenting in front of a large audience.

You’ve got to come over to the party tonight – you will relax, I promise.

After digging deeper and reviewing some more research, it turned out that babies with highly reactive behaviors (e.g. squealing with delight when seeing colorful toys) tend to grow into rather careful and serious teenagers, which seems counter-intuitive. Further investigation suggested that such behavior is tied to having an exceptionally sensitive amygdala. The more reactive it is, the faster the baby’s heartbeat will be when experiencing new stimulus, the more cortisol will appear in its saliva, and so on. For a grown-up, who tries to control reactions, such response from the nervous system will mean more stress, and thus an incentive to avoid confronting the unknown.

Another interesting observation is that extroverts sweat less than introverts and therefore seem ‘cooler to touch’. Some people think that it may be the origin of the saying ‘be cool’. If you think that’s a positive thing, consider that the ‘coolest’ people in this context are sociopaths, who are the least reactive and thus don’t care or feel guilty about their deeds…

Why do you always have to be so anti-social? No excuses this time!

In general, the balance of introversion and extroversion for each of us seems to result from the ‘fight’ happening between our ‘old brain’ (the part coming from our evolutionary ancestors, primitive mammals – eat more, take pleasure, seek reward, take more risks) and the neocortex (think, plan, decide, be careful). Highly reactive people are more susceptible to the guidance of the latter, while extroverts’ behaviors are more frequently driven by the former.

Who needs introverts after all?

Susan claims that the world would be a much better place if we stopped pushing those people into the ‘standard’ model of behavior (the Extrovert Ideal). She suggests that some past accidents and tragedies might have been avoided if we had more introverts as decision makers, for example the global financial crisis of 2008. Wall Street was dominated by people with specific personality, who pushed away more careful people pointing to disturbing statistics.

Society doesn’t seem to trust introverts. They are too quiet, they avoid interactions, maybe hiding something bad or deeply hating humanity… That’s why it’s more probable for an extrovert to have a successful career, get promoted or sell a product.

However, this approach is gradually changing. Not only because of this knowledge being spread, but also due to more and more great companies and products being created by introverted minds, making them famous, rich and powerful. The software industry is full of such stories and this trend shall continue in the coming decades. The growing virtual world is the perfect space for introverts to show their abilities without negative stimulus for their brains.

Summary

I hope this article got you interested in this wide and important topic. I can certainly recommend Susan Cain’s book, as it contains much more detailed information and can prove very helpful not just at work, but in your whole life – regardless of where you are on the introvert-extrovert scale.

In the next post, I’m going to write about some practical implications of this concept for us as IT leaders, and what we can do to allow our introverted employees to reveal their full potential.

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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.

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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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Management, Technical Leadership

20 Tips for Achieving a Team Leader Role

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Becoming a team leader is the first step in a management career. It’s also a good opportunity to see if such duties would be interesting for you in the long term. This article lists ideas for achieving a promotion to such role. There is no guarantee, but the more of them you apply, the higher your chances for success will be. I have personally used most (if not all) of these tips, and they greatly helped me to drive my career onto this path.

Some people think it’s luck, or that you have to be born with leadership traits. I believe that with enough effort and sacrifice, most people can achieve such role and perform well in it. Some will need just a short time before they are ready and get promoted, for others it may take a few years of careful preparations and hard work on improving their soft skills, but it’s certainly achievable.

While this article is mainly directed to software developers, most of these techniques should also apply to other jobs.

1. Pick the Right Workplace

If you’re seriously considering a career in leadership, it’s best to be at a company that cares about long-term employee growth. You want a place that has established career development programs and some experienced leaders that you could learn from.

The company should be large enough to offer these benefits, while remaining flexible and open to ambitious individuals. Contract-based or per-project employment, as well as small start-ups would not normally be good options for this scenario. You also need a reasonable boss, who will help you grow rather than keeping you as a developer on the team at all costs.

2. Perform Your Current Duties Well

You don’t need to be a great software developer to lead a team. A good manager won’t promote someone just because they have the highest technical skills, they will rather look for employees that show specific leadership traits. However, a good manager also knows that they should not reward a poor performer with a promotion.

So you need to be doing a good job as a programmer before you move on. If you find it hard to motivate for that, you need to look for a different type of job, e.g. an analyst or a QA engineer. If the current project is too difficult for you, you need to increase your skills or look for a simpler one. Keeping the performance below at least a solid level won’t get you anywhere, so if you’re not doing well – change something.

3. Show That You Care

Not just about your own results, but about the whole project, team, or even department. When there is a production issue, offer that you will stay longer to help with it, even if you haven’t caused it. Be proactive, suggest long-term enhancements to the code and implement them in your spare time. During discussions, express your opinions, bring up ideas and ask questions. Show your interest in the long-term strategy for the project and the team.

4. Be Open About Your Goal

If you truly want to progress in this direction, you should really mention that to your current team leader. Some people are afraid that it will be misinterpreted, but keeping this ambition to yourself and waiting for someone in the company to magically discover it won’t usually work.

Just be sure to say that it’s a long-term goal, not something you necessarily need *now*, and that you would value your manager’s help in gaining the necessary skills. When the time comes that your boss will move to another role or company, you want them to recommend you as the best replacement, and being open about this goal is the first step.

5. Don’t Act Behind Your Manager’s Back

Once your boss knows about your career ambition, you need to be careful to not lose their trust. Be open about any actions you are taking in this direction, so that your manager doesn’t think you are plotting against them (and never actually do). You need an ally, not an enemy.

A different approach is not only unethical, it will also usually lead to a failure. Life is not like TV shows, and even if you manage to achieve something in this way, it will hurt the team and department in the long term. You don’t want to build your career on unhealthy and fragile foundations.

6. Be a Team Player

Be helpful towards your co-workers, treat them with respect and show interest in their ideas. Don’t avoid expressing your opinion if you disagree with something that they say or do, but make sure to do it in a way that doesn’t offend anyone. Good, professional relationships with your co-workers are key to building your authority in the team.

7. Don’t Always Be Right

It’s not the smartest team member that would normally get promoted, but the one with the highest leadership potential. Don’t be stubborn in pushing your ideas, welcome alternative opinions and don’t hesitate to admit mistakes. Help to facilitate discussions in the team so that the best decision is made, even if it doesn’t originate from you. The team will benefit from such approach more, and other employees – including your team leader – will notice and appreciate your open attitude.

8. Volunteer for Extra Duties

Keep your eyes open for additional opportunities and be eager to offer your help. Maybe some other team is facing a difficult technical problem, which you could research? Or the marketing department needs some help with HTML for their newsletter? Or there is some company-wide initiative and they are looking for volunteers? This will show that you are able to manage multiple unrelated efforts at a time. You may say you’re too busy already – well, we all usually are, but if you’re targeting a leadership role, you need to be prepared to occasionally give much more than at a 9-to-5 job.

9. Lead a Project in Your Free Time

Ideas for that could range from leading an open source effort with some of your developer friends, to activities outside of IT, like organizing events or group meetings related to your personal hobbies. Look at what you are doing already in your free time, and see if there is any opportunity to gather leadership experience there. If you achieve any interesting results, mention them to your boss the next time you’re discussing personal development.

10. Keep Your Commitments

Your manager, as well as other co-workers, need to be sure that they can rely on you – that you will always do what you say. Maintain a list of what you commit to for others and review it on a regular basis. If any of your deliverables is at risk, be sure to notify appropriate people, and propose any alternatives that you can think of. This is key to earning trust of your manager and peers.

11. Assist in Your Manager’s Duties

You can offer your boss to help in some of the duties related to team management. You could represent the team at a meeting, help in some mandatory reporting or be your manager’s deputy when they are on vacation or sick. If you can become your team leader’s right hand, it will be a great foundation for further progress.

12. Help with Recruitment and Onboarding

Participating in the hiring process can teach you a number of skills required in your future job, and once again show that you care about the team more than an average employee. Once a new person is hired, offer to help them out in the first few weeks, even in basic stuff (like showing how the coffee machine works). Many companies have a ‘buddy’ system or peer mentoring program of some sort – make sure to sign up for it.

13. Build Good Relationships with the Customers

It’s not just your management that should see you as a potential leader. You also want the customers of your team (e.g. end users, product owners) to be satisfied when cooperating with you. Don’t work behind your team’s back, and don’t break the established rules of cooperation, but still try to do your best working within those boundaries. Be helpful, build a positive relationship and look for further improvements that would serve the customers. The more good opinions about your approach that come through to your managers from various sources, the better the chances that they will consider you for such role.

14. Be Self-Driven

You don’t want your manager to invest a lot of time for getting you through the details of your duties, and I don’t just mean technical ones here. Show that you are able to get work done from the beginning to the end. If you need additional information to complete a task, go to the source. If you don’t know who that is, ask around. If someone is not responding to your e-mail, follow up with a call or try with their peer or manager. If you need a decision from your manager, list them the pros and cons. If there is a problem to solve, try to propose solutions instead of just asking what to do.

In general, keep your manager informed about your progress, but avoid engaging them actively until it’s necessary. This doesn’t mean you should avoid asking for direction, or escalating important issues promptly. Just make sure that you explore the actions you can take yourself first.

15. Show Your Loyalty

Managers usually try to hire people that offer high chances of staying at the company for a longer time. That’s even more important in case of leadership positions – nobody wants a situation where a new leader leaves the team after just a few months. That’s why it’s important that even as a regular team member, you show your support during hard times and don’t immediately start looking for a new job when problems appear.

You can also show your loyalty by supporting unpopular decisions made by management (assuming they are not unethical or illegal). Even if you disagree with them, once they are made there’s usually no alternative, so it’s best to look for positives and try to help in implementing them well, rather than showing your frustration and adding to the negativity in the team. In this way you also show that you are a responsible person and understand the wider, strategic context, which may not always be evident to other employees. However, you need to be careful to not lose trust of other team members – you want to be loyal towards them too, and it may often be challenging to find the right balance.

16. Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses

There are many skills that you need to have in a leadership role, and the first step to ensure that is learning about your current strengths and weaknesses. While you may have some assumptions, it’s important to verify them, as other people’s perception can frequently turn out to be very surprising. There are many ways to do that, the simplest being just to ask other people directly – starting with your manager. You may also use some formal techniques such as 360 Feedback or MBTI tests.

17. Learn, Learn, Learn

As a developer you should already know that you will need to keep learning new things throughout your whole career to stay good at your job. As a future leader, you have a whole new area to explore and it’s important to establish a learning routine, so that your knowledge will be increasing consistently.

Use your idle time (e.g. driving, commuting, waiting in queues) productively by reading books, listening to recordings or reviewing articles. Establish a time of day or week that you will reserve for such activities. Check with your manager if you can use some time at work for that. Also keep your eyes open for any leadership trainings or workshops that may be happening in your company.

18. Find a Mentor

In addition to your immediate manager, you may look for help outside of your team, department or even company. If you know someone experienced, who went through the same path as you desire, it may be very beneficial to learn their story and get advice about your activities on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid of hearing ‘no’ – it doesn’t hurt to ask, and many people will actually be flattered by such proposal. Remember to inform your team leader about this in order to remain transparent.

19. Network with Other Leaders

If you don’t want to work with a single mentor, you can try connecting with a wider group of leaders. If there are any local group meetings in your town that include leadership topics, join them. Ask others for advice or recommendations about learning resources. Follow people sharing interesting content, get into discussions on Twitter or blogs, join LinkedIn groups for leaders. There are many opportunities to learn from others.

20. Be Patient

Last but not least, don’t get discouraged if the above efforts don’t bring an immediate success. Getting frustrated certainly won’t help, and moving to another company just because of this could mean that you will need to start over. There are many situations that can happen every day, opening up opportunities for your promotion:

  • Your boss may get promoted or decide to join another company,
  • A new team may need to be created for a new project,
  • An existing team will need to be split up to be more effective,
  • You may be offered to replace a leader in a different team.

Sometimes it will take longer, but if you continue to apply the above tips and keep your management aware of your goals and progress, I strongly believe that sooner or later it will happen.

Summary

As you can conclude from many of the ideas listed here, you should strive to become a natural leader for people before you are appointed as one. This does not only increase your chances of promotion, but also prepares a good ground for your future role, and will make your start much easier.

When preparing this list, I was trying to include both my past perspective as a developer, as well as the current one – of a development manager, thinking about what I would expect from someone aspiring to a team leader role in my own team. I hope these tips help you get where you want to be.

Let me know in the comments about any other ideas you have (or actually applied) to steer your career to a desired path.

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Management

The Power of Small Actions

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It often takes a lot of effort to improve one’s results. You have to overcome large obstacles, gain vast knowledge in a new area, or spend a long time working really hard. However, it’s not the only way to grow. One should never underestimate the power of repeated small actions or decisions, accumulating over a long period of time. I believe it’s one of the things that differentiate solid performers from great achievers. And it applies to management, too.

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Imagine that you can find just a few minutes per day to read 5 pages of a book. That’s 150 pages per month, translating to at least one extra book per quarter – or 4 books per year. Quite a bit of knowledge for such a small investment, don’t you think? And it can give you a significant advantage over people who prefer to spend those 5 minutes procrastinating.

Consider the below examples of small extra actions that can make a difference when performed frequently:

  • Making just one more phone call, to check if your project’s dependency is on track.
  • Asking just one more question at a meeting, to ensure somebody takes ownership of a particular action item.
  • Staying a few minutes longer at the office, to push forward a non-urgent improvement.
  • Mentioning that too-simple-to-be-true solution for your employee’s problem, just in case nobody actually tried it.
  • Reading a single article from your professional area while commuting or waiting in line.
  • Sending a quick reminder to someone who committed to help you, to avoid a bad surprise at the last minute.
  • Writing down that idea wandering around your head, so that you won’t ignore or forget it.
  • Giving one more bit of feedback to your employee, to make them aware that their behavior (good or bad) was noticed.

As you can see, many of the above don’t really require you to invest time, they rather rely on your consistent commitment, preference of clear and explicit agreements, avoiding open-ended topics, and so on. Of course these activities won’t replace your everyday hard work, or any of the other success factors. Such approach is just an addition – yet a very powerful one.

I wonder what are your own ideas for such small extra efforts? Please share them in the comments.

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Management

3 Wrong Reasons For Moving Into Management

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Following my post about reasons to become a technical leader, let’s now examine the most commonly wrong reasons that make some software developers chase the management path and inevitably fail not long thereafter.

Money

You expected this, didn’t you? There’s nothing wrong with an urge to earn more money, but if it’s your main goal then you will most probably fail. Managers can typically have a much higher salary than developers, but not all of them do! Poor leaders can lose their job or get stuck at the basic management level, while good developers gain more technical skills and experience, eventually landing more profitable projects or jobs.

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If you have a true passion for programming and you dream of a long technical career, you should look for other ways to make more money as a developer. It may not be easy, but trust me – being a manager is even harder when it’s not really your calling.

Power

Having the authority to make decisions for your team can seem tempting to some people. However, by now you should have realized that in a market economy, especially in industries such as IT, this type of power is an illusion. Good developers – and that’s the only kind you want on your team – will not hesitate much before leaving their bosses when they don’t feel respected. You can be sure they will have plenty of offers, and you won’t compensate for a bad job with higher salary or other benefits in the long-term. Also, what is the meaning of such power if you don’t have any followers?

Respect

Are you kidding me? Nobody respects their boss just because of their position, it always trails their actions. Your employees may fake it for some time to avoid trouble, but if you’re not good at this job they will consider you as an obstacle on their projects. You won’t be respected until you change your attitude, and adding ‘Team Leader’ on your business card certainly won’t make that happen.

Summary

The reality is that many of us care about the above aspects – we want to earn more money, be respected, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, these should not be the main forces steering your career, otherwise you may wake up one day feeling that you wasted a few years of your life doing something that you hated, and were not even good at. As a result you could be hurting yourself and your co-workers. Think these through, no matter what decision you make, or path you follow.

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Management, Technical Leadership

Why You Should Become a Technical Leader (Or Not)

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For most software developers, there comes a moment in their careers when they ponder next steps. Should I continue in my current role, gaining more and more experience and eventually building more complex and challenging applications? Or should I follow a different career path, more focused on managing teams? What factors should you take into account when making such decision? Here are the ones that I consider to be the most important.

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Job Satisfaction

In general, are you enjoying your current role? It might seem obvious to answer ‘No’, as you otherwise wouldn’t be considering a career change, but think about it for a bit longer. Is your lack of satisfaction really caused by the role, or maybe it’s because of your current project, assignments, the people you’re working with or some other factor that can be changed?

When was the last time that you felt good about your job? When were you last excited about your next day at the office? What is different from then to now? Before you make a serious career decision, try to recreate that situation and see if you can feel the energy once again. You could discuss such options with your manager or coworkers, consider moving to another project or volunteer for additional tasks – depending on what made you happy the previous time. You should also consider other technical paths, like becoming a trainer or possibly an architect.

Once you are confident that this type of challenge is needed, a manager’s job can be extremely satisfying – if approached well. While you no longer have direct control over the results, it’s a great experience to see how your efforts bring benefits in the long term. Helping your team members grow and achieve their own goals is another source of fulfillment. There’s also a lot of room for creativity: team building, strategic planning, making decisions that shape your projects or even the whole company – all of that can turn out to be a wonderful journey.

Personal Growth

Leading a team requires applying more soft skills than technical work. Qualities and abilities such as:

  • Confidence
  • Effective listening
  • Delivering feedback
  • Building trust
  • Communication
  • Time management
  • Negotiation
  • Conflict resolution
  • Building engagement

are important for all employees, but need to be used to a much larger extent by a leader. So if you want to be good at this job, you are forced to improve on them. As a side effect, you can become a better person and enhance your behaviors in other areas of your life. If you approach it correctly, it can help you improve relationships with your family and friends, deal with personal problems more effectively, and so on.

Future Career

Have you ever thought about what you want to do in your 40’s? What are your long-term career goals, what type of job would you like to perform? If you intentionally want to continue in a programmer’s role, eventually getting onto more and more advanced projects – that’s perfectly fine. However, many software developers don’t even think about it now, which I see as a big mistake.

road photo

Some people have well-defined goals for their future, for example they would like to become a CIO, or even run a software company. If you belong to that group, becoming a technical leader is definitely a good step towards that goal, and will allow you to start gathering the required experience. Even if you want to run your own start-up, such practice can serve as a great foundation.

In general, performing a team leader’s role allows you to verify if a manager’s career is something you actually want to pursue in the future, without dumping all of your technical duties now.

Summary

The right motivation is everything in a manager’s job. Without it, you won’t be able to accept the increased amount of stress and effort, lack of direct control over results, additional (huge) amount of learning, and all the other factors that are required to perform well in this role. Make sure this is really what you want and need for your career and life, and don’t let it become an escape from your current work problems.

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Management

Two Essential Qualities of a Manager

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Apparently a great way to increase one’s blog post popularity is to place a number in the title, as in ’10 Easy Tips to Achieve Ultimate Happiness’ or ‘5 Guaranteed Ways to Have a Great Date’. However, it’s not the only reason I used this headline. I actually believe there are two main, simple to understand qualities that you have to develop in order to achieve great results as a manager (although ‘simple’ does not equal ‘easy’ in this context). In my opinion, all the other traits are built on the foundation of the two below.

Ability to Execute

Let’s say your team has an assigned project, task, duty of some sort – and your task is to drive them to the finish line. You will face obstacles, have schedule or resource challenges, unexpected technical issues, and so on – but most of the time, your team will deliver. You will keep the team focused and motivated, help them get through difficult moments, negotiate with your customers when necessary, and do anything else that is required to achieve the final result. And you will do that without getting your employees or peers to hate their jobs… and yourself.

Sometimes the obstacles can be very tough, and caused by external factors. If someone analyzes them after your failure, they will clearly see that it wasn’t your fault. But guess what, it doesn’t matter. You’re no longer an engineer, you’re a manager – and you’re expected to get things done; excuses (even legitimate) don’t work anymore. Only the end result will be noticed – sad, but true. I guess that’s why so many software developers revert to a technical role after their first leadership experiences.

How to get there is an entirely different story with many books written on the topic. The bottom line is, you want to be the person that people describe as ‘making things happen’, rather than ‘whoa, that poor chap has a really tough project, sucks to be him’. The latter won’t get you anywhere.

Continuous Improvement

Let’s assume you are already good at execution– you deliver the results on time, creatively eliminate obstacles that show up, and so on. Does that make you a good manager?

I believe this is enough to be called an administrator of the team, but if you want to be a full-blown manager, you need to do one more thing: continuously improve your team’s performance. Enhance the development process, tools, knowledge, procedures – everything that can give a long-term benefit for the team and the company.

There are many possible approaches to do that effectively, and I will touch on that in future articles. The same with carving out time for long-term activities of this kind, as it is often difficult. For now, I want you to at least understand the importance of improvements.

What are the consequences of ignoring this aspect and only focusing on good execution of your day-to-day tasks? In the short-term it probably won’t get noticed, but after months or years, here’s what may happen:

  • Fires will tend to occur more often, as you usually focus on dealing with the immediate effects, rather than focusing on root causes.
  • Recurring problems will make your customers feel that they will never be resolved, which can damage their trust in your team.
  • Your employees will notice that they are not growing, which will make them worried, disengaged, and eventually seeking job change.
  • You will lower your chances to distinguish yourself among others in this position.
  • Your managers could see you as burnt out, and may stop considering you for the most interesting projects.
  • You yourself will feel stuck and bored, your work will be draining your energy instead of motivating you.

Of course, in order to have good results in improving your team’s work, you first need to have a vision and prepare a strategy, but also apply the changes in practice. That’s why I have described the execution skill as the first one to master.

So these are the two most important qualities of a manager, as seen by me. Of course in this area there are many different ways to achieve the same result – I wonder what is on your list? Please let me know by leaving a comment below.

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