Update: Added the last two sections
Article Inspiration: Be A Manager and Some Qualities I Like About Them
Managers. It's not too hard to find someone who dislikes theirs. You may not always agree with your CEO but you don't interact with them on a daily basis. Managers, on the other hand, are people you work with almost everyday. They hold some influence on your work, promotion, career path and morale. Even if some people like the company, the team and the work they do, they still end up leaving because of their leaders (related).
I’ve always thought that the hardest and most valuable thing in work is to get a group of smart people to work together toward a common goal.
The article linked above talks about the importance of good management. It also touches on the idea that the people who should be and are more fit to be managers aren't doing it. If you care about the people around you, have the capacity to lead, know how to be a servant-leader then maybe you are suited to be one.
In some capacity, we are all managers and leaders. I tried to reflect a bit on the qualities that I like and dislike about it. Some of the things below come from stories I read around the web, chatting and interacting with different people and some of my own experiences both in being managed and in leading in some capacity. I'm still early in my career so this may not end up being the same answers 5 years down the line.
A Genuine Interest to Help
This is probably one of the qualities I like best about some of the leaders I've interacted with. A genuine interest to help just shows me that you like what you do and you care about team members. You care about the success of the team, the project and each individual. In essence, you are a genuine person.
Passion and Enthusiasm
One of the things that can really bring down a team is a lack of these traits. Do you encourage the team? Do you show that you have energy in the work that you do? Do you show that you enjoy what you do? To the team, maybe it's just a nice job title for you.You go in the office, answer emails then leave and that's it. Why should the team be passionate if you, yourself, aren't?
Get to know the team you lead
In sports, a good coach understands his team. He knows each player's strengths and weaknesses. He knows who works well together and those that don't.
If you don't have this information then it becomes exponentially harder to build a team that's like a well-oiled machine. You have to understand the people you lead. I think an ideal leader should be able to answer more than a few of the items below about their team members.
- What are their strengths?
- What about weaknesses?
- What are they passionate about? What are their motivations?
- What makes them go above and beyond? What makes them work harder then they should?
- What annoys them most?
- Are they more introverted or extraverted?
- What type of people do they work best with?
- What do they like outside of work?
Know How to Build a Coherent Team
With the knowledge from the item above, the next quality that good leaders do is understand how to make the team work. Coming back to the sports analogy, a group of players maybe individually good but might not necessarily work well with each other until a good coach is put in. Most of the time there is someone who'll figure out just how to make it all fit in. Once that synergy is established, You'll see that they will try their best to make sure the team is successful because they care about each other.
The process is different for each team and situation. To build that team you may have to go through phases. You may be switching team members on projects, providing another with more direct help, providing a forum for individuals to talk openly, giving team members a chance to bond or something completely different. I've seen some people understand how to just what to do through their experience while others just have a knack for it.
Interest in Forming a Bond
I'm not entirely sure if this is optional. Right now, I'm leaning to more of "no". Once a leader understands his team and makes it work, forming a bond is another step to take. For me, once you have that bond, people will go out of their way to help you and each other out. They will help you make the team better because by then people want to be on the team. How do you build this bond? The first thing that comes to me is to be part of the team. It sounds simple and obvious but somehow I don't see it always. You could build this bond by talking to people informally, having spontaneous coffee chats, joining team events, asking the team on after-hours events and more.
Don't Just Delegate, Do Your Part
Yes, the majority of the job is to delegate and assign work to your team. But you don't need to do it for every task and everything that comes your way. Is it an after work activity? Is it just holding a survey for the team? You don't have to delegate everything. In fact, it helps the team to be even more productive if you abstract this layer.
Communication and Transparency
Don't you just hate it when it suddenly rains? Or how about when you are stuck in traffic because there was a road closure you didn't hear about? We would have felt much better if there was communication. Not exactly from nature but wouldn't it have been great if a friend told you the weather was going to be bad. Wouldn't it have been nice to see a sign that says the road closure is happening next week? We could have understood and prepared for it.
To me a good leader is one that can communicate well. Not every decision or news at work is a good one. I think it helps if this is communicated to the team (whether it is good or bad). The team will understand and be prepared for something that will come up and appreciate the heads up instead of scrambling at the last minute.
Communicate and be transparent. What's happening? Why was this decision made? What were the options? What was the situation? What will happen? You lead a group of people. Be open about the decisions that you do for them. It's (ideally) for the benefit of those that you lead and not just for yourself.
Related Reading: Servant Leadership
I was reading up on this term originally to see if it defined one of the qualities I wanted to get highlighted. Surprisingly, some of the things I've mentioned above are covered in what it means to be a servant-leader. It also holds a lot more qualities as well that I do think are present in good leaders. What is it and how is it best explained? I'll leave it to the experts. Below are some links.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Servant_leadership (Obviously)
- https://greenleaf.org/what-is-servant-leadership/ (From the person who coined the term)
Related Reading: Other Articles on Leadership in Software Development
I added this section to add some interesting articles that are more specific to software development. The Coding Horror blog by Jeff Atwood always has some great articles on software development from both a technical and non-technical aspect. In the article linked below, he talks about leading in a software development team and how even if you have the best intentions, sometimes you look like a jerk. The other article linked is the original article that inspired the blog post.
It's definitely hard to be a leader. I believe that there is a little bit of leadership in anyone but it takes honing, experience and more to be able to bring out a good leader. It's way too easy to be a bad one though. If you don't keep yourself in-check, have reviews and have someone sort of feedback with the people you lead then how can you really tell if you are doing a good job? Something that I try to adhere to is the following: If you care about what you do and if you love what you do, always keep learning and always keep improving.