I have been leading small group of developers, one way or the other, for a while now. Still I have never been officially a (tech or team) leader. But I worked for many years. I learn from the bests. I learned a lot.
If you look around for how a team leader should be, several articles speak about vision: communicating a vision or translating it into reality. I have always disagreed with that: vision is what a Product Owner has to manage and communicate. Ok ok, everyone can communicate a vision, but I would never say that this is the main task of a team leader.
In my opinion the very first task of a team leader is to spread trust. I honestly have always work hard and happily for leaders that I was trusting. If I think that my leader understands what I am doing and I am sure that he will defend me against problems, help me on what I may need and help everyone else being responsible, well, this becomes my leader, and I am going to do the same for him. If a leader makes favouritisms, takes decisions just because he is the leader, micromanages people, ask me to make things that I don’t want to do, spread bad behaviours in the team and so on, what I am working for? The consequences of this behaviour are usually that people don’t trust him, or even worse, people don’t trust other team members. People feel stressed about everything, don’t feel part of the company, stop talking about problems (most of the time there are so many that you don’t even know where to start).
The second most important thing is that every leader is an example. So you can speak only if you are an example of what you say. A team leader cannot say to me to not behave in a bad way with other colleagues if he is bullying me. It looks ridiculous. A team leader who never worked as a software developer cannot tell me that I cannot manage a certain amount of work: even in the situation in which he is right, it looks absurd. And so many times he will be wrong. If a leader is using tricks to force me to accept his decisions (like, for example, asking to take decision in only 3 people knowing that one of them would always agree with him), he is teaching to me and everyone else knows how he is behaving that it is perfectly fine to be unfair for reaching a result.
The third important aspect is that we are all humans. Some tasks are stressful but they required lot of concentration. We put our energies on that: we need to be recognised. We need to work in an environment in which we are relaxed. We need to think that we (one by one AND as a team) are doing great things. People feel depressed and tired of tasks that are just stressful. I have always done the best for making people happy to work, and especially to work together. And sometimes it is hard, because me myself I understand that I am working for nothing, for someone that then he will just do whatever he can to gratify someone else. Knowing that we are all humans means also that we have defects, we need help to overcome situations, that sometimes are easy to solve. I usually bring people to speak with other people, I introduce whoever I can to whomever he may have to speak with. I have always, ALWAYS tried to break those walls that usually are created between people for every kind of reasons: culture, gender, personality. A leader do that: it creates great team.
Only after those aspect (hoping to have caught all the ones that I think are important) we can consider all the usual skills that a leader should have: he must unblock problems, develop people and skills, being able to manage projects, scopes, times, budgets… but as Richard Branson says “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”. If you take care of team members, they will take care of the other team members, of the product and they will enjoy so much working that you will be sure that they will do what they can to meet all the deadlines.
I had great team leaders in my life: in Genova (Italy) I had to lose one of them because I was consultant and the client stop the contract with my company. In France I had to leave another one because there were no hope of becoming staff in the client company, so I was wasting my time. In a company in London I was unfortunately not paid enough, but it has been extremely funny.
I learnt from the bests how to be a leader. I hope, one day, to be like them.
PS: I have always find quite confusing the leadership principles in Amazon. They are quite good principles but… LEADERSHIP??? Anyway, if you don’t know them, have a look.
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