Before I became a team lead, one of my biggest struggles was understanding how to become a leader. I always thought that I needed to have the title to be a leader, and I even didn't understand how to be one without it. Because I wasn't in the "important meetings." I thought if you're not there, you're not part of the leadership.
That feeling, "not part of the team," blocked my perspective. I confused being a leader with being part of the leadership team.
Later, I learned that being part o the leadership group doesn't make you a good leader but being a good leader makes you a leadership team member. Learning how to be a good leader is complex. Even if you have "natural leadership skills," you need to repeatedly demonstrate them, sell them, market your achievements and learnings to join the gang.
Many experienced software engineers fail to market their achievements. Some of them are simply humble, and some are only shy. It doesn't matter how you identify yourself; one truth stays: you need to demonstrate your skills and sell yourself.
What is the first step into leadership?
Being a leader without having the title starts within the projects. If your focus is on developing features, solving bugs, and going deep into technical topics, you need to get out of this shell and step back to gain a holistic view. This perspective change is where many engineers struggle. They think it's not their job to think about the product's plans, team structure, and they focus on having the best code and architecture and continue focusing on improving technical skills.
While it's true that technical skills are what you've hired for and paying the bills, they will only get you until some point.
A holistic view is essential to prioritize and deliver the project. And that part is the first step into the leadership, which is also closest to the technical side.
When you approach holistically, you will have to work with the product and engineering managers closely. They are not the experts on the technical side and usually need help.
Taking the holistic view also includes talking with other engineers and nudging them in a direction when they are out of the course. The holistic view will help you build different relationships, give and receive feedback, mentor others and learn how to work in a changing environment.
Find The Correct Project or Initiative
The next step is getting involved in cross-team projects or initiatives. Being involved in a more extensive project where multiple teams work together will allow you to comprehend the necessary skills and how those projects are run.
Please don't jump into leading the first cross-team project if you have a chance. First, be part of one of them and work in it. Without knowing and learning how to navigate the multiple teams, manage limitations and dependencies, you cannot lead and hit a wall.
After you learn, try finding projects that involve multiple teams. If you think you have no project idea, look around, and you will see various pain points in the organization or the product that causes frustration. These difficulties are usually the ones that nobody wants to tackle because of their complexity. If you find one of these, jackpot! (Hint: look for the onboarding or interviewing processes, I'm sure you will find something there.)
Ask your manager to find a project where you can stretch your skills. Your manager's responsibility is to make sure you grow in your career.
Strengthening Leadership Skills
Surround yourself with people who could help you. Don't lead the project alone; you're not an alone wolf.
Find a mentor who can correct the course when you go out of the direction and teach you the craft. Take a look at people who are 1-2 years ahead of you. Their learnings will be fresh, and they can have a better empathy towards your position.
When you ask someone to mentor you, it doesn't mean that you are selfishly asking for their time. Those people also need to improve their mentorship and coaching skills to grow themselves.
While working in stretch projects, focus on improving your human skills, such as effective communication, giving and receiving feedback, facilitation, and mentorship. Once you complete the project, collect feedback from people who worked with you and add all of them to your brag document. If you don't have a brag document, please start one immediately. The brag document will be your go-to document in your annual reviews and promotion discussions.
There are many things on the road that will fail you and help you learn. Continue reading and talking with people in similar situations as you. Having like-minded people around you is one of the most beneficial things to grow. If you have nobody around, send me an email, and I may help find these people. If you are already a leader who can help others, reply to this email, and I will find people you can help.
Until next time, stay curious.
What I Published Over Last Two Weeks
I published two articles and a podcast episode.
Leadership is not something you're born with it; it is something you learn. When you study leadership, you learn the fundamentals.
Consensus decision-making means everyone explicitly agreeing to the proposed idea. The leader needs explicit agreement from everyone, and shouldn't assume consensus when facing a silence.
When I changed my perspective and worked on improving my 1:1 meetings, the results were terrific. Now, I share what I did and how I did it.
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