Studying and Learning Leadership

As you may know that I'm talking about leadership and management for a while. It is the career path I wanted to pursue, and I've been both lucky and unfortunate for studying leadership before becoming a team lead.

After becoming a team lead, I talked with a couple of managers, and some of them said the same. I'm lucky because I chose the path and studied, wrote about it, talked, learned it, and am now testing it. My view is shaped, and I learned some of the mistakes before making them. Many managers didn't have a chance; they were suddenly thrown into the deep ocean of leadership positions.

Learning is somewhat a complicated business. I learned the mistakes other people experienced. However, knowing the error is not equal to learning from it. Learning from a mistake means figuring out how to prevent it from happening again.

While mistakes are some things you can, or at least try to, avoid by knowing it, other people's experiences will never be the same as your own experience. Similar mistakes are more relevant to different situations, but real learnings are usually unique. For example, when I interviewed David Marquet about Turn the Ship Around!, I asked how a person can build an intent-based leadership without being in a giant metal tube under meters of the deep sea. I tried to fit my learning from intent-based leadership into my life, and I failed. As David's situation was unique to him, my current leadership setup is also unique to mine. I am not a leader in combat and definitely not in a nuclear submarine. While I cannot lead similar to David, I learned a lot of crucial details from him.

Studying leadership opens your eyes, and you figure out opportunities you can seek before becoming a leader. When you learn leadership, you look for options that are aligned with where you want to go. You start looking at your role from a broader perspective. When you are a software engineer, you only look for a particular part of the system (except for some senior positions), while your job impacts others as a leader. Therefore, you cannot stay in your view.

The Accountability

Another mindset shift happens on feeling and being accountable. Studying and getting tasks delegated to you enables you to learn what leadership and management are before being accountable for the mistakes.

When you're not accountable, you have a backup person to make difficult decisions when you cannot make them. It becomes someone else's call, not yours. This teeny-tiny bit of responsibility difference turns things around. Many business owners tell a similar story: ownership completely changes their perspective and approach to the job. When you own the work, it means whatever happens at the end of the day, you will face the charges if something goes wrong. Therefore you have to take risks seriously.

When you're not accountable, you don't (or cannot) consider all aspects. You take a shot and follow up on the work. Although you do your best, the work has its dynamics, and some parts will be out of your control. When you are "safe" from mistakes, you are safe. It's as simple as that. When something goes wrong, or you take a wrong step, it's someone else's problem. You know that the accountable person will jump in and help you to solve any struggle. If not, they will deal with the results.

The Important Piece: Getting The Title

These extra responsibilities increase when you grow to a leadership position. Getting the title is often the vital piece in the puzzle that reveals the picture you're building. Without it, you cannot understand the puzzle's picture. But if you solely have that piece, the image won't mean anything as well.

Many managers I've talked to said that you need to be in the role before getting the title. Giving the title should be natural, and it's the "reward" that you get after taking these responsibilities. However, it's also one of the significant struggles of changing roles. Discussions about your work will happen when you're not in the room until you get the title. For example, if you are a software engineer and leading an initiative, you need to be in the leadership room to convince them for some decisions. As you are not in the room, it will be a challenge to influence them. Therefore, every stretch project you take will demand spending more time talking to many people individually.

When I think back and consider all my studies, I believe studying leadership and gradually growing into it has more advantages than being thrown into it. If you are already a senior software engineer and want to grow in your career as a manager or an individual contributor, I recommend you start studying as early as possible. In the end, leadership is not something you're born with it; it is something you learn.

Medium Length Last Updated: Sep 30, 2021