People like to say that leaders are born and not made, but I like to think that leaders are grown. Nobody is a perfect leader, and we all have our flaws. Some of us may simply have more natural leadership skills than others, but we all can grow. If you think you have no room to grow, then you have missed the mark in being a leader.
Over the course of my 30+ year career, I have led organizations from 1 to 300+, and the major takeaway I have learned is summed up in one word: humility. No engineer likes a “know it all” boss. If you alienate yourself by thinking you are infallible, your staff will mock you at your first mistake and lose respect for you. Being a leader also does not mean you have to be the smartest. You will never succeed if you don’t have an open mind and a willingness to learn from your staff — software changes too fast to be an expert in every development topic.
How does your staff respond to you and what do you do during crunch time? Here’s a practical example: It’s late Friday afternoon, and you have a major deadline to hit by Monday. This deadline is for one of your key accounts. You have to ask your developers to work the weekend, and you know they are not going to be happy. What do you do? How do you approach them?
This won’t be easy, but if you have been leading effectively, then it will not be hard. A good leader is willing to share in the pain of tough times. Your staff wants to know that you can relate to them. If you are going to ask them to work the weekend, you also have to be ready to work the weekend. This does not mean you have to do their work. It just shows you are willing to sacrifice your time, too.
Now it’s the weekend and everyone is working. Your job as the leader is to become the best cheerleader and support system. This means giving your staff pep talks, providing food, and getting anything they need (within reason). These little acts of kindness and humility will go a long way — there is no price you can put on this action.
The weekend is over, and you made the deadline. Everyone is happy and you are celebrating. As a leader, what is your next move? Your next move is to do nothing! Let your staff take it easy and have a little downtime. Continue to thank them for their hard work. Far too often, I see and hear of managers continually pushing their developers almost until they break. Being a good leader is a give-and-take relationship that is built up over time.
You are going to make mistakes; your staff is not going to be happy with you at times, and things will get tough. The biggest thing you can take away from this short article is that being a great leader is a work in progress.
Written by: Derek Peterson