Proactivity: the key trait of a successful leader of leads
Monika Piotrowicz is Director of Front-end Development at Shopify. As an experienced tech lead her talk at The Lead Developer 2016 focuses on raising and managing new leads successfully. Monika suggests that the busy person’s tendency to be reactive can hold leaders back. As such, she provides some tips on being proactive – and how this can benefit you and your team of developers. Watch her talk in full on Vimeo.
When to develop new leads
We should be thinking about developing new leads constantly. It should be on our minds way before a new lead is actually needed.
And this offers our first lesson in being proactive – consider the fact that a new lead should have some combination of:
- technical knowledge and skills
- understanding of the business and the product, and
It seems obvious that you can’t build these three things in an individual in a single day. Your own path to becoming a lead probably meant you possessed the above things well before you even became a lead. So we should be thinking about and nurturing these areas in our developers constantly.
Who might be interested in becoming a new lead?
This won’t always be apparent. But as obvious as it sounds, you could sow the seed by simply asking your developers how they feel about stepping up. The conversations that this provokes provides big insights into each of your reports, and coming from you it shows you have a vested interest in their growth path.
While you won’t be promising anything, just having the conversation shows there is a very real opportunity. And you will learn about each individual’s motivations.
Discussing future lead opportunities with individuals gives you the opportunity to talk to them about what a lead is, too. After all, your reports might have a misperception of what being a lead means. For example, many developers love problem solving and think they want to stay where they are for this reason – but you’ll know all too well that leadership usually means more problems to solve.
Here’s also an opportunity talk about how you define your own productivity. It helps your reports understand what your job as a lead entails, plus they can make you accountable.
Delegation is a good place to start
Once people understand what leadership looks like, it’s a chance to practice delegating: you might want to get people to have a crack at planning future sprints, or on-boarding a new person.
Delegation is an opportunity to pair, and give feedback on whatever an individual tries out. This gives you a chance to catch them and work on things together, before they are in at the deep end with a lead role. Delegation is also a free metric. It helps you to assess whether you are making your team better. And if a project comes up – or scope increases – it makes it easier to choose a new lead, and thus it puts you one step ahead.
New leads: setting expectations and measuring performance
What about when a new lead is in place? It’s rare that a lead receives a brand new job description on the day they start. So with your new lead you have an opportunity to ask them to come up with expectations of what their success looks like. Doing this helps identify new skills required, and growth areas that they should prioritise.
Monika encourages the leads she manages to ask questions like:
- Am I doing this right?
- How can I be less reactive and more strategic?
- What’s next for me?
These provide a framework for both the new lead and for you to assess against these measures. She also encourages the use of a day-to-day aspirational list with new leads, which might include reflections on:
- The most impactful thing I can do today
- Right now I’m not great at…
- In a few months I want try…
This will encourage a new lead to hold themselves accountable for their own development.
And once you’ve set the expectations of a new lead?
Here’s one of the hardest parts: recognising that people will do things their own way. So give them the room to do it once you have agreed on expectations.
While it is easy to feel you are doing yourself out of a job, you have achieved something good. As a lead, you were a multiplier (in the sense that you imparted knowledge and skills). But becoming a lead of leads means everything becomes magnified. So, nurture the right behaviours and you will be building a team with depth.
In conclusion, becoming a lead of leads is the start of a new type of growth and not the end of it. We have a responsibility to work at making our teams and ourselves better every day.
Some key points for a lead of leads
- Trust people that have earned the right to autonomy by giving it to them
- Become a coach and resist the temptation to provide solutions
- Teach resourcefulness by providing the tools and context your leads need to think critically
- Make space for your team and don’t prevent them from building relationships in the business
- Focus your own energies on the things that only you can do and that have the biggest impact (in other words, delegate)
- Own your growth and be deliberate about finding both new opportunities and the areas you need to grow in