Saturday, April 07, 2007

Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Dev Lead... (Part 2)

...I learned from my Hubbs.

In continuing my series on being an effective team lead, I feel that I should explain that many of the things I learned from Hubbs are lessons that he himself has learned over the last few years of work in the industry, as a lead. He is by no means perfect, and has made some bad mistakes of his own, earlier in his career. However, the man that codes and leads other developers today is vastly different from the man who did development work even 4 years ago, and I can confidently speak to his example as being a reflection of a permanent evolution in his own leadership style.


Effective leaders demonstrate respect and restraint in the way that they speak to others.

I do not know of any time and place when derogatory, mean-spirited, or humiliating comments are effective motivators for change or improvement. If anything, these demean the person and destroy their morale. Effective leaders know that to motivate their team and to inspire change, they must demonstrate a consistent respect and restraint in the way that they communicate in any given situation.

When big bad mistakes are made, or responsibilities neglected, a good dev lead knows better than to react immediately and to verbally beat down or embarrass their team into surrender. This accomplishes little more than kick-starting the team’s search for job opportunities elsewhere. Rather, the effective leader chooses not to respond emotionally, but allows themselves time to consider how to address the troubling situation. Then, when they do finally speak with the team, they do so individually, privately, and respectfully, approaching the problem as one that ought to be solved together. The effective team lead then takes ownership and responsibility for the problem, acknowledging that the solution can only be viable if both leader and team are equally invested and involved.

I have seen Hubbs get frustrated on several occasions, both with the processes he has had to deal with, and with mistakes made by people with whom he has worked. However, I have never heard him yell, and I would dare say that nobody who has worked with him has seen him demean his colleagues. This is because Hubbs operates on the principle of respect; not only does he demand that his team conduct themselves respectfully in their interactions with others, but he also holds himself to a higher standard of showing respect to everyone, regardless of circumstance. His words, then, are always chosen with restraint and respect in mind, whether these be uttered words or written ones. I would conclude that this is why his teammates, both past and present, have always expressed their desire to work with him again and again.

Effective leaders give credit where credit is due.

Team leads are not the only people on a team with good ideas or innovative approaches to development. Sometimes, the team will come up with a brilliant suggestion that puts the lead’s original plan to shame. In cases like this, there are two ways that a leader could respond: by taking credit for the team’s success as their own, or by giving credit to the people who came up with the idea in the first place. Though it seems obvious that the better choice would be to give credit where it is due, you’d be surprised to see how few people actually walk the talk that they profess, and how many leads are tempted to single-handedly accept the accolade that is deserved by others.

There have been many times when Hubbs has received credit and compliments for a job well done, and he has immediately corrected the praise-giver and attributed the successes to individuals on his team. To him, these teammates are often the integral players and contributors to the work, and he makes that abundantly clear to anyone who would ask. I have heard him give praises and credit to people on his team even when he has worked as an equal partner with them, 50-50, to complete the task. Rather than receive his share of the praise, he would much rather speak up and let someone else equally, or more deserving, than him receive the lion’s share of the credit. That, to me, speaks volumes to his character and to demonstrating what it truly means to be an effective dev lead – enabling and empowering those for whom you are responsible for leading.

Effective leaders take advantage of every opportunity to put in a good word for their team mates.

How many times does your boss go to bat for you? That is a measure of an effective leader, and Hubbs goes to bat almost every day for his team. I cannot even count the number of times when Hubbs has described to me his plans to speak with certain “powers that be” about the progress and abilities of people on his team. He doesn’t just wait for them to do something great in order to put in a good word on their behalf; instead, he actively looks for strengths and talents which he can highlight to those in more senior positions. And he does this at every possible opportunity.

Hubbs has learned, as have I, that effective leaders are in a unique position to be able to advance or stunt another’s career. As a team lead, one has the ear of people in positions of greater authority than themselves, and the leads are essentially bridges between the developers and the folks at the top of the hierarchy. A selfish, arrogant, or insecure leader would abuse this privilege by speaking ill of their team, particularly the up-and-coming “shining stars” that they view as threats to their own position or authority. Their concern would be to stay the lead, and to not be surpassed by those who work for them. By contrast, the effective leader is shrewd and wise, and would take advantage of this unique position as a means to help bring more visibility to, and further the careers of, the individuals on their team. Their concern would be the professional well-being others, rather than securing their own positions as their first priority.

(…a final installment to come tomorrow)