Monday, April 09, 2007

Everything I Needed To Know About Being a Dev Lead... (Part 3)

... I learned from my Hubbs.

As I wrap up my mini-series on effective dev leadership, I have to say that it was very cathartic for me to put my thoughts to words, and the exercise of detailing this stuff has done much to help remind both Hubbs and I about what it means to be true servant leaders. May it encourage you in what you might be doing right, and remind you of areas in your own life where improvement can take place.


Effective leaders work actively as a part of the team.

The best leaders, so I have noticed, are never hidden away in an office or perpetually at meetings. These leads are right in the thick of the work, contributing alongside their team to the end goal. Sure, there are occasions when as a dev lead, one is forced to attend meetings. However, an effective lead not only knows what the team is working on, but is as much as possible working with them on it.

Hubbs is not the biggest fan of meetings. For him, I know that his preference is to be with his team, showing them ways that they can improve a process or brainstorming together a new way to approach problems. He is always present, always visible to his team, and ensures that if they are doing work, so is he.

I respect that a lot. So many dev leads and managers tend to distance themselves from the code and from the grunt work, and this really deepens the relational chasm between them and the developers working for them. Even cursory banter, team lunches, and the like are poor substitutes for actually being there and writing the code, making decisions about the process, and solving bugs and problems together. I love that Hubbs can always talk to his teammates about a relevant, recent problem with code and not feel like he is “out of the loop” on what is happening with the team. To me, that shows greater leadership than some dude in the office who claims to have an open-door leadership policy but really has no idea what his team is going through.

Effective leaders surrender the spotlight.

A great leader is one who is willing to step back and let his team excel in newer work sometimes. Such a leader not only identifies a great opportunity for growth and innovation, but surrenders the bulk of these opportunities to people on the team who need the challenge and desire the chance to showcase their abilities in new ways. These leads make a decision to do more of the “behind the scenes” stuff so that their team can do more visible tasks, even at the expense of their own interests and needs for challenge.

This is a tremendous area of challenge for Hubbs, because he loves doing current work and he thrives on completing exciting projects. Maintaining existing code or bug-fixing are probably among his least favourite work, and yet time and again I have seen him assign the best and most exciting jobs to his team, leaving for himself the crappy stuff that nobody else would want to touch. Like most effective leaders, Hubbs recognizes the greater value in stepping back and letting his team do the work that will inspire them to grow, and motivate them to do their best. He wisely observes that a team working on old code or maintenance work all the time is one that will ultimately fall apart in spirit, and he accepts that his role as a leader is to provide challenge and motivation and morale, even at the expense of his own desires for new challenges sometimes.

Effective leaders do as they say at all times.

The most essential quality in an effective leader is integrity. If you say you will do it, you must. If you make a promise, you keep it. If you claim to stand for a certain principle, you stand up for it at all times. This is not some great universal secret, but an idea that most are familiar with in theory. However, the practice of consistent living and acting with integrity is not so easily found in many leaders, whose commitments to their team may at times conflict with their commitments to their superiors or to their own interests. Effective leads are wise with their commitments, and keep them when they say they will. They do not allow personal interests or professional pressure to influence their integrity as people, but make every effort to act consistently with what they profess. These types of leaders engender trust from their team.

By contrast, many team leads and managers fail to live up to the standard of integrity. They want to keep their workers happy, so they make empty promises to prevent staff turnover, even when the promises are not supported by those in higher positions of authority. As a result, these “leaders” end up looking like fools or liars, because the promises made are never fulfilled, only pushed back and delayed and postponed indefinitely. A spirit of mistrust then brews among the staff, and make them high risks for resigning.

Does the latter description sound all too familiar? Unfortunately, in the development world it is not uncommon to have managers and leads who, despite their best intentions, fail to act with integrity. You will know them by their high staff turnover and the reputation that is eventually built around their workplaces. You will know them by the mistrust that their team has for them, and by the low morale in their offices. You will know them by their former employees, who will tell their next employers about the undesirable conditions of their previous job and the series of promises that were made and never kept by their leaders.

Hubbs has shown me the power of integrity in the way that he leads. Every person to whom he has made a promise or commitment has seen him come through for them. Every member of his team trusts him implicitly to act in their best interests, period. Why? Because his track record testifies to his consistency, and his loyalty to what he believes and what he says is firmly rooted. Even when situations have been challenging, Hubbs has found innovative ways to fulfill his commitments. His savvy helps him to come up with creative, win-win solutions for all parties involved. This is why Hubbs has a very loyal team, and those who have worked for him in the past continue to speak highly of his integrity. If any should enter the market for a new job, Hubbs is someone who is often sought after as a person to work with and for.

And that, my friends, is what I have learned from Hubbs. He has shown me how to be a great leader in the world of his industry, and he has been a perfect example to me of the greater principles underlying effective leadership and management. Hubbs is by no means perfect, and I am certain there are many other lessons he will need to learn about being the best leader that he can be, but judging from the very faithful group of people he calls friend and colleague, I know that he must be doing something right.

Are you?


Donald Belcham said...

Three parts in this series and you have yet to mention that a good Dev Lead knows that they can get more out of their team by promising them alcohol.

Mrs. Loquacious said...

Actually, Donald, a good dev lead doesn't need to promise alcohol if his team is already well-supplied on a daily basis. ;)

With Love, Fat Girl said...

You too sound like quite the team :) Rock on!

Natalie said...

I should pass this along to some people around the office. They could use some of these tips.

With Love, Fat Girl said...

Two, not too... man, I'm such a moron...