COVID-19 has forced most people to become accustomed to working from home. It takes a mindset shift, setting boundaries for new routines such as homeschooling, parenting, exercise, and caregiving on top of ever-increasing Zoom meetings. But now is a good time to reflect on your leadership style and some of the advice you may have received in the past.
Pondering on behaviours that I have seen and sometimes exhibit when it comes to giving feedback, testing ideas and creating solutions, I have discovered how you become a bad leader.
The perils of feedback
Ever come out of a performance review feeling as if you have zero leadership skills?
I remember a performance review where my manager said, “You are doing great, but you don’t have leadership skills”. In hindsight, I should have asked: “What type of leader do you see me as?”
Instead, I left the room and punished myself, trying to build the exact leadership style my manager had. It was an uphill battle to the realisation that it was going to take me another lifetime of being born as him to be him.
My manager’s leadership style was not aligned with who I am. I did not want to become him. My manager’s constructive feedback on my lack of leadership skills was unfortunate because he, like me, did not understand my leadership style.
- Do not ask your people to be like John, the super Developer or Jane, the Architect. You are setting them up for failure because that person you are speaking to will never be John or Jane.
- Focus on strengths. People grow quicker when their strengths are recognised.
- Emotional intelligence is key. Know your people so that when you give them feedback, it is in line with their growth path and leadership style.
The yes, but not now or ever mentality
My team wanted to try out a new front-end development framework that would make development quicker and the code base easier to maintain. The only snag was selling it to the business as the best option, as it would make feature enhancements quicker in the longer term but slow development in the short term as developers ramped up their skills.
My then-manager was all about testing new ideas and technologies. He said, “Great idea, share it with the other Iteration Managers, let’s get them involved, but I don’t want it to impact timelines.” A bit confused, I clarified, “Umm did you miss the part where I said developers needed time to ramp up their skills?” … “No, I heard you. They can do that in their own time. It’s a great idea, we should do it.”
We all know the leaders who preach the theory but never follow through with implementation. They love great ideas but will always find a way to not rock the boat. These managers say they want innovative, independent thinkers, but what they really want is to do things the old way and conform.
- Allow your people to try out those great ideas you have been saying no to. It might just pay off.
- Ask questions and find options that allow ideas to be tested, e.g. talking to stakeholders to adjust expectations/timelines/roadmaps.
The act of being the solution-finder is futile
Many times you will see leaders telling their teams how to solve the problems they are facing.
- Trust your team.
- Let the team come up with solutions to problems otherwise, it is just another law passed from above that they are not responsible for.
- Let your people be accountable for the course correction that comes when something goes wrong.
There is no one style of leadership
Leaders are not born, they are made. As a firstborn, I have the tendency to delude myself that I was born to lead. I started being a leader early on, my siblings, though, called it bossing them around.
Leading a software development team should be focused on understanding your individuals and team’s capabilities, allowing them to be responsible for solving problems and giving them space to learn from failures.
There are various styles of leadership, do not get hung up on the aggressive, kill everyone in your path as you climb the ladder mentality. The common misguided goal-getter ‘A types’ often break team morale and don’t foster trust. When you build it, you will find that trust is the foundation of a high-performing team.
- Passion and drive manifest differently in people. Be on the lookout for the quiet ones whose capacity for leadership will surprise you. Give opportunities to amplify and grow individual styles of leadership.
- Learn from diverse leaders and find the best version of your leadership style.
- The leaders that are most successful are those that have their own style and have teams that are diverse in thinking, gender, culture etc.
As I continue to navigate the world of effective leadership, I am aware that the best version of me as a leader is the one where I don’t copy from others but build from my character and values. I keep the individuals in my team front of mind whenever I am giving feedback because I, too, can be biased on what type of leader I want to see in them.