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Leading Technical Teams

Photo Credit: iwona_kellie via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: iwona_kellie via Compfight cc

“Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” –John C. Maxwell

A few years ago I got the opportunity to become a leader of a technical team. I remember envisioning achieving great things as a leader. The new title I got garnered little influence in the organization. As a new leader, I had a lot of ideas about what we should change. I expressed those to a few people and tried to persuade them to make changes. They didn’t care much for my ideas and desire to want to change. Looking back on the situation I think they kind of thought of me as “Scrappy Doo” with his “Puppy Power.”

Technical Chops

I am sure this happens in every industry but I know it happens in the technical industry. Any leader is tested to make sure they have a basic understanding of what is going on. I suppose you could say this is a bit childish, although I have seen leaders quizzed before. Technical people will push you to see what you know.

A few years ago I was on a team that got moved under new leadership. The leader began by talking a good game using some buzzwords. Slowly his lack of understanding became very apparent. Any credibility that leader had quickly eroded. Leading a technical team requires some basic knowledge of the technology and what it is used for. The team should provide the expertise.

Communication Skills

Technical people have been stereotyped as poor communicators and I would agree that a majority do.  To be a leader though requires that person develop strong communication skills. If an organization takes their best DBA or Developer and makes them the leader this can spell disaster. If they love the technology more than they want to lead they will gravitate to working on the technology and their leadership will suffer.

Leadership Qualities

If you ask five people what does a leader do you will probably get different answers. Depending on your background and age you will have different opinions of what makes a good leader. I would also go further and say leaders need to understand the situation and team. For instance, a leader of a technical team is going to see different challenges than a leader of customer service representatives. The basic leadership qualities will be same overall

The basic leadership qualities will be same overall. Every leader needs to be a good problem solver, know how to put together a plan, delegate work to the team, and provide internal communication within the team. In addition, to these basics, we need to add some qualities that foster the growth to the technical team.

Trend Spotter

Another interesting characteristic of a good technical leader is someone who can spot trends. Technology changes really fast so you have kept up with the pace of change and know when to change directions. Currently in today’s climate we see all businesses moving to the cloud. It is hard to say this is a new trend now, but for those who began to build out options and products related to the cloud are prospering on that bet.

One practice I have learned from a few good technical leaders is to take many small bets. So for instance, they might start many small projects on many new trends they see. Depending on how these trends take off or fizzle out they can then capitalize on these small bets. Then as a trend starts to accelerate you can increase your bet. This way you don’t bet the farm on something and lose it all.

Talent Development

One important aspect of leadership is talent development. There is an old adage that every leader needs a succession plan. Change comes at us fast and we need to know where potentially we can plug new people in. It is important to always be developing people for the next step in their career. Have people help with interviewing candidates. Get them involved in decisions to see how they think and handle situations.

In technology space finding good employees is very difficult. Good people rarely want to leave where they are. Companies know how tough the market is and take good care of them. We should always keep our eye out for good talent. Develop a relationship with them first then when the time comes you will have a solid foundation.

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