Category Archives: Team Leadership

What is the difference between a senior and a leader?

I know I am technical person and supposed to be talking about technical stuff, but every once in a while, I can’t help but to address some of the soft skills, that are necessary for your survival in the market.

This question is a very tough question and not an easy one to answer. I remember I have been asked about this question in an interview and my answer was toward, “the human aspects”. Made me sound more of an Anthony Robbins kind of life coach rather than a technical leader. Didn’t help get the job and even now as I write down this blog, I don’t know what I am going to write exactly. This question is that challenging and this might be the reason why I find it attractive.

I have undertaken leadership positions in the past and I never really had the time to ask what a good leader is. It is sometimes easier to act on the spot than to reflect. And even though the human aspects is something that would make me sound like a motivational speaker, good leadership definitely involves that. Let us take Steve Jobs as a good leader. He is a visionary and his power comes from setting high standards and believing they can be achieved and letting you believe that you can do it. He deals essentially with emotions and can influence you at an emotional level. This is what makes him a great leader. Because you being technical, doesn’t make you the leader of machines. And one of the the greatest challenges that you note when are in a position of power and responsibility is your own self doubts. First, when you are just a technical guy, you are expected to perform well, period. As a leader, people look at you, they imitate you, you set the mood for the whole team. And therefore, this is one of the things that you should take note of as you become a leader and these are the common pitfalls, that you shouldn’t run into:-

  1. Be humble enough to take the opinions of your team and strong enough to enforce your vision according to what is best to the project. Never be strong-headed as to say your opinion is the right one and expect everyone to move out of your way. This is because in the team, you would find one or two if not all of them, finding your position desirable and willing to jump on your chair and take the lead from you. As you start admitting the door for opinions, be clear about you being in charge and there is no dispute about that. Unless if you start giving them more role than necessary, the project is bound to fail. You might be okay with it, but they won’t. So you being in charge and having the upper hand works well for all of you.
  2. Find ways to enforce your vision: Don’t think it will happen on its own. Once you are settled on something, use whatever you can to enforce these rules. It is easier not to follow rules and standards, but once things get sloppy, it is too difficult to reverse this pattern. Remember, you want to set patterns from the very start and this is usually easier than setting an easy tone, than trying to change it afterwards. One more thing to take note of, discipline usually is what creates success and if you are not well-disciplined yourself, it becomes very difficult to convince others to be disciplined. They might do it, but they wouldn’t like it. And if they don’t like it, it would reflect in their output whether you like it or not. Always prefer automation over manual enforcements. First of all, it is more consistent, second of all, people tend to take it less personally. Tools like Lint and the like could help.
  3. Be a friend, but keep your distance: It is always good to have a funny laughter with your team. After all, no one likes a haughty leader. However, make sure that you make your team respect your private space and use this private space for the good of the team. Remember, everybody likes success and you as a leader will be judged on whether you make your team succeed and if you can’t make them succeed, they wouldn’t like it because you are a good friend. Even though it seems like it could work, I can tell you from experience that it wouldn’t. Being a friendly leader is not something that will make you succeed but being friendly and affirmative will make your team like you as well as give you the power to make them jump into action whenever is required. This is very important especially when you use this personal space to establish the technical vision of the team. Look for new tools that make you get the job done in a better way. Always be on the edge of technology and be on the top of what you are doing. Because as fancy as it might look, one of the most painful experiences in life is to have one of your team members direct the vision of the project. Even though it might look like less work, one of the most important quality of you as a leader is to have a technical discussion with your team members and management enlightening them with your vision. This is one of the things that would make them respect you as a leader. It is equally important to be able to talk about what you do as to do it yourself. Remember, you are not a sales person, you are a technical leader. But a part of your job is to market yourself as a knowledgeable, intelligent entity and there is no way around it.
  4. Standup for your team: How many times have you liked your leader so much but you couldn’t forgive him when you didn’t protect him when he needed you. Blame yourself and don’t blame the team. Always be prepared to do it. You don’t want to make your team feel exposed and vulnerable. Getting the support that they need when they need it is something that makes them value you greatly as a leader.
  5. Be transparent: It is always better if you go to a management team and talk about an accomplishment. But, you don’t want to set the expectations too high by talking about accomplishments that never really happened and then have them panic when they discover the real status. Because the real status is going to be known whether you like it or not.

This are just some of my thoughts about what makes a good leader. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts. And until I meet you next time, have a great time.

The IT work culture

When we first join a job, we are concerned with one and one thing only: to deliver the optimal performance. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, after all, this is what will keep us in the job and even though this is entirely accurate, it couldn’t be a worse plan. This plan overlooks the most important thing which is that us being technical doesn’t make us machines!

The thing that can make us super performance is establishing super good connections in the workplace. We can then have excellent performance and thrive. You should of course focus on performance but do realise that making too much stress over it doesn’t really help it. So, what is a better plan: Study the different personalities of people in the workplace. I will give you a few to know what to look for:-

The dream slave: I know the title is not very good, but it describes him very well. Yes, he like Martin Luther King has a dream. He wouldn’t settle until he sees it happen. For his dream, he is willing to do everything and anything and he prefers his dream over himself. He works for his dream essentially and he overlooks people and himself along the way and because he is not a realist, he is a visionary, more often than not his dreams are bumped hard against reality and he develops fears only to protect his dreams. He believes in the impossible and he seeks out to achieve it. He can be not super friendly and awkwardly dry, but please note that he is being as rough with himself as he is rough with you and he can’t help it. Don’t try to wake him up if you think that his dreams are not achievable because he wouldn’t take your word for it. He will only push further his way through and try to awe you by letting you see that his dreams were right. He has a very good heart, this is the only way he could tolerate the mistreatment and failures that come with his dreams. He is on a mission and he is a tool and so are you. Don’t take it personally, it is just who he is. He is usually interactive, fearful, worried and imaginative. Register him and try to deal with him in the best possible way and essentially make him like you and this can only happen when you know how to like him. There is no way around the human connection. Examples of dream slaves will be Apples’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Larry Page.

The nerdy cockroach: Oh, yeah! He is so nerdy. He is calm, nerdy, patient and a realist. He doesn’t care whether you see him or not, he is not very sociable. He just wants to survive and thrive and he is very pragmatic and intellectual. He uses his brain more than he uses his heart. He is ideas driven and not passion driven. In a stressful situation, he is the one who is least stressed and not related to the problem, calmly walking his way through the solution. Don’t disturb him with so many dreams, he is so practical for that. He is the one who will tell you: let us see what we can do about it and he would approach problems in the most practical way. He is not on a mission, he is very detached. And the more detached he becomes, the more practical and thoughtful he can become, and the more that he would be able to survive and survival comes as his first priority. People are usually angry at how calm he is and it will help to remember that this is who he is and he can’t really help it. He is naturally detached and anti-social, he doesn’t have to expend so much effort to get there and he doesn’t like the pressure of a dream. He is usually a book worm and he is not cool enough to hang around in a bar. And that is okay. Accept him for he he is and try to remember that he is fulfilling a different purpose than you and that is okay. An example of a nerdy cockroach would be Bill Gates.

The prestige seeker: yeah, this is who he is. He doesn’t want much of you, he just needs his respect. Always and always you must respect him even if you don’t love him, that is okay. But respect comes as his number one priority. He doesn’t like confrontations and he tries to avoid as many confrontations as he could manage and the moment that you force him into a confrontation, he is likely to feel incredibly bad about yourself as he strikes back. He would just leave you looking like an idiot. Yes, he would protect his dignity and prestige with all his might and this is his main driving force.

These are some of the personalities you might find in the workplace. Feel free to add to the list in the comments. But, do try to think about these things and try to find connection points rather than on just stressing about your performance. Other than that would be the upbringing of the bosses which will set the tone for the whole work culture. Did they come from humble beginnings, where their parents affluent. Obviously, all of this will come in one way or the other along your way and you should prepared for it. Do realise that there is nothing as a perfect upbringing although we all think that we have one and all upbringings have their advantages and disadvantages. For example, if the bosses come from humble beginnings, they would tend to make you scared all the time. You would think it is bad but you have got to realise that the best things that happened to them in their lives was when they were scared and this how they realised that fear was good. And try also to realise that their point of view is right. If you feel too secured, this is counter-productive. Try to accept it and try to love it.

The third connection that you need to establish is with the mission of the company: Do you think that their mission you are willing to defend or not. If not, just leave. After all, if you can’t voice it and you feel oppressed, you naturally will not be able to perform.

This is it for this blog, I hope to listen to your ideas in the comments.

Team Leadership – Basic Guidelines

I had been a good technical developer for a good portion of my career until I became a technical team leader and a senior team member. This transition was not a smooth one for me for the fact that leadership was a new concept to me. It is like the transition that one has to undertake first time he drives a car and he realizes that everything that he took for granted doesn’t exist anymore. He does not know for instance that his decisions on the road determines whether or not he and the rest of the car passengers arrive safely home. This blog entry is based on my experience because when you are a senior team member of team-leader, you need some basic “driving skills” that determines the safety of your team members and sometimes, the future of your company. So, you can imagine what kind of responsibility falls on your shoulders. This is why you have to be more proactive, more alert and I will convey you some basic guidelines that I learned the hard way.

1) Defend your team members. Your team members need your support and protection. Convey a positive image for them in front of the customer and do not fight against them. You want to build a team and you have to lead by example. Otherwise, your team gets broken and once you don’t have a team, you can forget about the success of the project.

2) Be honest in conveying problems to the project manager and the rest of your team. Don’t be brutally honest, but state facts as you are. Don’t convey personal comments and make it a habit to disturb everybody’s sweet dreams. There are so many projects that failed because the team-leader failed raise the red alert. Raise as many red alerts as you want but not to the point as to make people discouraged to work. Give people around you hope that this can work if only we can do this even if you are not so sure!

3) Stay focused on technical problems. Scope issues should be covered by project manager. You do your work, and let the project manager do his work. Don’t try to over-discuss with the customer or with the project manager whether this is in scope or should we do this or not? It reflects that you are not able to do it. As a technical team-leader, you get judged on whether or not you are able to solve technical problems.

4) Take ownership. Be in charge. Don’t try to hide away when it feels like the ship is sinking. If you hide, everybody in your team starts hiding and you lose your fighting edge. Customers like it when they can see that you are in charge and it feels to them that you are able to solve the problem. If they have this hope, they would be willing to extend the deadline and co-operate with you. If you are escaping they start attacking you.

5) Customers are the ones who pay money and they like to feel this way. Customers would like to feel that they are special, do not treat them as if they are a part of your team. Give them this extra respect and show them that you are there to make their wishes come true. Of course, real life is different, but they like to feel this way.

6) Stay focused. Be focused and don’t scatter your and your team’s efforts. Have this laser-focus on whatever you want to accomplish and never leave behind loose ends. Loose ends are going to hunt you later on. Have this determination to get rid of problems and pains.

7) Keep a friendly attitude. Don’t be bossy. Don’t make your team members that you don’t listen to your ideas and that you have the upper hand over them. Be nice to them and accept their ideas and then put your final touches. Don’t make everybody constrained and incapable to put his input in the project. Take two steps back and accept everybody’s faults and never expose their downfalls. Encourage them to talk, speak and have some say in the project.

8) Appreciate the efforts of good team members. Be sure to promote the superior team members, this gives them always the incentive to put more efforts into the project. Don’t be afraid to disturb the team members that are not performing as well. They would be encouraged when they see the rewards.

9) Don’t expect the perfect atmosphere. This is real life, so don’t follow theories. When you are working as a technical team leader, your position is based not just on your technical skills, it is based also on your political skills. Try to be creative in solving the problems without expecting the perfect work environment. Don’t make it a habit to dictate to the customer how they are supposed to think and what they are supposed to do. Don’t criticize the customers because they are not knowledgeable technically.

10) Always, defend your company. You can have so many internal problems with your company, but you are coming to the customer as a company’s representative and your customer is looking at you as if you are the company. Do not convey the internal problems that you have in your company to the customer.