All organizations have leaders at their core, but engineering teams operate under unique parameters that require a special kind of leadership.
How do you know if you have leadership skills? I think it\’s a bit different for everyone, but typically there is an internal \”aha\” moment where one day you wake up and go: \”wow, this team kind of revolves around me somehow\”. This may come about when people rely on your opinion more than others or when you realize this team is depending on your technical skills to the point where you know better than anyone else in the organization about certain things.
Everyone thinks differently, but I usually go by gut feeling when determining if a person has leadership qualities or not. It takes time and effort to become an effective leader and therefore people need to figure out if they are willing to invest in themselves. For me, I can become a leader in some cases by just being myself and helping people out every day.
The characteristics of a true technical leader
I am sure you can think of someone in your past or present work environment that stands out as an inspirational leader. People look at this person for answers because they know she will solve any problem and help keep businesses moving forward.
What makes this person special? What distinguishes her from everyone else in the organization? It\’s because she possesses a personal set of characteristics that make her a true leader.
A true technical leader: Values people over processes (I think it is important for leaders to empower teams and value their opinions. This will give you better results than using processes and structures over people)
Is optimistic (I often get discouraged when I think about the state of our industry, but it is important to remember that we are building things that will change people\’s lives. We just need to focus on having FUN while creating these solutions.)
Has empathy for others (it hurts him to see his team members in pain and he wants to fix it)
Is authentic (for example, when he makes a mistake he admits to it instead of trying to cover up his mistakes. Transparency creates trust.)
Seeks to understand others before seeking to be understood (how do you make your team members feel safe enough so they can do their best work?)
Has good communication skills (he gets his point across, he is not afraid to speak up in front of the entire company and he listens more than he talks)
Is inclusive and values diversity (it matters that you are bringing people along with you when building your solutions. Team members will feel more good about working on a product they helped build.)
Is visionary and strategic (he can look at the big picture problem of how to solve a problem)
Has influence over others and inspires people to work hard (why would you want to work with someone who avoids conflict or is not able to get things done?)
Is willing to have difficult conversations when necessary (you need to understand conflict is natural. It\’s how you deal with conflicts that matter)
Is always learning and growing (how else will he improve his craft?)
Seeks to understand the impact of his actions on others (he builds empathy for other people) I often think about how I could get better at leading technical teams. Eventually, what comes out the other end is a list of characteristics that I now use as criteria for recognizing true leaders. These traits don\’t have to be unique, but it\’s important that you do them well if you want to inspire the rest of your team.