There are a million things that make up good leadership. You can read all day and all night for years about leadership. But you’re not going to find much that’s pratical and useful for tech leads like you who are on the ground, in the trenches.
So back in September, I wanted to describe a prescriptive, general purpose framework that any tech lead can fall back on in a pinch based on what I’ve tried and observed over the past few decades. I wanted something that, no matter what situation you’re in, no matter how contentious or ambiguous, you could whip it out, and lead through any situation instead of just reacting and “managing” through it.
It’s as basic as basic can be:
First, CAPTURE AND ARTICULATE A VISION. If leadership requires followership to exist, then your followers need to have somewhere to go. Give them some specific place, future state, vision. It’s true that followers will often follow charisma or titles, but didn’t you want something more substantive when you were the follower?
This is the step where you’re going to define it.
Task one is to capture a vision. I chose the word “capture” carefully because it encompasses lots of activities or strategies you might employ to define a vision. You could capture it through a conversation, a consensus with the team. You could capture it by invoking and adapting the vision of senior management or the client to your situation. You could do it by fiat (i.e., you just define and declare it and expect everyone to fall in line, which could work in some situations). Whatever your technique, capturing the vision means you know what it is and you’ve made it crisp and compelling to everyone else.
Second, EVANGELIZE THE VISION. Back in the early 2000s, on the back of the lanyard badge I needed to get to in to work, my employer wrote a mission statement. It was corporate speak that meant absolutely nothing to me, and if anything, made me feel even more disconnected from the company because I didn’t buy into the abstract values on that thing I was required to wear everyday.
And likewise, for you as a tech lead, simply stating it or capturing it isn’t sufficient and could create a disconnect if you skip this step.
You’re going to have to walk around, meet individually with everyone (formally or informally) on your team and every key stakeholder to make sure they buy into the vision by — most importantly –taking the time to connect the vision to their work and to their own human motivations. This takes time and calories. Almost everyone overlooks it, including me, because it’s hard, frustrating, and time consuming.
But if you skip this step then how do you know if anyone bought into the vision? You might end up thinking you’re a leader, when in fact you’re simply taking a walk alone around the block with nobody following you. You might be in good company with other mediocre tech leads in this regard, but you’re not leading.
Finally, COACH AND CONNECT. Number one and two are one-time activities. This is the daily activity that you need to do to make sure the day to day work, the day to day builds are aligning to the vision. People will drift. Visions will drift. Memories fade. It’s your job to stay close to every team member and every stake holder to make sure everyone stays aligned.
So there. That’s the basic, everyday framework. It doesn’t teach you everything you need to know, and it doesn’t mean you’re doing the right things. It’s just the basic blocking and tackling of tech leads that can take their team from “A” to “B.”
Use it and let me know how it goes!!