The Steps Toward Leadership

The Steps Toward Leadership

As a Software Engineer, I have gone through many managements, different countries, different companies, different projects which all left me with a bitter taste.
After years of reflection, I realized that half of the feeling came from my inexperience while the other half was meant to be fulfilled by the management under which I was working. This management was meant to provide me, a Software Engineer, the direction, vision and ideology to carry on my work. Management composed of line managers, higher management, directors and company, I expected them to lead me to success.
It is incredibly hard to find the right way to get a Software Engineering team to work well. Most of the challenges aren’t well understood by those coming from different backgrounds. Not that it is harder or easier, it is just different. Tasks aren’t easily measured, it is hard to make KPI, goals aren’t easily defined and set, and many more issues. We have seen that giving management responsabilities to someone without a Software Engineer background can be challenging, if not harmful. But we've also seen the opposite whereby giving management responsabilities to a Software Engineer by elevating her as leader caused equal harm to the team. Not all of us are equipped with the tools and mentality to manage more individuals then just ourselves.

Last year, I was placed in this exact situation. Coming from a Software Engineering background, I was given the chance to lead a team of Software Engineers. This was my chance to make a difference. Taking how I felt as an engineer and the damages done by management I lived through, I extracted lessons to understand the chain of events which yielded to the present result. I was determined to find a better way of managing a team, a middle ground for a higher efficiency, valuable for the project and the individuals. But for it to happen I had to make changes in my way of thinking, changes in my behaviour and changes in my interaction with others. I went from a selfish mindset focused on myself to a open and caring mindset focused toward my team and company goal, from viewing a short term development to projecting a long term future. All these changes were in fact part of one single movement in my personality which I will call The Steps Toward Leadership. Today I would like to share the ideas behind my understanding in two parts:

1. Misconceptions
2. Lead
3. Opportunity

1. Misconceptions

Leadership is not the same as accomplishments

When we talk about Leaders we immediately associate it to Bill G., Larry P., Mark Z., Elon M. or Jeff B. Pretty sure you know all of them. Those are the most notorious ones who became publicly famous. They have few common points; they own a company, they have a clear vision and they have a story to tell about their life and how they came to where they are today. So much to talk about that all of them have at least one biography book. Concluding that we must exhibit the same behaviours as them to be leaders is the biggest trap and as it turns out, the easiest to fall into.
Although there is a possibility of you and I accomplishing what they have done, the Leader tag should not be confused with accomplishments.
While having a clear vision is important to lead, having a company is not a necessity.

  • Leading isn’t about putting a product to market,
  • It isn’t building a company,
  • It isn’t about having the best skills.

Being a leader isn’t about being the alpha

Another stereotype has been anchored in Software development with the fallacy of successful Software being built in less than a week by 3 or 4 developers working 24 hours a day.
Although those are nice stories to tell, most of the Software aren’t built in this manner nor should they be. This comes in hand with the fallacy of overtime, the more overtime we do, the more work we can complete. Unfortunately all the experiences I have seen shows the opposite. The more overtime someone is doing, the less productive she became.

  • Leading isn’t about staying late at the office,
  • It isn’t about being the first at reaching the office in the morning,
  • It isn’t about being the last at leaving the office at night,
  • It isn’t about being the loudest,
  • It isn’t about being right or wrong.

We saw what leading isn’t, now we will see what it takes to lead.

2. Lead

To lead is to provide guidance and value to whoever works around you.
We must guide our team to move forward and find the next steps by enabling them to work by themselves.
Leaders are individuals who are able to empower and elevate those around them to a point where they can work on their own.
Empowering includes teaching, listening and most importantly become an inspiration.
As we want to show the way, we must become the way, we must portrait what and how we want our teammates to work. We must be the example.
Those are the key characteritics to pursue:

  • Professionalism
  • Honesty
  • Wisdom
  • Patience

Professionalism in our behaviour, being respectful and being open to discussion. Being punctual for discussion and meetings and predictible in our delivery. Keeping promises and when failing, notifying early.
Honesty is the key to enable trust. With trust, a powerful bond can be established where every critisism is accepted as a way to progress.
Wisdom to take thoughtful decisions. Understand the pros and cons of the decisions we are making and the impact they will have in short and long run. Digging into the implicit requirements behind features to come out with the best decisions.
Patience with a strong mind. Having a strong mind is about sustaining pain during difficult situations. Knowing when to think about long term plans to convert down situation to up situation. Understanding that problems are inheritent in all companies and projects and that they are a necessity for us to learn and progress.

All this key characteristics build your character. We must be conscious about what our surrounding thinks and feels about us. What do they see?

  • Threat or Opportunity,
  • Depression or Excitment,
  • Frustration or Motivation,
  • Hopelessness or Guidance,
  • Messiness or Reliability,
  • Negativity or Positivity

Become the person you would want to work with and work for.

3. Opportunity

In all the companies I worked for, I have experienced the same pattern. I, as a Software engineer, was lost.
The feeling of being lost came from my immaturity but it also came from the way the companies worked and the project was directed.
There was the need for someone who could take the lead, guide, mentor and act as a role model.
As I move from company to company, it became obvious that there was and still is an immense opportunity in all companies and even in the world for leaders.
There is an endless need for people who can bring minds together, coordinate them to work together and enable them to be at their best at all time by providing the right framework and process.

This opportunity is available to everyone as leadership values aren’t inborn. They aren’t inherited from family. In fact, Leadership values can be discovered along working experiences and/or learnt.

We all can lead in our own ways and bring values to those surrounding us. The opportunity is in front of you, grab it.

Conclusion

Those who are in currently leading position need to think and move forward as leaders. Those who feel deep down that a difference can be made through their contribution need to act and take the lead. The world is in need of leaders.
We can make a difference as single individuals but if we lead and enable more people to work together toward a common vision, we will reach a higher step and be able to impact on a larger scale.
Thanks for reading, see you next time!

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