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Career Tools for Developers: Leadership

No project can run efficiently without some form of leadership. In fact, quite often the success or failure of a project, a team, or even a company can rest on the capabilities of the person or persons in leadership positions.

It's quite easy to find information concerning leadership in the workplace. Even the most cursory search will reward you with article after article outlining the traits necessary for building a strong and vibrant company culture.

However, many of the leadership traits found at the executive level also apply at lower levels of an organization. Developers particularly can benefit from nurturing these traits in themselves and others.

Let's explore some of the most common traits as they apply to the software development space.

Remove Barriers and Obstacles

Leaders are often thought of as a kind of autocratic controller, handing out orders through a strict hierarchy. Indeed, there are some leaders who choose to work that way, but the most effective opt for a different approach. The goal is to remove barriers and blocks so that team members can concentrate on doing what they do best - in this case, developing software. The leader provides guidance and direction rather than leading from the top.

See Issues as Learning Opportunities

From time to time, things are going to go wrong on a project and in a team. That's a fundamental truth common to any endeavour where people gather to accomplish a task. Effective leaders treat these inevitable issues as opportunities for learning and growth. Whether the problem is with the code, the processes or the people, the key is to identify, address and mitigate any recurrence of the issue, while avoiding finger-pointing. Even if a person is "at fault," effective leaders understand that this is an opportunity for the person in question to learn from the error, making them a better team member as a result.

Provide Opportunities for Growth

The best software developers are always eager to improve their skills and expand their knowledge base. Great leaders understand this and ensure that there are opportunities for team members to develop and grow their skills. Providing training resources for your team to encourage self study are a great place to start. Lunch and learns offer the opportunity for a team member to take the lead and instruct others on an area he or she is passionate about.

Encourage Autonomy and Trust

As mentioned earlier, effective leaders avoid micromanagement, preferring instead to encourage self-direction while guiding their teams to delivery. Micromanagement often breeds a culture of distrust and resentment, both of which are toxic for a development team. Creating a solid team of people with a good mix of personality types ensures that any task or issue will be tackled from multiple perspectives. This type of autonomy and mix of perspectives is incredibly potent, especially when tackling a particularly challenging project.

Learn from your Team

Everyone on a team brings with them a unique set of skills and expertise. This is true of the team leader as well. While you may be an expert in the area of web development for example, another member of your team may have an extensive background in enterprise-level .NET. Depending on the project, you'll probably end up learning quite a bit from them. The point is that effective leaders have no issue with hiring people smarter than they are. Everyone on a team has the opportunity to learn from everyone else, which creates a culture of trust, not to mention a much more talented team.

Transparency and Honesty

As mentioned earlier, effective leaders do their best to remove any barriers that will cause team members to worry about anything other than the job at hand. Some of the most toxic are corporate politics and rumours. There are few elements more destructive for morale than rumours about restructuring or job losses. The most effective approach here is honesty and transparency.

Lead by Example

We're all familiar with the phrase, "lead by example." The idea of "getting in the trenches" with the team sounds laudable, but it's not always practical. There are other ways to lead by example. The simplest method is to simply be present with your team. Be there through their struggles and successes, get involved with the work they're doing. Many of the traits we've already covered can help you lead by example. Encourage your team to learn and grow their skills. Seek out their advice and trust in their judgement.

Leadership can often seem like a skillset reserved for executives or those at the highest levels of business. However, it doesn't matter if you're in charge of three people or three thousand, the principles remain the same. Nurturing leadership skills in yourself will open up new avenues in your career - avenues of which you may not have even been aware.

Join Modev and Capital One for the Code Writers Workshop, a one day, hands-on event where you'll go beyond the code to learn practical and technical skills to boost your career, methods to hone your tech-specific leadership and teambuilding abilities and insight on current industry trends. The event will also offer the opportunity to meet speakers from leading Washington, DC companies, while networking with some of our community’s most innovative engineers and thought leaders.

Learn more here:

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