How To Be A Better Lead Developer

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How To Be A Better Lead Developer
harley Ferguson

Let me preface this newsletter with the fact that I am in no way a leadership expert.

However, throughout my career, I have led individuals, teams and now companies to huge successes while cultivating a great working environment for all those involved.

I've studied leadership extensively and have interviewed many great leaders of software companies over the last 2 years.

I can only speak to what has worked for me. The next 5 points have by far been the most fruitful in my endeavours as a leader.

Let's dive in.

Listen first, speak last

A lot of you are most likely having a large part of your day consumed by directly helping others or sitting in meetings where everyone wants to hear your opinion.

When you're a lead, the key is to always listen first and speak last. All the best leaders do this.

I've seen a lot of leaders do the exact opposite. They say, "Here's the problem and here's how I think we should solve it." What do you think will happen in a team like that? Nobody will speak up. Nobody will attempt to think of their own solution because the lead's choice will always be the chosen one. That mentality creates a toxic team and unfortunately there are a lot of poor leaders out there. If you're in a team or company like this, my advice is to get out as quickly as possible.

Listening first does not simply mean letting others talk first, but rather giving them the opportunity to speak, share their thoughts and have you actively hear what they're saying. Let them be a part of the conversation even if you know their solution isn't the right one for this scenario. You want to create a collaborative environment where everyone feels heard and valued.

When you choose to finally speak, acknowledge everyone that contributed and try to build a solution that involves everybody. If someone had a solution that was wrong, let them know in a constructive way and explain why it was wrong. If someone had the correct solution, give them the credit.

By listening first and speaking last, you'll create a healthy working environment.​

Constantly be learning

You're a lead for a reason. It's most likely a combination of skill, attitude and knowledge. Please note that I'm deliberately leaving "time" off here because time won't make you a better lead or smarter developer. This mistake is made far too often.

As lead developer, it's not only your responsibility to help ​navigate the team sprint after sprint, but it's also your responsibility to make sure that you're constantly earning the title of "lead".

Every day, without being egotistical, you need to prove why you're the lead, so that you earn the respect and loyalty of your team. Showing them that you're constantly learning to help improve your skills or improve your knowledge will show them that you're the right person for the job.

If you stop learning as soon as you've made lead, it's very easy for somebody else to come along and lap you.

Earn that title. Every day.

Teach how to fish

You could be responsible for a two person team or a massive, multi-vendor project. Either way, you're going to be working with and teaching others.

The best advice I can give is to teach a person how to fish. Never catch the fish for them.

What I mean by this is rather take the time to help show someone how to go about identifying the problem, determining a solution and implementing, it instead of just telling them exactly what lines of code need to be added. The latter results in zero learning taking place and they will then return to you each time they have the same problem.

The reason for teaching how to fish is two fold:

  1. It will allow the individual you're training to learn and improve which should be the goal of any lead
  2. It will free up your time down the line, because they won't become "repeat offenders" when trying to solve the same problem. You showed them how to go about "catching the fish", so now they're able to do it for themselves.

Study leadership

Leadership is a skill.

Many people are born good leaders. Even more teach themselves how to be great leaders. There is a great quote by Harry Truman that says, "Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers."

What Truman meant by this is that all great leaders are constantly learning, not only their craft but also how to be better leaders.

Leadership is about people and most people respond to the same things. Everyone wants to do a great job. Everyone wants to feel validated. Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Great leaders study the art of leadership, which will teach you how to get the most out of your team, while earning their respect.

Be reflective

You're not perfect and you're going to make a lot of mistakes.

The difficulties of being a leader is that your mistakes directly impact others. You could make a comment that you didn't think twice about, but it induced severe anxiety in your team member. I know because I've been there. On either side of the fence.

Bad leaders are ego driven and think that anything that goes wrong isn't their fault and they'll look to blame the team or individuals.

Great leaders practice extreme ownership. This means that they accept all blame or failure, regardless if they made the mistake. They share all credit with the team without keeping some for themselves.

You'll become a better leader by reflecting on any mistakes that you made and how you could have done better. You can always do better and being reflective and analytical towards your approach as a leader will result in you improving yourself and, ultimately, improving the team.

I hope that you found these 5 aspects of a great leader useful. I wish for all the leaders out there to be great ones and for those who are aspiring to be a leader, keep pushing. You'll get there.

See you again next week.