All we do is looking for some way to fulfill our needs.

poniedziałek, 30 grudnia 2013

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Technical leader worries: I am not a born leader

Have you ever heard about Alexander the Great, Napoleon, J. F. Kennedy, Martin Luter King... I bet you have. These are great historical leaders. These names are the first coming to our mind when we think about leadership. When we add to it hollywood movies main characters we consider leaders to be heros with strong charisma and excelling talent to give talks. This stereotype we bear in our heads is very difficult to chase. But wait a little... Is this what we should stick to talking about technical leaders?

I have done a survey among software developers and technical leaders with questions about characteristics of a specific technical leader they appreciate and met in their life. How do you think what are they?

Technical leader sample actions (from survey answers):
  • asking questions in order to analyze problematic situation
  • mediating
  • not forcing a particular solution
  • isolating team from the world
  • engaging especially in critical situations
  • reminding a goal
  • saying "what is to be done is important but don't worry too much"
  • saying "let's focus on solutions more than problems themselves"

Sample skills and attitudes:
  • knowledge and experience
  • communication
  • patience
  • mediation
  • risk taking
  • negotiation 

Sample values:
  • openness
  • relationships
  • peace
  • courage
  • goal orientation 

So... there is not much about being a brave hero. Technical leaders must be great problem solvers and team supporters instead. And most great leaders I met are like that. They are focused on people in their team and are committed to do the great work.

As technical leaders we must take care of THINGS BEING DONE, REMOVE IMPEDIMENTS and CREATE ENVIRONMENT where team members wants to belong to. Unlike charisma these skills can be possesed in reasonable time and you don't need to have them inborn. And this is a good news. 

For those who love models I can tell that there are different types of leadership (and of course there are many different models). The stereotype we are used to is called a charismatic leadership but this is not the only style. There is also transformational, visionary, transactional and servant leadership (you can read more about it here). What we need most in our industry is a mix of transformational and servant leadership.

(top image source:

poniedziałek, 23 grudnia 2013

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Technical leader worries: I want to build trust in my team but I don't want them to do what they want

Trust is a very big word and very often misused. Many leaders in order to build trust just feel obliged to allow people to do anything they want. On the other hand they would like to have some impact on how the task is going to be done. Some time ago I thought a lot about the trust: what it is and how to "grow" it in our everyday work. But I didn't like idea that I should not be interested in how the task is done. I was sure that there is something missing. And then I drew the picture like this:


and I noticed that there is some kind of asymmetry. What about arrow back to "I"? I drew it to see how it may look like.

I thought: What kind of trust would I want here?. And there the enlighment came: I would like to ask difficult questions like: "Why did you do it this way or How do you handle risk X" and not to be accussed of being to much controlling. I just wanted to be on track.

And then I was sure there is another element missing in order to this schema work properly. There must be a supposition of a positive intention. What it means? I believe that you'll do your best to complete the task. And you believe that when I ask question I want to understand your way of thinking and check whether you took important risk into consideration. There musn't be any blame, accusation or criticisim. Otherwise everything is lost.

(top image source:

piątek, 20 grudnia 2013

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Technical leader worries: to be a tech expert or not to be

The most of IT leaders are promoted IT specialists. Many times it happens surprisingly. And we usually are not well prepared for this change. We love our tech job - programming and suddenly someone wants to take it from us. Of course we are free people and we can say "NO". But it doesn't happen too often. Becoming a leader may be real next step in our career, a new opportunity to learn something completely different.
No matter how we love a new role, one question wants to be answered: Ok, I am a leader. SHOULD I still be en expert? Or what is very common - I still WANT to be an expert and how to do it being a leader at the same time?

There are many ways how you can handle it. Some of them may be quite reasonable some of them may not.
STRONG EXPERT - you choose this strategy, when remaining an expert is extremely important for you, and becoming a leader will not stop you at developing your hard tech skills. It's quite possible but usually it means that you have to spend a lot of your spare time to be in touch with  new technlogies. I know a few people who chose this strategy. They usually have no family (and I am afraid they will not have because of the strategy, but all in all this is not an obligation).

Just LEADER - this is another strategy, which is the easiest one to handle day to day. You just give up the technical side still having precious experience which is more than enough to work with the team. But this strategy is hard to accept for those who still want to develop their expert skills.

COACH - this is strategy enabling you to take the best of both worlds. You are mainly focused on leader type tasks but you use your team and team uses you as a leverage. What it means? When someone needs help and you can help you share your knowledge showing how a person can approach the task. And in turn when a fellow from your team uses new tool, library, technology you may ask for some introduction to the subject or for sharing the gathered experience. You can learn a lot this way and still be in touch with tech stuff. When I personally used this strategy for the first time I was surprised that within six months I learnt much more than during a year before (almost not coding at all). And another surprise was that when I was to use this knowlege later that was quite easy for me.

What I also want to say is that choice expressed in the subject of this post is not a dichotomy, it's more like a continuum where you are probably somewhere in between. And there is another dimension of this phenomena and this dimension is TIME. Time in some way moves you towards a leader position, because the longer you are at leader position, the more your expert skills become outdated (you are no longer fully devoted to the expert work). It may be a sad statement for some of you but it's just like that.

The picture below is a simple visualisation of described strategies and their relationships:

(top image source:

wtorek, 17 grudnia 2013

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Technical leader worries: people from team are whining

It's very annoying situation when you hear whining from  your team. They complain about boring work, stupid company security policy, wrong management decisions, customer not knowing what she wants and changing her mind, project manager crowding on them. Doesn't it sound familiar?

I have great news for you: that's wonderful they are whining, just try to hear the calling: "there is something important for me not happening". It would be much worse if they had that frustration and didn't say anything. How would you know then? It would be much more difficult to learn what is really going on.

Don't treat this calling as attack, don't treat it personally because it's not about you. It is about this person, and something important for that person that is not happening. It's just the only way that person know how to say it.

Instead of defensing or explaining acknowledge the message and try to learn what is so important him/her and what would she want to happen. For example (it's just the pattern):

I can hear you feel steamed by this [acknowledge person's worries], can you tell what's so important for you in this situation [ask what she really needs] and what would you suggest we can do about it [and what is her request for]?

You can hear anything in response. It doesn't mean you have to comply with this request. If you can, why not to do it? If you can't just tell it, tell what's important for you, and then try to find soltution fulfilling your and person's needs.

How could it work like?
(Guy from your team is whining that tasks he does are boring)
- I am always given this boring tasks. The work in the team is not challanging. Any monkey could do it!
(Huhhhh. Tough! Take a deep breath and remember, it's not about you, it's about him. He tries to tell you something, sometimes it is not pleasent, he just wasn't taught how to do it in friendly manner).
- Ok, I can hear from what you said that you feel steamed because your task are too easy for you and you can't learn anything new?
(Just wait a little bit, s/he may be shocked because you didn't try to suppress him or convince he is wrong or he has no right to say so).
- ... uhmmm .... Yes...
- Ok. You know, I would like to understand better why is it so important for you, because I would like us to find solution satisfying both of us...
(Wait, again. Especially for the first time it would shocking for the person.)

- ... uhmmm ... I think it's obvious...
- It might be obvious. And I want to ensure what it is, so could you tell me...
- You know, I love to create something useful, do something what improves the work..
(You've just learn what this person really needs - to make a significant contribution to others work. Then ask if she has some ideas what s/he could do).
- I understand you would like to do something what can contribute to others work... Do you know what it could be?
- ... You know... I didn't know how to tell it... I have some ideas how to improve our deployment process with a little helpful tool. But during the last meeting I was banned by others so I have given in.
- Hmmm... Interesting... I didn't notice it... Can you tell me more about this tool...?
- ... (he is explaining)
- Ok. Try to roughly estimate how complex it is and how it would affect our work. And during the next meeting we will discuss this suggestion in the team.
- Oh, fine. I'll send a mail with this data.

Just imagine what would happen if you said at the beggining: "Don't be whining. It's just how our work looks like."
(top image source: