Leading a team is definitely challenging but leading a technical team is a very specialised area that is extremely demanding. It is very different to other teams in many ways. A highly technical team is made up of artistic individuals who have a world of knowledge, skills and experience in their own technical areas. The highly skilled technical engineer, developer, programmer, or analyst are not generally known for their people skills. This results in every individual of the team wanting to head in their own direction, each certain that their choice is the right one and demanding that others follow their direction, even the boss.
They not only fall into the “we’ve tried that before and it didn’t work” attitude for every idea, as do most teams anywhere, but these individuals also are more likely to get upset with any changes, need to feel more status than others, and need to be recognised for their often very unique skills.
I have been very fortunate to have made a career out of leading technical teams, sometimes multi cultural, sometimes leading several teams based in different countries around the world.
When thinking about this recently I began to wonder about a question often asked, what makes a good leader? I’ve heard it said that people can be born leaders. Absolute rubbish! People are not born leaders, rather they are a product of the experiences they have and the people they meet. Its those experiences and the advice and ideas they get from people they grow to admire that gives them the tools and mindset to lead others.
Sure there are various skills required to be, for example, a development manager - project management and methodology understanding are some, but I'm not talking about management, I'm talking about leadership. The difference is that a manager manages things but a leader leads people.
Its not much help having a masters degree in project management when your team has no wish to do the project, our you are faced with a team member who wants to undermine you and your project in order to get recognised by the boss above you. Sure you can threaten dismissal or some other disciplinary action but that's not necessarily leadership.
Leadership is having empathy with the team and the individuals within the team, and the ability to focus that team towards a common goal. Providing a common direction is a difficult task for managers and it takes leaders to turn a team towards that common goal.
It’s a sad and unfortunate fact that there seems to be more managers these days than leaders.
To be continued…