I recently attended StarCanada and had a conversation with a fellow colleague about leadership on agile teams. We both agreed that there were a lot of leaders that shouldn’t be leading.
“Why do you think that is?” I asked him. He was quite frank and said, “It’s because their bosses are pointy-headed managers that don’t have a clue.”
He was referring to the Pointy-haired Boss in Dilbert, a fairly accurate parody of a manager who is out of touch with his team.
All kidding aside, it’s a concerning trend. Why are so many teams led by people who just don’t know how?
As a manager of quality testing teams, I am accountable for the growth of the leads on my team. In my one-on-ones, it is not uncommon for them to express that they would like to move up a level into management. Some want the title, and I suppose the salary that goes with it, but most are driven by a desire to help others. For whatever reason, it is my responsibility to guide them on the path toward their goal.
I am also accountable for how they take care of their teams.
I’ve had the satisfaction of seeing those who I have promoted excel in their role. I’ve also shared in the disappointment when someone struggled, when it was too early in their career path. I had set them up for failure instead of success.
I’ve learned to recognize what skills are innate and what needed to be taught. With this in mind, here are a few guidelines.
Don’t promote someone because…
…they know more about the product technology than the rest of the development team.
I’ve been on teams where the person who developed the product from scratch was given the lead role. Instead of only being accountable for their own work, they are given authority to be accountable for everyone. It’s those team members that are experts in what they do but are severely lacking in people skills.
Training for soft skills is put on their professional road map along with the new position’s goals, but because they are relied upon to provide the hands-on contribution, training never happens.
Kimberly Fries believes that being good at one’s job doesn’t prove that someone possesses the other competencies they need. Because of their expertise, they are oftentimes given leadership roles and are assigned to lead teams without understanding people. They struggle their way through it, pushing the team to deliver and damaging morale in the process.
…they are more vocal. This is the person who doesn’t mind voicing their opinion. Calls it like it is. The one in the meeting that always has something to say about any idea from anyone. This makes them visible, so when there’s a job to do, they will be asked to do it.
Unfortunately, just speaking up doesn’t mean they should be directing others. It’s great that they are expressive, but this can turn into a liability. Self control and active listening skills are needed if they are going to effectively lead.
…they are good at telling people what to do and are followed without question. The classic bully on the playground (and the sidekick that strokes their ego). It makes me think of the Looney Tunes characters Spike and Chester. Spike the bulldog always had Chester the terrier around to take orders from him and to egg him on.
There’s nothing wrong with being organized and dividing up work to be delegated. However, in agile businesses, empowering teams to be self organized has much more value. There’s really no place for bullies on a self organized team.
Do promote someone who has…
…a thirst for learning. They might not know the nuts and bolts but they have spent time upgrading their skills, staying relevant in the industry, and have focused on the cross functional aspects of delivery. For example, a quality lead that is familiar with current tools, and has an understanding of what should be automated, can assist DevOps and can contribute to the automation strategy of a CI/CD delivery pipeline.
…a high emotional IQ. Having the ability to understand others is essential in the position of leadership. Empathy is a key factor when considering someone to oversee a team. It is important that they understand the many challenges of their team members–whether it is the parents with children who may require a flexible schedule, or those who need extra time to learn a new technology.
“You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.” – Simon Sinek
I’ve hired those that weren’t at the top technically, but had a positive attitude with commitment. They established a rapport with their team members and developed their technical skills along with their teams.
I was recently asked what was the most successful accomplishment in my career. I thought for a moment and then honestly replied, “It isn’t the title. It isn’t the salary. It isn’t the office with a view (yes, I’ve had that). It’s seeing those that I’ve mentored along the way become successful caring leaders of their own great teams.
We are responsible for those we lead and who we entrust to lead others. Take the time to teach them to lead.