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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Evolving From Manager to Leader

You’re a new parachute manager. You landed here among those people. They’re your new team, right? You’re going to manage them. Hopefully you’re even going to lead them. How to make it through to become their leader, not just a manager?

1. Know what your work on.
You’re manager, right? No one expect you’ll be the best hacker in the team. But you should actually know what that darn Java thing is. Actually you should know even more. Understanding architecture of software you work on is crucial.

2. Show your competence.
You’re not here to share tasks among your team. You’re here to deal with problems. People will come with different issues to you. Help them. Be decisive. Be reasonable. And don’t ever be clueless. Ever. If you’re going to be clueless a much better idea is to commit hara-kiri right now.

3. Surprise the team.
Surprise them with your knowledge or experience. Or both. While first two advices were barely an elementary to move further on a way to become a superhero… er… a leader you need to show more. One of easiest way to do that is to show on a couple of occasions that there are areas where you rule. Suggest some clever tricks in that algorithm which consumes all memory which is at hand. Show this old SQL construction you used before the World War II to optimize performance. Or at least charm a VP to give you a budget for integration when you aren’t able to do anything more… technical.

4. Treat them as people.
Well, they are people after all. Anyway, many managers treat their teams as headcounts or cannon fodder. That’s not very wise unless you’re a manager of a call center and average job seniority in your team is about 3 months. Someone can have a hangover, screw a meeting with a client or ruin a build. That’s not a reason to crucify them. At least we don’t have a law yet which force you to do it.

5. Be a shield.
Being a manager you most likely have another manager above you. Not necessarily a great leader. Actually the chances are good you have a wild beast who doesn’t have a word “leadership” in her dictionary. She wants to eat you on breakfast and your team on lunch. The best you can do is to take all attacks concerning your team on your own chest. When talking about office politics full transparency isn’t the best strategy to choose. The more unfair attacks you’re able to filter the more peaceful time the team will have. They will use the time to work. If you’re lucky.

6. Be an advocate.
Advocate of your people of course. Every time they do something great show it to the world and give all the credits to them. When they screw something take responsibility on you. Of course you can choose the opposite tactic but don’t expect to have many friends then. Poor you. No one will help you when your team will stab you in your back. And it won’t happen only once if I had to guess.

in: personal development, team management

3 comments… add one

  • Ken Jacobs January 5, 2009, 3:51 pm

    Pawel: I’ve been meaning to post a comment letting you know how much I enjoyed your article on evolving from manager to leader. You make six quite compelling and valuable points for anyone who wants to lead, now or in the future.

    I’m taking the liberty of sharing an article I wrote on “From Manager to Leader” for the Public Relations Society of America’s “Public Relations Strategist.”

    I hope you and your readers agree that the points I’ve raised go beyond the industry of public relations.



    Ken Jacobs
    http://www.jacobscomm.com ken@jacobscomm.com

  • Pawel Brodzinski January 6, 2009, 2:19 am

    Ken, your article is insightful and I agree it goes beyond communication industry. I’d say my view is aligned with these points where you, or your interlocutors, take a bottom-up look.

    However I don’t share opinion about value of setting a big vision and sharing them with the whole company. Actually all companies I worked for but one had a vision and virtually none of them worked for people except maybe top management who created the vision. Yes, leaders need to know where they’re heading and what are their goals, but coining a vision statement doesn’t move people a milimetre closer to achieving those goals.

  • Prem Rao February 9, 2009, 7:10 am

    Excellent post, Pawel. You have crisply set out the key points so necessary to lead a team effectively.

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