Tips for Aspiring Leaders in Development
One of the most insidious untruths about the business world is that some people are ‘management material’, while others just don’t have what it takes.
May 2020 - 5 minutes read
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The reality is that with a bit of training, effort, and determination, anyone can learn and perfect the leadership skills that are required for management positions. Some people are born naturally gifted in these areas, but others who reach the same level of success in their careers are not, and achieve their results through hard work and effort.
The types of skills we require from our leaders are not in themselves noteworthy. Being a great listener, being empathetic, knowing how to trust, and how to build a team are all skills that we practice in childhood but tend to dismiss as we get older. All of these foundational skills are key to management and leadership. Employees who aspire to management positions but aren’t willing to put in the time perfecting these skills will ultimately be disappointed.
In tech, leadership skills are a bit more specific. Are you interested in code standards instead of just coding? Do you help other coders learn and turn in the best possible projects for clients instead of focusing only on your own work?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you definitely have what it takes to become a leader in the development field.
Why Development Companies Should Prioritize Leadership
There are many organizations, development companies included, that make the mistake of never thinking about leadership. They hire managers as they need them, but don’t make it a priority to cultivate leadership among their lower level staff. They never think about their leadership needs on an institutional level.
This way of thinking is not only regressive- it can make any organization extremely vulnerable.
If a key manager leaves the company or is unable to work for whatever reason, there’s no immediate replacement. This has the potential to leave a gigantic hole in continuity plans, and delay projects as someone is hastily trained in their absence.
A lack of leadership training within an organization can also make employees feel like their potential for advancement is limited. If they secretly harbour a desire to be promoted into a managerial position, the onus is entirely on them to train themselves for that job and put themselves out there.
Our Best Tips for Developers Aspiring to Leadership Roles
Despite its utility, many companies do not have a formal leadership training program in place. Instead of waiting for change to come down from the top, it’s in the best interests of individual developers to show initiative and learn on their own if they aspire to a leadership position.
Not only does this give them the skills they need, it shows their managers and existing company leaders that they have initiative, and care enough to train themselves in a way that would ultimately benefit the company.
Here are some of our best tips for aspiring leaders working in development.
Own Your Mistakes
One of the first ways that you can show leadership and initiative at work is to take ownership of everything- including your mistakes. A great leader never lets someone take the fall for them. They know that the fastest way to learn is to clearly identify the source of the error- not to find the scapegoat, but to ensure everyone is able to learn from the experience.
This sets a good example for your peers, and shows your managers that you’re serious about improving your skills. Just think of this famous quote from engineer and early internet pioneer Douglas Engelbart.
“The rate at which a person can mature is directly proportional to the embarrassment he can tolerate.”
Expand Your Skill Set
In order to earn the respect of your peers and managers, you need to actually know what you’re talking about. To boost your confidence and expand your technical knowledge, you should always push yourself to learn and grow beyond your day-to-day work responsibilities.
This might mean taking up white hat hacking as a hobby at night, teaching yourself a new coding language or framework, or expanding your knowledge of other related concepts like sales, marketing, and the technology industry. The more you know, the more valuable you’ll be to both current and future employers.
Learn How to Express Yourself
Learning to communicate well is a key skill for any leader. This includes figuring out the simplest and clearest way to express yourself in every medium available, including in person, over the phone, and over email. If you always have to explain things over and over again, or you’re unable to write an email that conveys expectations clearly, these are all signs that your communication skills are in need of improvement.
Some people advocate for public speaking classes like Toastmasters to improve communication skills and get future managers more familiar with public speaking. If the thought of public speaking in front of strangers terrifies you, start smaller. Practice speaking out loud on a topic that interests you while you’re home alone. Start paying attention to the way you speak to family and friends, and incorporate some basic public speaking tips into your everyday conversational style. You’ll quickly feel more comfortable.
Expand Your Network and Find a Mentor
One of the best ways to learn about yourself, improve your leaderships skills, and make higher-level connections in your industry is to find a mentor. A mentor can be someone within your company, or your industry. The only requirement is that they should be able to offer advice on your career path, and guide you as you reach towards your goals.
The relationship between a mentor and mentee can be very special, and it’s worth investing some time into finding someone willing to take on this role in your career.
Look at the Big Picture
One of the most prized leadership skills is big picture thinking. This skill is integral to everything from problem solving to staffing and project delegation. This is probably one of the hardest skills to learn, but there are a few ways you can jump-start your big picture thinking.
First- start allocating time for thinking. There’s a reason why so many people have brilliant ideas in the shower- it’s because their mind is unoccupied and using that time to wander through recent problems. Your brain can do so much if you strip away distractions.
In addition to giving yourself more time to think, you can also use specific tools like brainstorming, mind-mapping, or journaling to help you make connections between thoughts. With practice, you’ll find yourself reaching for your notebook or thinking through problems on your commute home, and coming up with brilliant big picture solutions.
Looking for More Leadership Experience?
Once you’ve equipped yourself with the specific skills you need, the next step is making your managers aware that you’re looking for more leadership experience. It never hurts to take initiative on your own first. Make sure you’re giving 100% to your team, working well with others, taking responsibility for your own mistakes, and helping others learn from theirs.
From there, if you aren’t getting the results you’re looking for, set a time with your manager to talk about your role in the company, and how you’d like it to expand. Even if there’s no position currently available, they’ll know you’re interested when the next one comes along.