Leadership 101
July 21, 2014 5:50 PM   Subscribe

I am an I.T. worker who does technical work, and does it well. Now, I’ve done it so well for so long, that my supervisor has advanced me to a position of “Team Leader” and I am now in charge of telling other I.T. people what to do.

I think my biggest obstacle will be feeling comfortable commanding other people to do things I would very much rather do by myself.

The reason I’ve gotten as far as I have in my career is,
In part, my tendency to be a rabid Do-It-Yourselfer. My skill is at figuring out the entirety of a technical problem and how to solve it.

But I have no skills at all in bossing others around.

=== === ===

If this situation sounds familiar to you, perhaps you could give me a bit of advice.

What books, articles, or motivational talks have been useful to you, in your transition from a great worker to an acceptable Leader ?
posted by shipbreaker to Technology (9 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
No lie, and it's such a cliche anyways: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
posted by RainyJay at 6:31 PM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not just giving assignments (and rating performance) but learning to teach other workers to problem solve and be great workers themselves is one of the hardest but most valuable things about being a leader.

Benjamin Zander's Art of Possibility focuses on a similar thing; he is musician/conductor, but I think it translates well to other fields and is sold as a general "leadership" training program.
posted by freejinn at 6:38 PM on July 21, 2014

Holy cats - this post could have been written by me two years ago. I was in exactly this situation, trying to figure it out on my own without any peers to ask for advice. I haven't figured it all out by any means, but I'm definitely doing a better job than when I first started. One of the biggest hurdles for me has been delegating - if I can do a job myself in an hour, it's tough to spend four hours coaching someone else through it. But all that time is an investment that will pay off in the long run.


* Realize that managing people really is an entirely new set of skills that you will have to learn. Most of what made you good at your old job will not help you in your new job.

* Care about the people who work under you. Don't just act like you do, because they'll be able to tell - actually develop an interest in them. You don't have to be best friends, but if you see them as actual people instead of worker drones, they'll feel better about working under you, and you'll feel better about giving them tasks.

* Work in the interests of the company first, your team second, and yourself third. This will help you build credibility with your team, and with other managers. If your team sees that what you're asking them to do is not about building your own glory, they'll buy into the goals of the project a lot more readily.

* Work hard to set a good example, but don't overdo it. Your people shouldn't feel bad about leaving on time after they've put in a good day's work, and if you always stay late they may feel like you expect them to, too.

A couple of books I found helpful:

Peopleware and Slack, both by Tom Demarco. Good insights into how to manage technical people without micromanaging.

Michael Lopp's book Managing Humans is good, but many of those essays are also on his blog at randsinrepose.com, which is a good read.
posted by fixer at 6:41 PM on July 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

Managers at this level I think have 2 major roles. The first one is probably the harder one to deal with:

1) represent the needs of the higher ups to the team, and v/v. This entails dealing with a certain amount of shit. Look at it this way; this means the others aren't having to deal with it (as much), and for some strange reason most companies pay the poor slob who's doing this more than for doing the actual work of the company. So they must value it... some of it's actually worthwhile, when you take the broad view and realize some of the even greater problems putting all those cover pages on all those TPS reports resolves...

2) coordinate the work of the team's members. This is NOT the same as bossing everyone around, and doesn't mean you're smarter than everyone else. But if you're going to build a house, you might want to know that the concrete is behind schedule being poured if you're the guy who's going to do the framing. If you're going to put up the drywall, it would be nice to have someone making sure all the wiring is in first. And so on.

We have a small department at work where for reasons known only to the owners, the owners insist that it's 4 equals and no one is in charge. For org chart purposes, they are all direct reports to one of the owners. It doesn't work very well. No one coordinates anything. One of them can go on vacation and no one even tells us (we're in a different office); we find out 2 days later when the emails aren't returned (they can't be arsed to put on vacation notices in Outlook). The question of which one of them will do something is always this negotiation kabuki dance. They don't need a boss to tell them their technical job or to remind them to do it; they need a boss to take on all this traffic-copping, as I call it.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:44 PM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some things that have helped me.

People have to find their own way. You have to guide people, but allow them to find their own solutions to problems, their own methods of doing things. Its tough, well it was for me at least, as I have my own way that has served me well, but people have to develop their own way of doing things and you have to support it (while still calling out risks and issues where you see them).

2nding putting the company first, your team second and yourself third. The success of your team, and the members, is your success. Sometimes it means having to give up opportunities you would love for yourself for people under you. Juicy projects, travel opportunities, what have you. It also means protecting the team and the members, as best you can.

Trust your staff. If there's an issue, don't ask for every little detail looking for flaws. They are entrusted to do something, so let them do it. Ask for status reports, for an overview of the issue, ask for how you can assist, but do not ask for every little technical detail. Its micromanaging.

I'd ask for leadership training or mentoring or something like that in the organisation if I were you.

One more thing... do you want to do this? Is leadership something you had in your career path? If not, maybe you don't have to do it.

Good luck!
posted by Admira at 1:46 AM on July 22, 2014

An IT managers main job (IMO) is running interference keeping the business suits from gumming up his team with last minute and frivolous requests.
posted by PenDevil at 5:43 AM on July 22, 2014

I was also promoted to "Team Leader" about 2-3 years ago (3 people under me). The reasoning was that I've been with the company for almost 10 years now, and the second oldest employee has been with us for like 2 years. I've touched to almost every project since 10 years, so it made sense to put me in that position (not only for my skills, but for my knowledge of the projects).

Since I work from home (7 hours away from the office) and my other 3 co-workers are in the office, I chose to position myself as a "reference", someone to talk to when you have questions, rather than a job dispatcher. I have no interest in giving tasks and following up on their completeness. But I do have an interest in teaching/helping others.

At first, I wasn't sure how to act, as I don't like to be thought of as "the boss". One of my co-worker is probably more than 10 years older than me, it did make me feel uncomfortable at first. But somehow, it just came naturally that people would call me when they had problems.

I make it a point to be patient with each of them (especially the younger employees) and make sure they really understand what I'm trying to explain. I also try to give them encouragement as much as I can. Seems to be working fine.
posted by kag at 6:54 AM on July 22, 2014

I love the Ask a Manager blog, which deals with plenty of practical examples in the workplaces. Gives ideas on how to manage well, and how to manage badly.

posted by squishles at 4:03 PM on July 22, 2014

I think my biggest obstacle will be feeling comfortable commanding other people to do things I would very much rather do by myself.

Yeah, this is hard. I found myself, after 20+ years in IT support roles, as an "architect", where I was writing high level designs, then telling an engineer "do this". It was very hard sometimes (because, yeah, I could easily do it myself, and would like to!), but you have to accept the fact that you're not a do-er anymore, and you have to have faith in your do-ers to get the job done, and that they will learn and improve as they do it.

They rely on you as much as you rely on them.

Also, seconding what randomkeystrike said above - you have to manage both up and down. You have to be an interface between your techos who hate all that corporate shit, and management, who hate all that technical shit.

Good luck! Treat everyone with respect. Have confidence in yourself. Be an awesome team leader.
posted by Diag at 3:43 AM on July 23, 2014

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