Being a good leader involves motivating and pushing your team toward success, but that is sometimes easier said than done. You need to learn about your team - what they’re good at, what they aren’t good at, their career goals and what motivates them - and then encourage them to learn and improve. Let them focus on technical issues, while you focus on building the best team and leading them to success.
Here are seven steps to becoming a better software engineering leader.
1. Provide effective, objective feedback
Keep your feedback positive and focused on educating rather than accusing to be most effective.
Tell your team what actions they are doing right as well as what they are doing wrong. Be specific on what areas can be improved; don’t simply say “good work” or “you need to do better,” instead give examples of what can be done. Think of feedback as a learning tool, where you can draw attention to what the employee is doing well and what is still in progress, and offer insight as to how they can change their actions.
Feedback should be private when it’s critical or developmental, and positive feedback privacy should be custom to the individual. Some people love public positive feedback, while others are embarassed by it. Offer more positive feedback and positive comments rather than negatives; as many as six positive statements should be made for every one criticism. This ensures a level of trust between yourself and your team member that you really are looking to helping them be better and improve.
2. Identify resource or knowledge gaps
To achieve the goals of the business, your required resources and knowledge need to match what your team already has. If they do not, these areas are gaps.
Think about what resources you and your team currently have. Discover what knowledge you and your team have collectively. Identify the areas where your current resources and knowledge don’t meet the requirements to achieve your goals. These are the resource and knowledge gaps for your team. In software engineering in particular, these gaps are generally technical, but can also be soft skills, such as communication skills.
Knowing your gaps shows you what areas you and your team need to work on. Encourage team members to close these gaps. If you are able to expand your collective knowledge or acquire more resources, you can lead your team toward success. As you work toward closing these gaps, you are setting yourself and your team up for achieving your future goals as well.
3. Be proactive in making sure your team isn’t stuck
When your team gets stuck, innovation and productivity slow down. As the leader, it is your job to pull your team out of a slump, and be as proactive as possible in making sure they don’t get stuck again.
Be willing to shuffle people around. Assign new roles to challenge people with tasks they haven’t encountered. This may lead to creative solutions that hadn’t been considered before. Assign new roles to take advantage of someone’s interests or skills, as they may be more inclined to work deeply on a project.
If needed, change who is on your team. If some of your team members are satisfied with average or show no desire to reach company goals, you should consider why. Perhaps they are feeling as though their own goals are not being met. Give them a chance to work part-time in other sectors where they may be able to grow. Fill your team with people who can bring value and energy to the work day, as these are the people who will help propel your team forward.
4. Celebrate success
Know what your team is doing well, and celebrate it! Celebrate both accomplishments and efforts on your team.
Notice when someone is making an effort to improve on a skill or activity, and congratulate them on it or thank them for their effort. Praising efforts is a simple way to motivate employees. If your team members feel as though you are paying attention to their efforts to improve, they will continue to try to improve.
Celebrate personal and team wins. Being recognized for achievements will encourage your employees to continue to improve and work toward goals. Recognize and reward success in each stage of software development before moving on to new stages of your project and setting new goals.
5. Get to know your team
Learn about each member of your team. The better you know them, the more effective your work relationship will be.
Take the time to learn what each team member likes and dislikes. Learn what their strengths and weaknesses are. Find out what areas of work they are passionate about. When you know each employee well, you can assign them tasks that align with their interests, passions, and skills. This improves motivation and increases successes because each team member is working on something they care about.
Learn about the personalities of your team. Know how to coach them and inspire them. Notice who works well together. As a software engineering leader, your team should be focused on the technical issues while you focus on creating a strong, capable team and enabling that team to reach business goals.
6. Build and maintain trust
Do what you say, and say what you mean. When your employees can trust you, it strengthens your relationship.
Set a good example and make swift, solid decisions. Hold yourself to the same standards that you demand of your team. Be confident in your decisions and don’t frequently change your mind or base decisions on personal emotions. Engineering leaders need to use objective data to make their decisions, which will help to build trust within your team. When you are confident and capable, your employees will have confidence in your leadership.
7. Encourage continuous learning
Create an environment of continuous learning among your team. Formal training and informal workshops are great sources for further education, but so is an error made during the workday.
Encourage team members to learn from their mistakes. If you can admit when you’re wrong, your team will be more likely to own up to their mistakes. Each person can learn from their errors and improve upon their shortcomings.
Being a software engineering leader involves leading your team in the most effective way possible to achieve business goals. Identify areas where your team needs to improve and provide feedback, while remembering to celebrate success and encourage learning from mistakes. Don’t be afraid to shuffle team members around after you’ve gotten to know what motivates and interests them, and build trust within your team by being decisive.
Become a better software engineering leader, and watch your team smash their goals.