When it comes to finding your next software engineer team lead, it can be challenging - particularly when picking from an existing team of engineers. A good leader will allow for a motivated, and engaged team who work happily and well. This isn't always readily apparent when the potential new lead is operating at an individual contributor level.

In order to decide the right person for the job, you need to have objective insight into what's happening in the team, as well as who it is that is standing out.

1. Find the effective Team Builder

A team which works well together is going to be more efficient, and more content, and more motivated. It should be the priority of every leader that their team can work happily and well together.

You want to find a leader who can identify the strengths within their team, and allows them to work as a cohesive unit - as well as ensuring that they can keep the team on track, supported, and motivated.

You can see this in several ways - look for the software engineers who look out for their team members, and provide assistance where needed. By looking at where individuals are helping others, you’ll be able to see which engineers are going above and beyond in helping out their teammates for the benefit of the team. For engineering leaders, this could mean going through several pull request comments, reviewing where there was input in lines of code within GitHub, subjective feedback from team members and other ways. With tools like Gitalytics, specifically the Active Pairs feature, this can be evaluated in seconds with objectivity and over time periods, events, and repos.


2.  Look for those who can successfully delegate

It’s vital that a leader knows when and who to delegate tasks to. In order to oversee the entire project, a leader cannot expect to do everything themselves - instead, they will need to have faith in their team, and be comfortable delegating tasks to ensure that they don't lose sight of the bigger picture.


Successful delegation requires a strong understanding of the team members, and the dynamics within the team. A leader who understands the strength of the members in their team is going to be able to challenge their team, while encouraging them to rise to the challenge.

woman putting a stick note on the wall
Photo by rawpixel / Unsplash


3. A good leader can rely on team input

From deadlines to delivery times, it’s important that a leader understands fully what is going on at the heart of the team. At all points, your software engineer team lead should be able to look over the project and spot what is going on. They should also be able to motivate the team with goals and task deadlines, to ensure that things run on track.


In order to do all of this, a leader should be able to have the kind of relationship with their team that means they can rely on feedback. A team who knows and can understand that their leader actively seeks them out for input is more likely to be engaged and motivated by the tasks at hand.


4. Look at who is motivating the team

brown dried leaves on sand
Photo by sydney Rae / Unsplash

When it comes to looking at an existing team for leadership potential, look to the developers and engineers who work to motivate those around them. The engagement of team spirit is a vital step to ensuring that the team works productively together.

Bias can play a large part in this indicator. This is because how people are motivated and how they get energy can vary quite a bit. So the person's style who gets you amped up might not be motivating for the team, and might not adjust their style for others. A great example of this is some people are really motivated when hearing Tony Robbins speak, while others may find his style disingenuous.

A way to gain objectivity for software engineers in who is motivating the team is by viewing how much individual engineers are helping other team members with reviews. Through these reviews you can see who is providing supportive and positive comments and language, and who is just focusing on getting the task done. This is a also great way to see who is proactively reaching out to assist their team members and ensuring the smooth running of the team.


5. Who are the natural coaches?

Inevitably, there are going to be times where things go wrong - either within the team as a whole, or on a specific project. These are the times when it’s important for a leader not to get caught up pointing the finger or trying to force blame onto other people.


A team leader in software development needs to understand the root of the problem, and be willing to help the team overcome them. Once the problem has been resolved, a talented leader will not only learn from the problem, but also guide the team on how to learn from the mistake. This can include choosing quality control of coding, or making sure that the working conditions for various tasks are ready. Oftentimes, the leader will be learning alongside the team what works and what doesn’t in their specific environment.


Taking problems and challenges as an opportunity to coach, rather than chastise, is an effective way to see who is going to make a good team leader. Leaders that are overly critical or who shift the blame when it comes to mistakes can completely wreck team engagement.

man wearing hoodie watching three people running on field
Photo by Kevin Maillefer / Unsplash


6. Their approach to Problem Solving

Problem-solving is a vital step when it comes to being a successful leader. The role is dual-faceted in this way - a successful leader will take the necessary steps to minimize problems, while also being direct and confident enough to challenge them head-on when they inevitably happen.


Rather than seeing problem-solving as a case of crisis management, leaders should be able to calmly guide their team through the stormy waters of problem-solving, so that mistakes can end up as positive results. This can involve many different stages - from ensuring that a team works to specific guidelines, and has an understanding of the problem-solving process, to being open enough and approachable enough that the team does not hesitate to get in touch.


Understanding that not all problems are created equal is also vital for anybody in a leadership role - it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes things have gone wrong, and to then course correct accordingly. This can involve giving people more time, or more assistance, or allowing for a momentary shift of focus.


7. Look for a sense of Integrity

One of the more transparent ways you will find your next team lead is by looking at the consistency of your team members. When actions, expectations, methods and outcomes are aligned, you know that you are looking at a person with the right level of integrity.


Integrity is a vital trait in a leader as they often need to lead by example. Finding people who can do this is an excellent step to finding your next leader. It will allow the team to have faith in their leader, and solidify a powerful team dynamic. When looking at your existing team structures, you may even find that certain people already set themselves above the others through their quiet integrity and motivating spirit.


Above all else, a successful team lead will know and understand how to work for the benefit of the team. As a route for success they will be as interested in the team’s well-being as their own. By looking for the kind of open discourse and assistance of their team members, you’ll be able to spot those talented engineers who would make an excellent team leader.


Of course, never forget that your engineering insights dashboard will also give you the opportunity to find empirical data to back up your hunches - by accessing the information on dashboard like Gitalytics, you’ll be able to see the real-time impact of your team leader, and how effective they are for the team as a whole.