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Listener Question: Jean-Michel Asks, "How Do You Know When It's Time To Lead A Team That Has No Leader?"

Published 11/25/2015

In today's episode, I respond to Jean-Michel's question about when it's time to step up and lead a team that currently has no leader.

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Today's episode is sponsored by OneMonth.com! One Month is the first ever online school specifically for tech entrepreneurs. Enroll now at onemonth.com/developertea for 25% off your first month.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea my name is Jonathan Cutrell. Today I'm going to be talking about how to cultivate leadership amongst a team that does not currently have a leader, specifically a team of Developer That is currently without a leader. The inspiration for today's episode comes from a listener Jean-Michel, I'm hoping I'm getting that right. Jean is in the Slack channel for spec, the spec community Slack which you can join by going to spec.fm slash slack. Now there are currently 2,340 members in this Slack channel. Jean-Michel happens to be a part of the Developer Tea chat room which you can come and talk to us all and see these kinds of discussions and other people's opinions beyond just mine. I would love to have you join. There is a lot of great conversation that happens there. But Jean-Michel is concerned with the situation that he's in and we'll talk about that in just a second. But first I want to thank today's sponsor onemonth.com. If you are a beginner developer and you're looking for a great resource to learn a particular technology in depth for a focused amount of time, one month is a great option for you. In fact, you can learn something like iOS development with Swift or Ruby on Rails to a point that you can create something real in just one month. We'll talk more about one month later on in the episode today. But first I want to talk about Jean-Michel's question. The question is around the idea of being on a team that doesn't have clear leadership. Jean-Michel is on an Android development team. I'm summarizing by the way. He's on an Android development team and they are parallel to an iOS development team. Jean-Michel is comparing the Android team to the iOS team and he mentions that the iOS guys are learning collectively much faster than the Android people are. He's concerned that this is a problem and he thinks that they need a lead developer. He's saying that in recent history, the company that he's working for doesn't hire externally. So somebody is going to need to step up basically. Jean-Michel is concerned that his co-workers are not learning as quickly as they should be and he believes that he is up to taking on this task of being the leader but he's concerned about going to his peers and to his boss and self-proclaiming that he is the leader of the team. So I want to talk about this problem because it is so interesting to me. The idea that you would be on a team without a particular leader, this probably is happening in a lot of situations and it may even be happening in situations where there are currently leaders but they aren't leading in a particular subject. For example, you may have a lead developer who is leading in terms of client relationships but they aren't necessarily leading in terms of technological development or in terms of education inside of the company that you work at. There should be someone who is leading these charges. That is my personal opinion and you can definitely take that with the grain of salt. Some people believe that it is possible for a team to self-organize and have a relatively flat structure and that is certainly worth trying but in this particular case, Jean-Michel is saying that he's seeing that is causing problems in the organization structure that he is working within. So today, Jean, I'm going to talk about four things that you can do to help ease this process of self-proclaiming as a leader. This is a difficult thing to do because of so many of the complications that come along with the non-flat structure in an organization like this. So I want to give you these tips and hopefully you understand the complexity of this and the fact that this is not a one-shot solution but rather these are things to think about, things to discuss with other programmers, things to discuss in the Slack with other people who have been talking about the subject already. So let's go ahead and dive in. I'm going to give you a couple of these then we'll talk about a sponsor and then we'll finish out with the other tips. So number one, take leadership through discussion. Take leadership through discussion. It should never be mistaken that discussion is a powerful thing. You can start and lead the conversation about best practices and by initiating this conversation, you are quite literally leading that discussion around best practices by asking the questions you are giving the floor to create an agreed upon standard for best practices in the organization that you're working in. By starting conversations like this, you have verbally recognized the fact that you are taking on the responsibility of these best practices being brought into your organization or your team. So remember that asking questions is always better than making accusations. You shouldn't go to your team so we'll go through some things that you shouldn't do. You definitely shouldn't go to your team and accuse them of doing bad things because nobody wants to hear that they are doing bad things. Instead, you should talk to your team about what you all agree on that you should be doing. So making accusations puts people on the defense, but if you go and talk about what you should be doing, then people will automatically inspect the things that they have been doing and will be critical of their own practices without you having to be critical of their practices. Now, obviously, once you have set up a standard, then it's important for everyone to be critical of each other's code and to identify when that code falls outside of those standards. But remember that asking questions is always better than making accusations and by doing so, you are taking leadership through discussion and allow people to feed into that discussion. Your job as a leader isn't to make rules, but rather to make sure that the standards and the best practices are determined and followed. In other words, your goal isn't to try to make everyone do everything your way. Instead, your goal should be to facilitate communication, work with your teammates, to determine a strategy for moving forward and for adopting best practices that everyone on the team agrees are a good idea. So make sure that you take leadership through discussion. Number two, lead by example. If you believe that best practices are important, you must personally follow those best practices in your own code in all cases. If you subscribe to, for example, the single responsibility principle, then you must be adamant about practicing the single responsibility principle in your classes. You must practice what you preach. Otherwise, other people won't take what you say seriously. They won't take what you say to mean anything important. And certainly you won't gain their respect. You won't gain any leadership status amongst those people. So make sure you are leading by example. If you believe that best practices are important, you must follow those best practices in all cases in your own code. So I have two more tips for you. But first, I want to talk about today's sponsor one month.com. Have you ever had an idea for a product or an app, but you didn't think that you had the skills to grow it yourself? 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So enroll now at one month.com slash developer to you for your 25% off your first month. That's 25% off your first month at one month.com. As a one month student, you'll get immediate access to the exclusive community of budding entrepreneurs just like you. Again, it's one month.com 15 minutes a day from the comfort of your own home, one month.com slash developer to you. Of course, that will be in the show notes. Enrollment is typically $49 a month, but if you join now, you will receive your first month for 25% off. And as always, you are helping support developer to you. So go and check it out one month.com slash developer to you. And of course, the show notes will include that link. That is that spec.fm. So we have been talking about how to self proclaim as a leader, how to become a leader on a team of Developer That doesn't currently have a leader. And we've already gone through two tips. Number one was to take leadership through discussion facilitate discussion, ask people questions about what they think should be good practices. For example, ask people questions about the things that they feel like your team is doing well and the things that they feel like your team could do better. So number two was to lead by example. All of the ideas that you want to present to the developers on the team that you will eventually be leading, you must also subscribe to those ideas. You should never ask anyone else to do something that you aren't willing to join them in doing as a leader. So make sure you are leading by example. Number three, remember that leadership takes quite a bit of effort. In other words, it is not going to be easy. You shouldn't expect this to be a walk in the park. And this ultimately means two things for you. Number one, it won't necessarily be easy for you. As I've already mentioned, it's going to be potentially a lot of energy. And it may not even come with necessarily a pay raise, right? You may not necessarily see any difference in terms of incentive for you other than the fact that your team is now better. You're now creating a better product. And typically speaking, whenever your team becomes better than you are creating more value in the world. And hopefully if your business is running properly, that value will be returned to you in some form. But the second thing it means to you is that most people don't actually want to put forth the necessary energy to lead. You may be in that small bracket of people who does actually want to put forth the energy that it takes to lead. You may not necessarily see a lot of fight from the other people in the group for that leadership position. So taking that position may actually be easier than it seems right now. It may be easier to become the leader of that group. In fact, you could even talk to them about potentially becoming the champion of the coding practices, the best practices for the group. And it's very possible, if not likely, that they will be totally okay with that. In fact, a lot of people appreciate when someone else takes leadership and provides them with some level of dependability. And Jon, by assuming that role, you could be lifting some stress off of their shoulders. In fact, if you're doing your job right, hopefully you are lifting some stress off of their shoulders. So remember that it takes effort not everyone necessarily wants to be in that job. So prepare for other people to actually want you to be the leader and also prepare for it to take a lot of energy. And my final recommendation for you is to be aware of the connotation of leadership titles. Beware of the connotation of leadership titles. Remember, your goal isn't to become the dictator over the group of Developer That you're working with. But instead, your goal is to institute learning and best practices. You want to facilitate good communication between the stakeholders and the developers of the product. You want to make sure that developers are documenting their work. For example, with sufficient detail about their decisions, you want the code to follow common design patterns so that refactoring down the road is much, much easier. You want to make sure developers on your team are aware of the most important factors of a given project, the most important decision making factors, the timeline, the budget, those kinds of things, that's going to fall on your shoulders to make sure that the developers are aware of those kinds of things. Trying to attain a title can sometimes come with apprehension from the people that you are leading. The connotations of titles that come along with leadership can sometimes suggest that the leader is now dictating every step and every keystroke that I make and that you're looking over my shoulder as the leader. But you must be very clear about this in the process and explain that your intention is to support the team, to serve them and make them a stronger unit. And to facilitate best practices and to encourage learning and constant adaptation in your case, Jon, as Android developers, to become better Android developers, to become better Java developers, to understand the underlying technology, and to truly enjoy the craftsmanship of being an Android developer. So that is your job as a leader is to uncover those things that make your team better, not to be the overlord, but instead to be the support system to enable that team. And if your team understands that, then instead of seeing the connotations of the leadership titles, they will see you as a friend and a confidant, and they will see you as someone who is making their job better, making their life better by creating these systems that make their work sufficiently better. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Jon, I hope that this was an interesting discussion for you, and I hope that this kind of provides some context around how I think about leadership. There are a lot of really interesting and really valid opinions in this subject. So don't just take my word for it. Make sure you go out and read and listen to other people's opinions. There are a lot of experienced people in the industry who have been in leadership positions as well. Make sure that you do that research and understand the way that people perceive and practice leadership. It is incredibly important if you're looking to become a leader regardless of what industry you are working in. So thank you again for sending in the question, Jon, if you would like to join me and Jon in the the spec Slack community, you can go to spec.fm slash slack. All of the notes for today's episode can be found at spec.fm. If you would like to to never miss another episode of Developer Tea, make sure you subscribe in whatever podcasting app that you use pretty much every app has a subscribe feature and I would love to have you as a regular listener. If you are enjoying this show, please consider leaving a review on iTunes that is the best way to help other developers just like you find the show. Thank you so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.