How to choose a Team Lead

Are the Team Leads being promoted based on the right skills? Are the technical skills enough to be a good Team Lead?

There is a general consensus among the developers in the startup scene: We are not happy with our Team Leads.

We enjoy working with our colleagues, we learn from them every day. We admire the founders of our companies, how they grew from nothing to successful entrepreneurs. Our Team Leads are experienced tech-savvy and good engineers, why don’t we like them?

The Team Leads are being promoted based on the wrong skills. Being old in the company helps to know the product and being a tech-savvy can be useful with technical problems and finding new solutions. But these skills are not enough:

  • A strongly opinionated good engineer will demotivate the developers because their opinions are usually ignored.
  • A non-empathic tech-savvy won’t be able to address some problems between other developers.
  • A technical genius that is not open to teaching won’t make the developers grow or perform.

What does a Team Lead do? It is a managerial position. A Team Lead should not:

  • Take all the decisions. She enables her entire team to take better decisions.
  • Write the best code. She gets better task definitions to make the team write the best code.
  • Focus on her own performance. She focus on taking care of her team, making them perform, grow and stay motivated.
  • Be the most talented developer. She empowers her developers and recognizes talent to hire the best ones.

Then, should Team Leads be promoted based on personal skills? Yes.

Startups need to stop promoting Team Leads based on their performance as developers. The skill sets to be a programmer and a Team Lead are very different.

The technical skills are required but, additionally, an excellent candidate for a promotion should be communicative, a good negotiator, empathic, knows how to motivate people, cares about her colleagues and enjoys teaching others. Those make great leaders.

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