How to Grow from “Thought Leader” to Actually Leading

There are many gates you’ll need to pass through.

How to Lead Yourself

  • First, learn to take responsibility for your own work. Deliver what you say you will, make it clear when you can’t, be organized, etc.
  • Next pay attention to how your work affects others on your team. Don’t throw work over the wall… learn how to collaborate well.
  • From here, think about how you can do things that yield a multiplier effect for the rest of your team. Pay attention to net-net outcomes.

You can stop at this point if you want. Not everyone wants to be a leader-of-people and that is totally OK. Be a learner, a fixer, etc.

Want to go further with the human leadership stuff? Great!

How to Lead Your Team

  • Become a team lead, and learn how to communicate “up, down, and sideways” well.
  • You should know how your team fits into the larger goals of your organization, and it’s your job to align your team to those goals.
  • It is also your job to communicate to your organization the needs of your team, so you need to understand them well. Do this one-on-one.
  • At this point as a team lead you may still be doing production work, but do not allow yourself to be on the critical path.
  • Teach others your tech skills. Systematize the knowledge that’s buried in your head.
  • In cases where you can’t fully remove yourself from a process as an active developer, at least optimize things as much as possible.

At this point, you can stop if you want. The world needs plenty of in-the-trenches leaders. Many of the toughest decisions happen here.

Want to keep going farther down this road? Go for it!

How to Lead Your Industry

  • Abandon your tech specialization in day-to-day work. As you go into a more pure leadership role, you will no longer be close enough to a single project to micromanage its implementation details.
  • This is a good thing, because in a higher level of leadership, treating any one project as if it’s the core focus is dangerous.
  • At this level, your job becomes: How do I max out our communication capabilities, speed up our learning cycles, reduce $$$ risks?
  • There is some high level purpose for which your organization exists. Figure it out, teach it, design processes that sustain it.
  • If you do work in higher-level leadership effectively, it is still profoundly technical in various ways. Businesses are complex systems.

At this point, you hit the hard part: Giving up operational control of lots of the small decisions, learning how to properly delegate.

This is the point I’m at right now, so I can’t go any farther. But I hope it helps.

If you enjoyed this post and are involved in software development in some way, you may also like my book, Programming Beyond Practices.
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