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README: 5 tips on tech leadership to grow your team (and yourself)

If you had 30 minutes to ask a tech leadership coach and mentor your burning questions, how would you use that time?

Last week, our Slack community, Teams at Work, had the opportunity to share their challenges with Pat Kua, former CTO at N26, mentor, and coach. From helping to develop individual contributors, to adapting to hybrid working models, all the way to working with difficult people, Pat shared his micro-coaching advice, and now I’m here to share it with you all.

Here are the top takeaways from our Slack AMA with Pat.

 On delegation and commitment

Q: I have a direct report who started on my team recently. I have given him few tasks to work on and he doesn’t meet them and always comes up with an excuse. Any thoughts on how to improve this?

Pat: If someone is given a task and deadline with little involvement, a normal consequence is that they will be less committed to the outcome. If you can find a way to involve them in deciding what the task is, how it should be done and that they come up with a deadline, they should be more committed to the outcome.

Q: What’s the best approach you’ve seen for giving ICs clear career development opportunities, which doesn’t force them into management?

Pat: I love to create “delegation opportunities” and ask people to volunteer. As an example, one good way of doing this as a tech lead is to create “feature leads” that are mini-tech lead like in responsibility but don’t force them into the management role. If you can, name it, share it and give people an opportunity to take part in it.

 On motivating your team

Q: How can a team lead have a motivated team? What is the key to it / what are the keys?

Pat: There are a few things I consider when thinking about building a motivated team. I think about the difference between extrinsic (e.g. external reward like bonus) and intrinsic (e.g. meaningful) and research shows the latter is more powerful (see Dan Pink’s Drive for good reading).

I also tend to think of the Ikigai model (where leaders are trying to align opportunities in the environment with what people want to do/what adds value) as this is a win-win situation.

I also tend to watch out for demotivators in the environment (e.g. processes, ineffective feedback) and what I might do to remove them or at least minimise them. A different way of thinking about this, is building psychological safety (see the Google Project Aristotle work) that allows people to try things without fear of negative consequences.

 On helping your team members grow

Q: Do you have any tips for helping the people you’re coaching to discover their professional goals (if they don’t already know them)?

Pat: I haven’t discovered a magic solution to this. If you do, let me know. There are a few things that I do to help:

  • Exploring role models — when someone has something concrete, that can definitely help

On making space for others to show leadership

Q: How do you make space for others to take on leadership opportunities, when you are in a formal leadership role yourself; particularly in the context of early stage companies (runway is always short, and there’s room for mistakes, but not that many)?

Pat: One opportunity if you’re in a formal leadership role is to sponsor people (e.g. put in a good word, nudge/encourage someone) to try something that stretches them. Sometimes people need sponsorship to try.

The second part (making it safe to fail) then comes to what can you do to create quick feedback. This is where check-ins on a daily/weekly basis can be good and state that you expect people to make mistakes but the check-ins aren’t there to berate, but to support and offer them a way to learn. Formal leaders should expect when someone does something for the first time, they will make mistakes but if they’re caught early, or quickly, people will learn and the impact will be minimised

Q: What are some very common low hanging fruits? (Mistakes that a lot of us make that can be solved pretty easily.)

Pat: Some common high-impact areas to focus on:

  • Strong time management skills

These are all skills people can develop/practice before they find themselves in a formal leadership role.

A note from the Bunch team: If you enjoyed Pat’s advice, you may enjoy his full podcast episode with us on Teams at Work. In the episode, he also cites being wary of anti patterns.

An anti-pattern is a behavior that helped you in a previous role but might have negative consequences now. Pat mentions some common ones for tech leaders:

  • Making all the decisions — as a senior dev this may have been true, but as a tech lead, you might be sharing decisions with a product owner, a founder or other stakeholders. You’ll need to listen, negotiate and make trade-offs.

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