The ‘How to Become Leader’ courses and books are designed for those who will never become one. A certificate on offset paper and painstaking notes are good for nothing. Leadership is a nature, a way of thinking, a state of mind, you name it. Such a person recognizes their own abilities, whatever the activity is. In this article, I want to talk about my trajectory, and important lessons and also outline the role of people on my career path.
Background Plus The Right Turns
For me, it all started with sports. Before starting my career, I was a professional athlete. I am a candidate master of sports in water polo, and in the past, I was the captain of the Ukrainian youth team. Back then I was already a leader. I have always enjoyed, not so much the governance per se, but rather leading people and motivating them. I never wanted to be a drover and do not take the carrot and stick approach — rather, motivation by personal example. I was particularly well aware of the whip method when I worked on a plant in the logistics department. Those ways of management ran counter to the modern world and were a relic of the Soviet period. Thanks to this experience, I understood what bad management looked like.
Upon leaving the plant, I decided to return to what I was always passionate about — IT. From the age of six, I played computer games, was interested in technology, and all kinds of gadgets were at hand from early childhood. While still at school, I participated in competitions and wrote in C++. My first experience was the front end. Here’s why: for me, at all times, the visual component played a huge role, whereas the dry back end, databases, and logic did not attract me much at that time. I learned the layout, mastered HTML and CSS in just a couple of days, refreshed my existing knowledge, made myself a primitive site, and went to look for vacancies.
I acted decisively. In 2013, there was no hype, the compensation was rather low, and it was not so easy to make your way into the domain. However, there were several paid vacancies in front of me. I used the situation in the market and made a knight’s move: I offered my candidacy to one company for free — for me, it was important to prove myself. I showed my employer that I am ready and love to learn. Even though I had many gaps, they believed in me against all odds, and I am very grateful for this. It was an incredible and enriching experience: I did something different in terms of animation, approaches, and style every day. That was my stepping stone.
Barriers To Growing
The inability to accept your mistakes is a barrier to a true leader. I can also be stubborn and tenacious. But, nevertheless, I can easily reconsider everything and take the side of my colleagues. The older I get, the more I listen. Obstinacy is development’s enemy. A lack of desire to work and internal drive also block a manager’s advancement. The growth process stops when one decides to dwell in the comfort zone. The analogy with sports is applicable and true here: if today you lift 100 kilos, then tomorrow you need to attempt 110.
When feeling stagnation, you need to do something about it. First of all, let your manager know. In addition to natural talent, a person can quickly learn everything, and boredom is a possibility at some point. In this case, ambitions come to the rescue — not trampling on others, but simply becoming the best version of yourself.
The Power Of A Mentor’s Belief
At the initial stage, I was hindered by a lack of knowledge of English, which I was frankly ashamed of during the interviews, and had a serious complex about this. I was afraid to talk, study, and hear English, which was stressful. And again, I always found people who had faith in me in spite of everything, which greatly boosted my development.
My caring mentors were always around to guide and direct me. They instilled a leadership core in me and taught me how to communicate properly with people, be persistent, and even be somewhat cold-blooded. Thanks to mentor support, I learned what is crucial in development, and what is secondary. In addition, I was taught how to work with a business and interact with clients. I was like a sponge: I absorbed only positive experiences and always perceived only the bright side of things.
Communication Above All
From the beginning, I knew that communication was the key. Not contracts, and bureaucracy, but the art of communication — this has became my motto. There were ups and downs and failures, and in all situations, language was the most effective tool to solve them. Trusting and friendly relationships with colleagues and customers is the single possible working culture for any business. Bureaucracy is usually doomed to failure. Papers themselves do not solve anything, they only secure. You need to be able to negotiate.
I clearly realized that being a leader is totally my thing. Communication with people, the degree of responsibility, decision making, working with teams and clients — I genuinely enjoyed all that. And yet, I have always felt the need to move on.
Turning Negative Into Positive
Having some negative work experiences revealed many insights and useful conclusions. For example, you cannot evaluate work by the amount of time spent because it is the quality that matters. Leadership that is unaware of that and professes the “9 to 5” religion is susceptible to failure. After all, in one day, I could do work that was calculated for four. Overtime and vigorous activity were common for me simply because I was driven by passion.
As you develop you need to carefully assess the company you are considering joining. It will not be superfluous to go and look at the office, because some may not provide basic conditions like serviceable chairs, tables, and trivial cleanliness. Again, the bureaucracy I mentioned is to blame: I waited a whole month to replace my chair, which was missing one wheel due to the bulky system. That is, the illusive order, in reality, is sheer chaos.
Having gained a variety of experiences, I understood exactly what I wanted. I like service companies, engineering, and product companies with the engineering soul but not outstaffing.
Pursuit Of Sufficient Freedom
In my current job, I started working as a lead and architect in the web. We built a robust platform for the client and enjoyed both the process and the outcome. But at the same time, I kept wanting more. The work of technical managers fascinated me. As a lead, I was under a dome of restrictions and did not have the opportunity to interact with the client; I had to just mind my own business and stay out of everything else. I was severely limited in my duties. The arrival of another manager gave me carte blanche: I tapped into various tasks and activities, and reached a new level, including in client communication.
Despite the acquired freedom, this was not enough for me: I wanted to fully manage the project. I always thought strategically, knew how to go beyond my competence, and understood the needs. I was wired as a technical manager and even more than that. Since, at that time, I already had a warm relationship with the client, the next step in my career was to move to the position of SDM (Software Development Manager). At first, the new role was tough for me because I had to combine it with the duties of an architect. Despite being overwhelmed, I had a fire in my eyes. Delving into working with a client and budgeting, I felt tremendous encouragement from my mentors, who assisted me throughout.
Six months later, I felt at ease in my position. I was aware that I contribute to the company with quality management, project growth, and good financial performance. I can promote any decision from our side and honestly and reasonably convey what not to do.
Ecosystem As A Mindset
For me, there is no separate company, client, or team. I can’t work on one component because imbalance will follow and disrupt the puzzle. I deal with an integral ecosystem. Perceiving the picture as a whole is an important and difficult skill not given to all managers. At the same time, your task as a leader is to always be yourself, to be consistent as a human being.
“We grow the client, and the client grows us” — a phrase that is forever imprinted in my memory, was said by my manager 3 years ago. We created a solid product, a meaningful solution that ensures long-term growth, and while doing so, we improved ourselves. You give the client more value, which opens up more opportunities.
Insight, Empathy, And Sensitivity
I have a clear idea of the team I work with, what kind of people they are, who needs to be promoted, who has what problems, I feel absolutely everything. Good management is not just about counting money and hiring people. A successful manager subtly understands each colleague reads each like a book. And this is not about intuition but about understanding what a person thinks about, what difficulties, aspirations, desires, and ambitions one has. For me, all of this is significant. There are talents that need to be pushed and encouraged, and others who are lone warriors. Strong social ties are vital: they form powerful teams that will always have their managers’ backs.
Last year, we built a new platform, or rather, rebuilt a new generation of the platform from scratch. There were tons of projects and subprojects, and we constantly worked overtime at a frantic pace. As for me, I worked from June to September without a single day off. This was one of the most demanding and thrilling periods in my life. My team and I shared one heartbeat, and as a result we created a very high-quality, technically excellent product with pieces of our souls.
What attitude should a terrible manager expect? A corresponding one. As a manager, you don’t swing a shovel in your backyard: you and your people constitute a single whole. The end result is 80% dependent on the team, whereas the proper recruitment, management and motivation depend on you. Unlike an autonomous developer, a manager without a team is useless due to presenting zero value for the client. The team shapes one’s managerial success.
Pillars Of Effective Leadership
In order to become a top-tier leader, you need a few things. The first is passion. You have to be motivated and driven by something, and it’s not money. It is a passion for knowledge, management, working with people, anything. The second is the support of mentors throughout the entire career path. And third, being yourself. You don’t have to become someone, let’s say, Steve Jobs. It’s essential to remain who you are, gaining experience and drawing everything you need from people.
Simply put, the future manager is the quintessence of best practices, ideologies and approaches.
For a manager, strategic thinking is a must have. Making a parallel with chess, a leader must anticipate events and think far ahead. It is ok for a developer to think in terms of a specific task, while a manager is required to think within four developer tasks or even more. The project manager or director calculates the moves, this is a kind of political chess if you like. My mentors strengthened my ability to anticipate the client’s desires. I always know in advance what the client plans to do, and most importantly, why. That is, you build cause-and-effect chains and, based on this, work on planning. So, you are prepared for anything.
Self-improvement greatly relies on self-analysis. I have never resorted to training because I am a practitioner, not a theorist. At the university, lectures bored me to death. It was enough for me to open the training manual and look at the formulas. The point is, I can’t sit still, I long for action and dynamics. Instead of watching movies in the cinema, I play games because this is the motion picture under my control. The problem of some people is that even after training they cannot find a solution or answer. At the end of one training, a number of additional questions arise and necessitate one more training or even several. Try to be independent by including analysis and imagination.
An effective manager gladly leverages delegating. Micromanagement leads to nowhere. A common mistake all beginners share is doing someone else’s job because it’s faster, easier and because they can. This is, above all, unfair to colleagues, as you steal the steps of their growth. We must not be afraid to give responsibility: people who naturally belong in the team know exactly how to handle it. Yes, it will be a challenge, but you, as a manager, are there to help, guide and advise. That’s how I nurtured a number of teammates who evolved from middle specialists into great technical managers. Support is also an important factor. If you throw a bad swimmer into the water, he will probably drown. But if you provide a lifeline, even a bad swimmer will cope.
Finally: People And Vibe
Exceptional teams are made of like-minded people. They are on the same wavelength and there is no need to break each other, to impose a certain worldview, culture, or values — these are shared in the first place. Instead of reshaping someone who doesn’t fit, find a new person who initially matches with the whole team.
Soft skills rule the world. Even if you have all the hard skills and technical knowledge, a lack of soft skills will not allow you to do the job either well or quickly. Being better than someone in technical terms is just a matter of time. If I am asked why I hired a certain person, I will answer: I saw the potential, the spark in the eyes, and passion. Even though completing a task might take longer, over time such employees will catch up and be way ahead of others. Therefore, you need to be able to see hidden reserves and talent. Of course, there is always a risk that ambitions will tempt them to leave. A leader’s role is to create a setting that motivates them to stay and shine.
I have had many chances to leave and join other companies. Why haven’t I done it so far? The answer is simple: the current environment gives me a foothold for revealing myself and my personal potential as a leader. Every six months or year bring me new opportunities. The air is always fresh and clean because nothing stands still: new people, processes, projects, and challenges come into my life. Naturally, this is very inspiring.
This article was originally published on HackerNoon.