(This is a guest post from Mauro Chojrin. If you’d like to write a guest post about managing programmers, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org)
TL;DR: watch this scene from Gladiator.
Ok, start by watching this scene from Gladiator 🙂
The very first thing you need to do in order to lead effectively is to win your team over. There will always be time to fix the little nuances of any particular team member if you do this right.
Put yourself in your team members shoes for a second. This is what everyone is thinking: “Here comes a new guy who doesn’t know how we do things around here and is going to be wanting to tell me how to do my job”.
Some of them will be terrified that they have to win over the boss again (or be fired), some will be more feisty and try to prove that you’re not good enough. Anyway, at this moment, remember this: you need them more than they need you.
This realization came to me very clearly after facing the following situation:
I joined a small company as a Sr. Web Developer, I was under the command of a PM. For about 2 years I busted my ass to really make a difference by cutting out fat layers of the framework we used.
Eventually the company got purchased by a larger organization and things got really hard with my boss. Near the end of my third year, she decided to quit. I was convinced I was the natural successor, but then, reality check: I was a complete stranger to the decision maker, so… He appointed one of his men.
Obviously it was a slap in my face but, when I came back to my senses, I thought to myself: “Ok, this could be a learning opportunity. Who knows? Maybe this guy really rocks and, if he is actually better than me, I can follow him to my own development”. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Long story short, one month after he took over, the whole team had left the project.
What happened here? Did he have bad manners? Did he smell? No, nothing like that. His problem was he didn’t give any credit to anything done previously to his arrival.
For instance: the first thing he did was have us switch from Redmine to Trello (Regardless of the loss of issue history, wiki articles, etc…). Then he wanted us to move from our deployment procedure into a much simpler (but utterly ineffective) one. He did all of this with a big smile on his face, in a very calmed tone and stuff, but still… he wanted to change things just for change’s sake.
This caused a lot of discouragement on the team (myself included off course). We saw almost three years of our sweat go to waste in a couple of weeks. Sure, our processes were perfectible, but the timing was terrible.
Following the resignation of my whole team came my own. I took another job where I was going to be the leader of a team I knew nothing about.
Heading to the last interview prior to actually starting working, it hit me. I was to become the very guy I criticized so much! So the first thing I asked my boss to be was why was he hiring an external leader instead of promoting someone from the existing team. His answer was at best elusive (In retrospect, I should have taken this hint and move along, but that’s another story).
So… when I did start working, I decided to take the first month on the job only to learn how things were done around there. Being extremely cautious about my suggestions (but taking notes on the side for later). Only when I was sure the team was on my side I started to make changes to the established procedures.
A few months later I quit this job, but when I left all of the team acknowledged me as their best boss (even though we worked like crazy) and I currently work with some of them in my client projects.
In summary: when you’re on a leadership position, people matter way more than tools or any other resource. How do you win them over? Well, everyone has their own tactics, for me it’s a combination of: honesty, encouragement and most of all, get to know them personally. Yes, take time to actually get to know the people who work for you. Why are they there? What are their goals for the long run? How can you help them achieve those goals?
Trust me, it’s going to make it a little slower at first, but once the team is on your side, you’ll certainly make it much further (And with less stress!).
Mauro is a Technological Strategy Consultant who helps non-technical small business owners seize their technological assets. He lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina and is currently the CEO of Leeway. You can follow him on twitter: @mchojrin