Collaborative Leadership

Posted 2012-05-10
Written by Matt Frost
Category code

The old style of project management was more of a heavy handed, assume the worst about your employees, and discouraging management style that often hampered productivity.  If we eliminate the idea of project management as an individual role and practice, we see greater returns and have happier employees and clients.

Heavy Handed Doesn't Work - People don't work well with someone looking over their shoulder, I don't know if there is scientific proof behind this idea or not.  Frankly, I don't really care.  If you give a developer a complicated set of requirements and then force them to dedicate even a sliver of their brain to wondering what their boss is going to think.  You aren't going to get good results.  Unfortunately people that manage this way are probably managed this way.  Reporting to a pissed off boss is going to piss you off.

Let My People Think... - If you manage developers and you aren't a developer you don't fully understand how much thinking really goes into developing software.  Idle hands aren't a bad thing in this field, they really aren't.  What we do can be very mentally draining and if you don't allow a developer to get up, play a game of ping pong, take a walk, clear their mind, you're going to burn them out.  Burnt out developers write bad code, developers who are burnt out because they feel like their job depends on it typically leave.

Lead People - I'm fortunate to work for an employer that understands the process.  It's not that my boss at the newspaper wasn't smart, he just wasn't a software engineer.  I was scared into writing code that I wasn't sure would work, for fear that I would get a bad review or come off as being lazy or disinterested in my work.  In the newspaper industry, being lazy, disinterested, or bad is surely a one way ticket to lay-off-ville (so is being promoted to middle management...).  I function as a project lead and senior developer in my current position, which is fantastic because I'm in charge of my projects and everyone wants to be in charge.  I've resolved to not use fear or intimidation to run my projects.

I have found that by rolling up my sleeves, doing some of the same tedious tasks that my team members do, and serving as more of a mentor and a resource; that the results often turn out reasonably well.  In cases where there are performance issues, it's much easier to sit down with someone and ask how they're doing, how they like what they're doing, and if they need anything than it is to take their shortcomings and rub their noses in them.  People who don't have their guard up all the time are much more receptive to corrective action (notice it's not punitive, it's corrective).

In a lot of cases, performance issues aren't one person just doing a bad job.  As team leaders, we have to look at ourselves and honestly determine whether or not we are communicating clearly and providing our team members with the resources they need.  I find myself asking people often, am I explaining this clearly?  As a leader, it's my job to lead my team and if things aren't clear, it's my responsibility to clarify them.

No Ego - Being a leader isn't being the boss, being a leader is communicating in a way that makes the team WANT to follow you.  When you start skimping out on work, or assigning the sometimes menial things that need to be done to other people, you lose respect.  A good leader is respected because they're fighting alongside their team.  By serving and enabling your teammates, you show solidarity and communicate respect.

If you are a manager in any type of setting and you find yourself having to answer to the big bosses, do me a favor and try this out.  It will take some time, because your employees have seen you as unrelenting and overbearing; but take some time to pull in each team member individually.  Ask them how they are doing, if they are having trouble with anything.  Invest a little bit of time into affirming their contributions.  I know the old style requires that you assume the worst, but try it for a week; assume the best of your employees and see if efficiency doesn't improve.

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