How to choose a team leader. Traits and qualities.

How to choose a team leader. Traits and qualities.

Let’s try to define the basics: what is a team leader? The team leader is the person that serves as the member in charge, the representative, the manager, and the colleague of that specific slice of the business. A team leader is also the person that lives in both worlds: a manager that understands what is needed to be done to move forward but also a colleague that assists and even mentor in the day to day business.

When managing multiple teams, selecting good team leaders becomes one of the top priorities of a unit manager. These specific people need to understand, first and foremost, that they are the part of the few selected that need to take “the vision” and propel it further to each team member to be able to achieve the goals and milestones.

For me, when starting from scratch, this has been one of the trickiest tasks. I had some colleagues that had the raw skills but also a lot of missing pieces. So, in the end, this was a sort of a gamble. Some of my picks turned out to be “out of the box” team leader material some of them don’t.

Can everyone be a team leader?

NO! Not everyone has what it takes to do this job.

Traits and qualities I look for in a team leader

Soft skills and communication are a must

There is no world or type of business where the man in charge of a team is a lone wolf. I did not saw one until now that is successful. From communicating inside the team to understanding the goals and milestones that need to be achieved, being able to do this natively, I believe is one of the most important skills.

When you are leading a team, you need to be there for them, you need to talk to them and help them become better developers.

Not only by technical mentorship (which is not a must) but by also understanding each type of personality, what makes them click, and how can achieve most of them while not pushing them over the edge.

Decision making

I don’t believe there is a lot to say here, it needs to happen. A leader must be able to make decisions and not stay and wait around for others to do it. There will be good and bad, easy or hard but this is something that is needed from this person.

Business understanding

This is something that is linked directly to the goals and milestones part of the unit. A team leader needs to understand what everyone needs to achieve, why we need to do it, and then interpret and reflect this to his own team.

Getting and processing the macro “what and why” will give this person the ability to define the “how” on a micro level and from this point, based on each developer’s personality, he can define the path for everyone.

Accountability and responsibility

When shit hits the fan (not if), he needs to be there and assume it. He is the “gatekeeper” of that team and he needs to be in the first row, not say something like “Hey, this is done by one of my developers, he fucked up, go talk to him.“.

NO, he needs to say “Ok, I understand the issue, let me revert to my team, see why and how this happen and I will come back with a list of actions points that will never get us in this situation“.

Being accountable for your team will benefit everyone. Both external and internal parties will see that you are in charge, understand what is going on, and have a plan to mitigate the issue moving forward.

Long story short: be there for your team and be the one that handles all the bullshit.

Not the best developer but not the worst either

The most senior member is never the best team leader!

This is a common mistake that I have also did in the past.

The technical skills need to be medium, “not good, not terrible”, but more, this person needs to understand and use it to his advantage. When you will get a team leader position you should never get it because you the best from that team. As soon as you get it, you will also see how to use all your team members to achieve your goals.

As a note from my personal experience, a rock start team leader will damage everything. First, the team itself, as no one will be able to rise to his standards, and secondly himself as the level of frustration will be constantly on the rise.

Keep rockstars as rockstars and people with management skills as team leaders.

Planning and attention to details

I’ve seen this in all job descriptions that I came across in the past 5+ years and I believe this is a statement that everyone takes for granted.

For a team leader, I strongly believe, that should be a core trait. Being able to foresee situations and plan ahead will enable him to better manage not only the team itself but also all out of the ordinary situations.

Details are always important, regardless of the job you end up doing. In the case of team management, these will bring you “the spice” on top of the entire oversight.

Awareness, the last but not the least.

I left this in the end, cause this is something more for the unit manager to oversee but I believe is also very important for people who want to be team leaders.

This role is a key role for every organization as lower management is something extremely important for achieving goals and hitting targets. A team leader becomes that key person who needs to, as I said above, live in both worlds.

Don’t forget your place and your role. I saw this happening in my experience and it happened to me directly when one of my team leaders went rogue. In my management style, there is a sort of liberty involved for teams as long as they follow my lead and my vision.

A team leader needs to be fully aware, all the time, of what happens in his back yard but also who he follows and what is requested of him. Don’t treat this lightly as it could be your demise.

In the end, my final suggestion is to always be calm. Keep a cool head, both with your team and with your team leader. Communication and fairness will always be the keys that unlock most doors and solve most of the issues.


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