They say that some are born to lead, but to paraphrase Mr. Orwell’s wonderful line from Animal Farm, “Some leaders are more born than others.” Here are some suggestions of things you can do should you find yourself in a project or team leadership position that will make the experience an enjoyable one for you and your team.
1. Get the big picture. While it may be impossible to be cognizant of all of the details of your project(s), maintain a clear understanding of the scope, major tasks, technologies, and issues involved in the project so that you can offer constructive advice and guidance to your team. If your eyes glaze over while we ask a question, you are not helpful.
2. Provide shelter for your team. When upper management asks for estimates, schedules, resource allocation schemes, and other information, don’t just forward the request to the team and ask, “Hey, guys, what do you think? Can you give me some numbers on this?” Develop your best estimate and then ask for review by the team. They’re busy making the project happen. After all, if you are asking your team to do what is essentially your job, what do they need you for?
3. Have respect. I was once asked by a manager, “Why don’t you respect me?” The answer, upon reflection, is twofold: First, respect is earned, not given, and second, respect is always a two-way street. How can you show respect for your team? Here are some suggestions:
a. Avoid micromanaging. If you know the habits of your team, you will know, for instance, who keeps good notes and issues meeting minutes as a matter of course. You do not have to ask to have these sent out five minutes after the meeting is over. If, after a reasonable time, the information is not forthcoming, then ask for it. Or simply confirm that the person’s usual procedure will be followed.
b. Don’t put your people on the spot. If, during a team meeting, someone is uncomfortable making a commitment to a schedule or deliverable, or reluctant to give an explanation, don’t let him or her twist in the wind. Table the issue for later discussion and move the meeting forward. There may be issues involved that should not be discussed in front of the entire team.
c. Be concise. Ask specific questions. Avoid questions that start with, “Shouldn't we,” “Maybe we,” “What if,” or, “Don’t you think,” etc. This usually indicates that you have not thought the issue through and are fishing, or you’re trying to drive people to your viewpoint. Formulate a plan or idea, then present it to the team for discussion.
d. Let others talk. Listen carefully and try not to interrupt until your team members have had their say.
e. Listen and remember. If you are repeatedly asking the same questions, either you are not listening, or you are asking the wrong questions.
4. Follow through. If you personally decide to take on a task, promise a deliverable, a completion date, or critical decision, make it happen. Don’t wait a few days or weeks and then dump the task back onto the team. Precious time will have been lost.