Not-a-Team-lead anniversary

I’ve gone one year without being team lead anymore.

Fading Soft Skills

Looking back, it’s surprising how quickly I untrained soft skills which were hard to acquire like:

These soft skills need to be practiced with regularity to keep them around2. Time let them fade, but gave me more self-reflection. My biggest realization:

While my job title was team lead, I was a team manager.

Going From Developer to lead for the 1st time

When promoted, I followed the helpful foot steps laid out for me: I continued practices and kept structures my (good and experienced) predecessor had put in place. I mirrored what I had seen — “fake it until you make it”.

The good bits

Besides “human resource” management, my job was to manage expectations in all directions. Making sure work was smoothly shipped in line with the growing demand. Ensuring the business could rely on the team like on a well-oiled machine.

I was good at it.

Manager ≠ Leader

But I did not set fundamental directions — I felt trapped between a multitude of forces pulling and pushing me in different directions, commitments, and responsibilities. I did not break free of them.

It’s painful to hear what followed: Two restructurings with massive churn. The product is in a buggier state than it was in when I left. Rarely am I in touch with ex-colleagues. To conclude: It does not feel like I built something lasting as “team manager”.

Do I miss heading a team? I’d lie if I’d say “never”.

Footnotes

  1. Which I had to re-learn quickly though.

  2. Which lets me wonder whether it’s required to pick between working as an individual contributor vs. in a “people position” at some point.

  3. Some prematurely, based on the organization’s hunger for more mid level overhead.

  4. And did not always manage to find the right words to the right points across. I’m also guilty of selling opportunities the organisation had in stock instead of giving advice how to get the things people were actually striving for.

  5. To be fair, it’s an old-school multi-national, the software division was a few hundred heads strong, and there was at least 4 management layers further up. It’s highly questionable I could have done anything about things had I tried stronger.