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From Developer to Leader

Greg Thomas
I write a lot of code. I've also written a book on developers becoming leaders/managers called Code Your Way Up.
Updated on ・3 min read

Reading stuff you posted years ago is always awkward. I had originally written this post as From Developer to Manager but felt the need to update it - so here it is.

The day you make that shift from being a developer to a manager is a profound moment that comes with a slew of new responsibilities. Even though your title now says "Software Manager" or "Dev Manager" or anything of that ilk, the last thing you will be and the last your team will be needing is a manager.

What they need and who you need to become is their Leader.

The biggest struggle that new software leaders encounter is realizing that they need to develop a new set of skills to ensure that they still meet those delivery timelines of getting code out the door while realizing that this can only happen through an indirect method of leadership, coaching and mentoring their team. Sure you might be taking on some grunt work and doing some bug fixing here and there, but the critical features that require focus and dedication - you're not going to be able to run with those anymore.

The first few days after your role change, your inbox/channel will fill up with all these managerial duties you need to start doing - performance reviews, team issues, training requests, a slew of meeting invites, etc, etc. These are manager activities not to be confused with the leadership ones that your team needs.

If you're not sure where to get started, here are a few suggestions that I've employed in the past that have helped me in this role multiple times.

It’s about the People

If you have a pretty org chart that says who is on your team, flip it upside down. They don't report to you, you report to them. Every decision you make is for them, to help them deliver, grow, learn, be challenged and achieve their goals. How do you get this information out of them? You sit down with them, as a team and one on one.

Your First Team Meeting

Don't wait to have "all your information lined up" - which honestly could take weeks. The day after, have your first team meeting. They don't need to hear about all your successes, that's what LinkedIn is for. To run this meeting, all you need to do is ask everyone around the room three questions;

  • What is everyone working on?
  • Is anything blocking you?
  • Where do you need my help?

The last question is key and you should be scribbling down these responses - these are what will define your next week with the team and what your plans are.

One On Ones

There is a ton of information out there on running great One on Ones. All I want to say, is the first few, are awkward as everything. That's a good thing. You need to build that trust and that can take time. Sometimes months of doing these and then WHAM, three months into them when you're about to give up, and the floodgates open. But if you didn't have that awkward silence in those previous three months it never would have happened. In a One-On-One, the goal for your team member is for them to do the talking, you to do the listening. Listen more than you write. And don't reschedule them, this time is sacred, it doesn't get pushed out, it gets kept, irrespective of everything else.

Don't get sucked into huge, theoretical discussions on Team Culture and all that, that can come later. Right now, it's about getting your team going, figuring out what they need and you helping them with challenges they are facing. What you are working on (the products and projects) will filter into everything you are doing, but what matters most is this group of people that are looking up to you for guidance and advice.

Want more? Check out my book Code Your Way Up - available as an eBook or Paperback on Amazon. You can find me on Twitter.

Discussion (1)

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Christopher Wray

Incredible advice! I love the 3 questions that you ask in the first meeting. That makes complete sense. It’s actually really cool that you focus on your team... not the other way.