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As one of the senior guys in our development team, I would like to start moving into a lead position. The team leads I have worked with in an Agile development environment have been pretty good, but few of them have been exceptional. I have worked with some exceptional developers, but they are rarely natural team leaders.

Naturally there has been a lot of talk on this topic before, but I would like to go one step beyond good/fair/average.

I would appreciated if you could share some practical examples of the habits exceptional team leads exhibit.

closed as not constructive by jmort253 Jul 4 '12 at 23:30

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    Thanks for the answers, but I am after something more concrete. I am not really questioning what makes a good leader in general, but more specifically in an Agile/Scrum development environment. Do you have weekly code review sessions? Show videos on new trends/libraries/tools? Take the guys for beers? ... – André Hauptfleisch Nov 9 '11 at 9:30
  • Thing is, "practical leadership" seems to be more about responding to a situation and choosing the tools / strategies - having a team, individuals and objectives in mind (but perhaps even more - you own "constitution"). The typical answer must be then about traits and attitudes, and not "something concrete". And this is also what you asked about in the last sentence of your description. Perhaps you are more interested in practical examples then? – Lech Ambrzykowski Nov 11 '11 at 19:26
  • Indeed. I'll rephrase. – André Hauptfleisch Nov 14 '11 at 9:47
  • We're closing list/polling questions as a result of proposed changes in the site scope. See meta.pm.stackexchange.com/questions/353/… – jmort253 Jul 4 '12 at 23:30
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One of the biggest things I've seen in exceptional leads is being aware of the rest of your team members. This includes where their abilities currently are at, where their strengths and weaknesses are, and what their state of morale is. If you can do that consistently, you are much more likely to:

  • Provide explanations / instructions to individuals at a level that they can comprehend without being over their head or sounding patronyzing
  • Ensure that architectural decisions that you make are able to be implemented by the team
  • Know what areas to provide guidance in to help the individuals grow
  • Know when issues need to be resolved
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Leadership has many names. As I was looking how to define leadership in different situations and different contexts I came to Mary Poppendiecks's quote:

“Ability to attract followers is exactly what makes you a leader."

This definition can be applied no matter what kind of team you're going to lead, whether they're going to be software developers or soldiers.

It isn't a direct answer, I know, but the one which can be applicable in the situation, considering a limited description of it. However it also means that there are very different means that lead you to a role of leader.

The interesting observation is that you should more think how to build on your strengths, and not try to cover your weaknesses at all cost. It is because you can't build leadership on mediocrity -- you need excellence.

So ask yourself what your strengths are, why people may consider you a leader, what makes them believe you are a right person to follow. Don't look for these answers in general context -- look for them in a very situation you're in, as you will inspire different people with different traits/methods.

For more elaboration please refer to a presentation titled Being a Leader, which I built over the subject.

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Here are few quick, concrete suggestions:

Get to know your team as individuals. What motivates them? Do those things more. What de-motivates them? Don't do those things. People respond very well to leadership and management when they feel like you know them and act like you care.

Say "thank you." And mean it. More than financial rewards or taking the guys out for beers, humans like to be recognized and thanked for their hard work. Jack Welch, legendary CEO of GE was awesome at this. Send a thank you note or thank individuals in front of others.

Set clear expectations. Ask the team what is expected of you, and exceed those expectations. When a team respects your work, you can be demanding of them, and they won't think twice about doing good work.

Be human. Acknowledge the human elements of a team/project while being practical about the business' needs. Admit when you make a mistake. Don't punish others for their mistakes. Always focus on the positives and what can the team do to move forward. Say things like, "I'm really sorry, I screwed ABC up. What do you guys think about this plan to move forward with XYZ?" Or, "I know it sucks that the company decided blah, but we have an opportunity to help the bottom line and look good doing it."

Don't waste people's time. Do standup meetings if your methodology calls for them, but only if they add value to the project.

I know these are all over the place. As others have pointed out, there's a lot that goes into being a good leader, but these are a few things I have put into practice that have really helped.

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First of let me recommend a great mentor, Dale Carnegie. He might be over rated but his teaching are outstanding as long as you are able to implement them correctly.

Being a leader is not about being the smartest member with power and strength. Instead a leader is a friendly person, someone who is able to overcome worry and help other to overcome theirs and cultivate strong mental attitude.

Sometimes a leader does not have to do all the work, except attracting the right people. Think of the success of Steve Job, he cultivated a strong mental attitude and culture within his company, he attracted the right people and has managed to impact the world and technology industry.

Most of the time being a leader is just about knowing how to handle and work with people. You have to be able to understand people, and put yourself in their shoes. A leader itself is very emotional and humanistic.

You are not asking how to be a good manger, so I am not giving you technical advice such as keep logs, organize this and that and so on.

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Make sure everyone else can do their job as quickly and efficiently as possible. Usually you do this by figuring out what the barriers are to a project moving forward and mitigating them. This might be through better organization, splitting up a task into many subtasks, working towards a verdict to a big decision, etc. But ultimately your skill as a manager all comes down to how well the people below you can do their jobs.

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Some traits a leader should possess, IMHO:

First, she generally doesn't look down on people but sees each person as a regular individual, no matter her status in regards to them. This means that she is open to hearing thoughts from the team - feedback, ideas, etc.

Second, she is always evolving, always open to feedback on how she is as a leader. She seriously looks at her performance and tries to improve where necessary. This means cultivating her positive traits and yes, also, very importantly, her negative traits.

Third, she is very communicative. She gives feedback, follows up, asks questions...

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