How do I become a Team Leader

By manish_p manish_p Points: 50 | Level: Starter | Status: [Member]
Posted on: 9/23/2010 8:05:16 AM | Views: 7109 | Points: 30
I have more than 6 yrs of Experience as developer ( 2 yrs as ASP 3.0 and rest as in .Net). What skills are required to be team lead and Where should I be focus more, Technical knowledge or Functional Knowledge or Domain knowledge. I have worked on many domains like Healthcare, finance Travel, manufacturing. Please advice

Sainath's Advice on Tuesday, November 30, 2010 :
Hi Manish,

Becoming a Team Leader is critical point in one's career. It goes without saying that you need to have a strategy in place to achieve the same. By strategy I do not mean smart moves but rather taking a series of actions and growing to the point as a person where you truly start deserving the Team Lead position and are quite literally, voted to power.

"Anyone who has taken up the responsibility to lead a team can be successful only if he is sufficiently independent,powerful and influential in his own right to become a person to reckon with.

Be active ! Take on responsibility !"
    - Former President Bharat Ratna A.P.J Abdul Kalam in "Wings of Fire", Universities Press

In 1 line, the way to the top is simple - "Take additional responsibility.", usually beyond what your existing role demands and prove that you are capable of producing bigger results. Do this consistently and people above you, around you and below you in the organizational hierarchy will sit up and take notice.

Develop skills in the below areas:

(1)  Hard Technical skills

In the IT space, it goes without saying that you should be upto the mark technically. You should be able to resolve all the major technical problems in your project. Moreover, you should actually help your colleagues whenever they face a roadblock, not with the motive of outperforming someone but rather with the genuine intention to help. In the long run, feedback about your positive contribution will start reaching your reporting managers. Usually, this kind of a feedback loop takes about a minimum of 6 months to form but believe me, it is most effective and no management can ignore it.

Also, continuously build your technical skills in parallel. You can do the same only if it is part of your daily deliberate action. This can be classified into 2 key areas - those with a longer shelf life (OOAD, UML,Design Patterns, Architecture & Design,Database skills), basically the fundamental principles and those with a relatively shorter shelf life - Silverlight, WWF,WPF,etc. You need to mandatorily master the fundamental skills and then focus on those hot technologies which are in highest demand depending on the market situation. This dual strategy will yield high dividends.

(2) Be a top class Team Player

To become a Team Leader, you first need to be a flawless Team Player. It means only one thing - Team interests should dominate your thinking over personal interests. You succeed when the project is a success and the whole Team succeeds. Designing the world's best module in a project that eventually fails does not help anyone's cause.

(3) Focus on the customer

Please remember, our salary is neither paid by our reporting managers, nor the CEO of the company but by the customer who has given business to the organization. Also, there is nothing such as a bad customer (they may be demanding to various degrees) but "any customer who pays for a service" which adds to organization's revenue is an important customer.

Customers provide you repeat business, customers refer other customers to you. Your job is to ensure that the market feedback given by your existing customer is positive and good. 1 positive market testimonial is greater than 10 sales presentations done by the marketing team.

Your customers will also give positive feedback about you to your seniors - if there is a 360 degree feedback system or a Customer Satisfaction Review it helps a great deal.

"A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider of our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to do so."
    - Mahatma Gandhi

(4) Develop domain knowledge

You need to speak the language of the customer if you are to build a strong relationship and understand his real needs. This can only happen if you understand the domain which will help you identify the real requirements. The average professional only delivers what the customer asks for, but the top performers go much beyond that, help automation solve most of the customer's pain areas in operation and create value. Once again, the positive feedback loop is initiated.

(5) Develop communication skills

This is a basic necessity - both written and verbal. If this is an area of weakness you need to work on it. I have seen many people from the vernacular medium taking a decision to improve their English skills, working on it for a year and eventually taking off in their careers. Left unaddressed, this will put the brakes on your career. People quickly judge you based on the quality of your communication - once again, you are responsible for the feedback loop which gets created, positive or negative.

(6) Develop leadership skills

The Western world, particularly the US, places a huge emphasis on leadership skills. There are various courses offered in the area. Unfortunately, the same is not given as much importance in India. Leadership skills are learnable and should be approached as such, and growing in leadership is a process, a life-long journey.

Look around, all the top business leaders are heavy readers - despite their time constraints. Why ? Because your immediate office and home environment is a very small well or a frog pond, you stand a huge advantage if you read enough about other business leaders, persons of stature in History, Sports psychology, basically top performers in any field and learn from their experience and recommendations. This is a short cut and a very effective one.

You will never live long enough to figure it all out yourself.
    - Brian Tracy

Yet, only 2-3 % people read consistently. And guess what, 2-3% of working professionals rise to the topmost levels in their respective organizations / businesses.

Aim to be in that 2-3 %, adopt superior disciplines and superior results will follow over time.

Leadership involves having many skills
  • people skills
  • communication skills
  • time management skills
  • crisis management skills
  • planning skills
  • business acumen
  • negotiation skills
  • ability to make decisions, sometimes under pressure
  • recruitment skills
  • and the list goes on
Each of these skills are learnable.

The indirect benefit is that this will also contribute to improving your communication skills mentioned in point 6.

"Dedicate yourself to continuous personal improvement - you are your most precious resource."
    - Brian Tracy in "Great little book on Effective Leadership." , Jaico books

As you can see, becoming a Team Leader in the real sense is having a combination of many skills. After doing all of this, which will take a minimum of 1 year atleast, you may still not get the coveted Team Lead position. This can be due to the below reasons:

(a) Your organization is not growing - new projects, growth in existing accounts is simply not happening

(b) The economy is in recession - people are not seeking new jobs. Promotions can happen only when there are new positions on offer (function of organizational growth) or as replacements for existing positions (function of organizational attrition).

(c) Overall bad organizational culture - if performance is not being recognized consistently, it is time to have a second look at your current organization and evaluate "What next?" a little seriously.

Whatever be the case, if you truly apply the above principles, you will be ready for any leadership position whenever it heads your way, in the current organization or a different organization and opportunity always comes knocking.

Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.Perfect performance comes from painstaking preparation, often for weeks, months and years in advance.
    - Brian Tracy in "Universal Laws of Success", Magna publishing

I hope I have answered your question.


Sainath Sherigar,

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