Let me state the obvious: as a tech company grows, more employees need to step forward and start managing others.

What is not very obvious is how you choose those people. The first question is: are you going to hire them from outside, confident that their previous experience will be enough, or will you promote witty guys already working in your company? I think both ways are fine as long as you have an idea of what skills are needed by a manager of a group of technical people, with this awareness you will be able to train and find perfect candidates. Here at Zuru Tech Italy, we grow fast, from 5 people to 30 in less than three years, so the training of technical leaders is a matter we discussed and experienced, and if you have some spare minutes, I’m going to tell you how we find and create leaders here at Zuru.

At the end of the series, you will know what we do here at Zuru and what we think. Also, I experienced all this process myself, partially as a trainee, and entirely as a trainer; hopefully, sharing my experiences with you all can be somehow helpful for you and your company!

Let’s go with this mini-series of four articles that will take you 5 minutes of reading each!

Before starting

First of all, beware that there is no universal way of doing this, this is our approach, and we achieved that with some trial and errors, it worked for us, it may not work for your company.

A cornerstone of this article is that: when evaluating leaders what you value as soft(secondary) skills become more important than the hard skills, even if they are technical leaders who do manager work and continue to do some “manual labour”. Sure, a technological leader still needs to know how to do his job and strive for perfection so he can push himself and his team members to a new level of competence and performance, but you will not be able to do that only by being good at the hard skills.

After clearing that point, there is another reason for hard skills to be secondary: they change between jobs. Let me make an example if you are a software developer, you need to know how to code and if you are a 3D modeller you need to know how to model, but if you are a software developer lead or a 3d modeller lead you need the same set of soft skills.

That said, let’s talk about these skills!

Hard Skills

Hard skills are easier to deal with, so why don’t we get rid of this part first? If your company plans to train an employee, it should already be able to evaluate their employees’ hard skills since he works every day in that company. Instead, if your company plans to hire, you should already have a proven mechanism of hiring capable people! If you don’t have it, it is worth investing in it since it will make a difference in the long run.

So these are the undeniable hard skills needed to be a leader:

  • Be able to do the job: a technical leader should be competent in his role, e.g., a software team leader, you should be able to code with a mid, or better senior, degree of experience. This competence will give him the ability to read and write good code and to help others grow and correct their mistakes.
  • Be competent in the tools used by the company: a technical leader will need to help others using the daily work tools, e.g., source control, and sometimes he should be able to use different tools only required for management, e.g., administration of holiday approval.
  • Knowledge of the company: every company has its standard, its process, its objective, a technical leader should know them so he can lead everyone in the proper direction, the one the company wants to go; e.g., a leader needs to know the company code style if he is going to check other people’s code. If you sum up the ability to do the job with the tools used by the company and with the standards your company requires, you will have a leader able to produce work that has value in your company.

Soft skills

When you know how to evaluate hard skills in your company, all the focus will be on finding an employee with excellent soft skills, and you will find a good leader.

Since softs skills will be the core of the next article, we will focus only on the most critical soft ability for a leader: Communication.

A person may be able to do his job with his eyes close, and his hands tied: this will not make him a leader. Suppose he cannot communicate with other human beings, and listen to them: he will end up in unnecessary fights, misunderstandings about the objective the teammates should achieve with their next task. A leader who cannot communicate will have to fight against a lack of respect, and distrust in his ability to lead and listen to others’ needs.

While in a lead role, your colleagues should look at you as a source of stability and an ally, not their Boss: a leader should be reliable and able to help them with their daily work. Beware, he is not here to solve other people problems, it could happen when there is something complicated to do, but they should know that he got their back all the times, here some example:

Problem: “I’m not able to achieve this technical goal”

Possible answers:

  • “Have you tried this and that?”
  • “Okay, no problem, let’s look at it together!”

Problem: “I have this problem regarding HR.”

Possible answers:

  • “Sure, I see what I can do for you by talking about it with these people if you are fine with it. Or you can talk directly with them if it does not bother you.”
  • “I understand your concerns, and you should talk about it with this person in the company who can handle your situation. Also, I can be with you during the discussion, if it makes you more comfortable.”

Every hard and soft skill will have no value if a leader is not able to communicate with others. How is he going to coordinate your members or empower them if he is not able to communicate with them effectively?

Conclusions

The path to the team leading is made up of stones of soft skills while the hard skills keep the leader’s balance. The first stone is to be good at communication. We will talk about the other stones in the next article! Stay tuned!

For any question or talk, you can find me at my work email loris@zuru.tech and on linked-in.

Image made by Pablo Stanley. Free for commercial or personal use. CC0 Public DomainLicense. https://www.humaaans.com/