3 Lessons from a Technology Leader

I recently to spoke on a panel at my company’s annual conference. The topic was focused on the characteristics of a technology leader.  It was a great opportunity for me as I do not get the chance to speak on many “non-technical” topics.

Here are the highlights…

When I was first presented with the question, I brainstormed on the traits I saw in technology leaders that I admired the most.  I also tried to zero in on the leadership characteristics that I’ve personally picked up over the years.  I came up with three things I learned before my career ever started.  Where did I pick up on these?  On the football field.

football

Training

The key to being successful in football is what you do off of the football field.  I have yet to meet ANY successful athlete who reaches a point where training is no longer required.  It is a constant battle to continuously improve yourself.  At a minimum, training is required to maintain your current level of fitness.  The same holds true in the technology field.

training

To be a leader in software development (or any technical field for that matter) training is critical.  How do you train?  By learning.  Constantly learning.  Being at a company that invests in training for their employees helps but, it is not enough.  At the end of the day, you are responsible for your own training.

So what are some things you can do?

  • Join a local user group
  • Read blogs, articles, etc.
  • Follow other technology leaders on twitter
  • Experiment with new technologies and frameworks
  • Contribute to open source projects on github

A technology leader must be knowledgeable.  To be knowledgeable, you must continuously learn!

Team Work

I have always been a Detroit Lions fan.  Being born and raised in Detroit, I didn’t have much of a choice.  During my childhood, Barry Sanders, who is arguably the best running back ever to put on a pair of cleats, played for the Lions.  Unfortunately even with Barry on the field, the team was never able to win a Super Bowl.  There were too many weaknesses in other positions that opponents could find and exploit.  This translated into the Lions winning very few games.

Like in football to be successful professionally, you need to be a team player. You are only as good as your “team”.  If you do a great job but, your team/division/company is not successful then you won’t get very far.  Never have the mindset that “its not my job.”  Be willing to help others, have the patience to teach junior team members, and do your best to keep the “team” in mind.

Perseverance

When I joined the football team in college, the coaches first took me to the strength and conditioning coach and said, “You are going to be spending by far the most amount of time with him!”  At first, I thought that was a bit odd but, boy were they right.

We trained and we trained HARD.  We did things that I didn’t think were possible.  All the while, a negative voice inside my head would constantly be telling me all the things I couldn’t do. Many times, I would hear myself say, “There is no way I can make another <sprint, lap, rep, flight of stairs, etc>”.  I had to grit my teeth, block that voice out of my head, and PERSEVERE!

Through those times, I learned the power of positive thinking and self reflection.  Maybe you didn’t get the promotion you were hoping for or you were excluded from that exciting new project.  Perhaps you underestimated on some deliverables and now your going to blow your deadline.  You keep thinking to yourself that you should quit or your just not as talented as some of the other developers.

Well… STOP!  Leaders do not have that kind of mindset.

Grit your teeth, put a smile on your face, and move forward.  Learn from your mistakes and try again next time.  Keep a positive mindset and you will accomplish more than you can imagine.  You will also be surprise to see how people drawn to that kind of person!

exhausted

Summary

I don’t claim to be a leadership or motivational speaker by any means!  The best I could do is recommend a few authors I’ve read over the years.  That said, I frequently find myself in leadership positions in my field (no pun intended).  Speaking on a panel was fun and a great opportunity to share some of the leadership skills I’ve picked up on over the years.

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