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Take one: How to Grow as a Leader

Our CTO Stephan Schulze observes three common fails of up-and-coming tech leaders—and offers tips on avoiding them

By Stephan Schulze

A lot of my day-to-day work involves supporting and mentoring up-and-coming tech leaders. I’d like to share three observations of frequent fails:

  • Reorientation: They don’t always recognize or accept that their job is no longer writing code but managing the people who do.
    Yes, they can often do it faster (possibly even better) than the people they lead and get an immediate rush of satisfaction. However, it’s guaranteed to limit their growth as leaders. The impact of an IC (who’s writing code) pales compared to that of an entire team of motivated people. Your job is to empower them by training, sharing responsibilities, and allowing them to make mistakes.
  • Delegation: Young CTOs and tech leads have trouble letting go: They tend to micromanage and refuse to delegate. What do I mean? Well, they might be the only ones allowed to do deployments or database migrations or have the final say on every code review. This creates a dependency that leads to bottlenecks, which curb (professional and business) growth in its broader sense.
  • Collaboration: They’re sometimes reluctant to hire senior developers or collaborate with experienced colleagues, supposedly striving to keep costs low. But that’s a false calculation: There’s a massive difference in competence between junior or mid-level and senior–inexperienced engineers can’t build lean, scalable software that supports future growth; they’ll end up costing more.

These patterns have a common root–a classic case of the Dunning-Kruger effect: You don’t know what you don’t know. This combination of ego and unawareness leads to poor long-term risk management.

A graph of how confidence to speak on a subject develops depending on experience and knowledge. According to the Dunning-Kruger effect, people tend to overestimate their cognitive ability until/unless their competence increases to the point where they become aware of their shortcomings.
Source: Wikimedia

What can you do to skip over these pitfalls? Take a step back and focus on building a solid, diverse engineering team, entrust them with meaningful assignments, and invest your energy where it matters: Being a leader.