There has been a lot of discussion about leadership for a long time. This blog is a derived transcription of the TestFlix talk by Raj Subrameyer that highlights the 4 key leadership traits that can make anyone an effective leader. Raj is an International Keynote Speaker, Author, and Tech Career Coach who helps people to land their dream job and become successful leaders. Connect to Raj on LinkedIn by clicking here.
The Story That Changed Everything
Before we get into the strategies, let’s start with a story. I got into leadership roles way back in 2013. I still remember my first leadership experience. I was working for a travel booking company and was chosen to lead the entire mobile testing division.
I wanted to be the best leader that people can have. So, I put in so much effort and made sure I was invited to every meeting. I was included in every email chain, I talked to every person and within two months of doing this whole thing, I slowly started realizing that I wasn’t finding time to do the main task that I was supposed to do. I was missing deadlines and I was under a lot of stress.
One day, when I got in my elevator, I was working on the eighth floor of the building and my direct report was in the elevator as well. Once we reached the ground floor when I got out of the elevator he said, “Hey, Raj! You seem stressed. Are you doing okay?” Then I told him I wasn’t stressed. He proceeded to ask me if he could offer me feedback.
I said yes to him and that moment changed my life. He was telling me that I was micromanaging the team. I was trying to get invited to everything and then I was trying to manage every minor detail of the project. He was telling me that it was stressing other people out. This is when I realized that I’ve been a micromanager. While thinking that I’ll be the perfect leader, I was micromanaging people. I wanted to change this behavior about myself.
So, that’s when I started researching a lot of resources related to leadership. I started shadowing other great leaders, reading a lot of books on leadership, and listening to a lot of podcasts. After years of research in trying to figure out how to become a great leader, I finally cracked the code.
It all boiled down to these four leadership traits which will be mentioned in this blog. It can make anyone a great leader.
The 4 Leadership Traits You Need To Work On Now!
So, here are the four strategies which you need to know right now to get you to the next level.
1. Effective Communication
The first thing you need to have is effective communication and when I say communication, it hits multiple factors. First thing is, you really and truly want to follow agile practices. So, what do I mean by that?
How many of you have heard that your companies are agile? But then they don’t do a lot of stuff like daily stand-up meetings, retrospective meetings, planning meetings, backlog meetings, grooming meetings, team meetings, and so forth.
Just don’t use agile as a fancy word but truly follow it because that’s when you involve the team and that’s when there’s effective communication. So, have daily stand-up meetings where you talk about what went well yesterday, what you’re going to do today, and what obstacles you have.
Teams have a retrospective meeting where you analyze when people are doing the sprint, and what needs to be improved. You can have those meetings which encourage and foster communication and that’s when people feel like ONE UNIT – ONE TEAM.
Investing In Collaboration Tools
The second thing is investing in collaboration tools. Now, in this day and age where everyone is working remotely, make sure you spend some money to have a good webcam, a good headset, and good microphones. You must use collaboration tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Zoom and make sure that is not a bottleneck for your team to work together. That is something as a leader you want to constantly keep thinking about.
Trust me, investing in collaboration tools is going to help build high-performing teams.
The next thing, when it comes to effective communication is in creating socialization.
What I usually do when I’m managing my teams is have virtual happy hours every Friday. So, people come on a zoom meeting and then they give more insights into their life like they show the dogs, their kids, we drink beer, we talk about life, and that is a setting which you want to have because work shouldn’t always be about only business and task.
Sometimes, you also need to get personal with your team. That’s why having virtual happy hours help. When you’re in the same vicinity and closer to your team, you could meet them in person from time to time. Take them out for lunch and increase their communication.
Another thing that I remember talking about increasing socialization is what one of my friends does. He’s a CIO of a startup in the Bay Area and every time he gets on the zoom meeting, he asks the same three questions to his team.
The first one is that he asks his team how they are doing.
The second thing he asks is what is something they are happy about.
The third thing – what is that one thing they are looking forward to this week? He then spends the first five to ten minutes just talking about that with all his team members and that brings the human connection as well. So, effective communication is the first piece you want to work on, and the things I mentioned come Under the Umbrella of effective communication.
2. Empower Your Teams
I believe in empowering leadership and that’s my style of leadership too. I’m super clear on what is expected from each person. So, I set goals, expectations, and deadlines. Then I motivate the person to develop them. Post that I let the person run the show while I’m in the background supporting them. I check on them and make sure they’re getting all the necessary resources to perform their job better.
I think that’s how work should be and that’s the type of leadership that is going to help motivate your team as well. So, empowering teams is something I’m focused on. Talking about empowering teams, here are some strategies that I’ve followed that work wonders for my team.
- 1:1 Meetings
- Rotating Responsibilities
- Peer Coaching
Have 1:1 Meetings
First thing, make sure you have one-on-one meetings with your team. It’s so important because, in this setting, a lot of people open up and they talk about what are they going through. Whether they’re liking their job, or what are some obstacles they’re facing. Those are some things you want to focus on during one-on-one conversations.
The next thing, I used to do about empowering teams is to have rotating responsibilities. So, every Sprint was usually a two-week sprint and in every Sprint I used to rotate the responsibilities of people. So, if there’s a tester I would ask him or her to be a scrum master for a sprint, and if there’s a developer I would ask him or her to be a tester for a sprint. Of course, we planned the tasks accordingly as well.
We used to carve out some time for the other person to shadow the actual person to get insights into what their life looks like daily. In that way, a lot of things happen. One is people get insights into another person’s job, the second thing is they figure out different interest areas, and lastly, they get more empathy when they see a tester doing their work or when a tester sees a developer doing their work or the developer sees a scrum master doing their work. It is something that helps to increase transparency and then get new ideas.
Within the team, another thing I used to do was peer coaching. Just a thing folks, say you’re a team of 10 members, instead of looking for training elsewhere you already know that there are a lot of strengths within.
Your team itself has a lot to offer. For example, a developer would be really good at Android development and a tester would like to learn Android Development. So, why don’t you just pair up the developer with the tester and let the tester learn from the strengths of the developer?
So, what I used to do was I got peer coaching or buddy coaching into the system. There I’d assign people based on their interest areas with each other and they learn together. It could be during lunch, it could be after work, or you can have one hour of time every week just for buddy coaching sessions and that helps to empower your team.
3. Feedback Loops
The third thing to make you a great leader is effective feedback loops. Feedback is really important because you need to know how you’re doing from the strength perspective and improvement areas as well.
So, here are some ways you can set up effective feedback loops as a leader. You could give proactive feedback and reactive feedback.
So, what do I mean by that? Proactive feedback is when, for example, a person who is one of your direct-reports is going to give a presentation in a meeting. You can proactively tell that person by saying hey I know you’d like to go into data quite a bit but in this crowd, we have business folks. So, talk more about the impact on the customer.
Now, we are proactively telling a direct-report and giving him or her feedback such that they can act based on it. So, that is proactive feedback.
Then comes reactive feedback. Reactive feedback is when a person does something and then you immediately give feedback. So, for example, let’s take the same use case.
Suppose, the person gives a presentation and then he focuses a lot on data. Then you get out of the meeting and say, “Raj, could I talk to you for a second.” So, take the person to a corner where there’s no one else and tell them they did a great job on the presentation but there are some things they can improve at for the next time. Go on telling them if it wasn’t an audience of business folks then they probably want to focus more on the business impact rather than just focusing on the data because that’s what they relate to. That is reactive feedback. You are reacting to something which happened and then you’re giving feedback. It is something you want to keep in mind.
Managing Collective Feedback
We already talked about one-on-one meetings which are a great way to give feedback as well. Another place where you can give feedback is to have an all-hands meeting with all your team and then have open discussions about what’s happening in the project, and where the company is going, and then encourage questions from people that really help. During retrospective meetings, at the end of every sprint, use it as a venting session where you say what you want for the next hour.
Let people know that you’re gonna talk about any feedback they have and whatever they say stays within the four walls. Nothing goes outside when you give that psychological safety to people. It encourages more feedback and helps the team get better. So, those are some things you could do from an effective feedback loop standpoint.
4. Increasing Visibility
The final thing is increasing visibility. This is the thing folks; when you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing; people do not feel motivated to do things. That’s why you need to increase the visibility of people’s work. So, what you need to do is periodically let people know how what they’re doing is leading to progress in the project.
What I used to do is utilize different tools. There was a progress tracker and it was mapped to the overall project goals and objectives. It would show through a bar graph how each person’s work is helping contribute to the overall goal of the project. There are many tools to do that and in that way when people visually see how their work is contributing to the project. It makes them more motivated to do things.
That’s why focus on increasing visibility. Make sure everyone’s work is heard and everyone knows why they’re doing what they’re doing. Let them know how it aligns with the project goals. So, those are some ways you can increase visibility.
So, in summary, if you want to be an effective leader, or if you want to get into leadership roles and make an impact in your organization keep in mind that you have to follow these four leadership traits:
- One is to have effective communication;
- The second is to have effective feedback loops;
- And then empower teams;
- Finally, increase the visibility.
I have a blog post mentioned at the end of this post. When you click on it you’re going to see the eleven leadership traits which I follow regularly. They would be a good add-on to these four traits which I just talked about here, and it gives you insights into how to become the effective leader you want to be. Stay inspired!
Raj’s Blog: https://www.rajsubra.com/blog/2019/03/20/11-essential-traits