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  • Writer's pictureLokajit Tikayatray

How to Have a Balanced Leadership Style

Teams discussing around a woman leader

As a leader, have you ever felt confused about how much freedom you should give your team to make their own decisions on a project?

Have you ever struggled to balance guiding your team and allowing them to work independently?

If so, you’re not alone.

This delicate balance is a common challenge for leaders, irrespective of their management experience.

In the dynamic world of software engineering, tech leaders face the continuous challenge of providing sufficient guidance while also enabling their team’s autonomy.

Striking the right balance is critical to fostering a positive work environment, helping employees’ individual growth, and ensuring the successful delivery of projects.

An effective tech leader is akin to a talented orchestra conductor: they must guide and inspire their team but never stifle creativity or individual talent.

Just as an orchestra conductor leaves space for the musicians’ interpretations, a software engineering leader must allow their team members to exercise their skill sets and ingenuity.

To understand this delicate balance, consider the software development process as a journey.

A capable leader lays out the roadmap, highlighting the path and the destination, but allows the team members to navigate their individual routes. Too much guidance and the journey becomes a forced march; too little, and the team feels lost.

Neither scenario is conducive to success.

Let’s examine this through a real-world scenario.

Imagine you’re leading a team tasked with developing a sophisticated web application. You’ve been given a set of business requirements, and your team is ready to dive into the development process.

Instead of dictating every step, you lay out the broad goals and objectives, explaining the purpose behind the application, the core functionalities it should have, and the business problem it’s meant to solve.

You then allow your team members to conceptualize and design the solution.

Here, you’ve provided guidance and allowed room for autonomy, enabling them to use their expertise to develop innovative solutions.

However, autonomy doesn’t mean leaving your team without supervision.

Regular check-ins or stand-up meetings are crucial to keep the project on track. Use these sessions to encourage team members to share their progress, challenges, and insights. This not only helps in identifying potential bottlenecks but also promotes a culture of collective learning.

The key is to make these check-ins the avenue where the team seeks your help. It is not about tracking who is working and who is not.

Let your team know that you’re there to help, not to micromanage.

For instance, if a team member is struggling with a technical issue, instead of directly providing a solution, guide them towards it. This can be as simple as suggesting relevant resources or introducing them to a colleague with expertise in that area.

Emphasizing the importance of effective communication is another crucial aspect.

Encourage your team to voice their thoughts, ideas, and concerns freely. This promotes a culture of trust and mutual respect, where everyone feels valued and heard.

Autonomy should not lead to isolation. Instead, it should help your team collaborate and grow together.

Autonomy applies to problem-solving too.

Allow your team to deal with challenges to gain experience in problem-solving. Give them sufficient time to find their own solutions. This not only encourages critical thinking and creativity but also builds resilience.

A leader’s role here is to provide the necessary resources and support, not to step in and take over at the first sign of trouble.

Additionally, providing timely constructive feedback is an essential aspect of leadership.

When a project is successful, acknowledge and celebrate the team’s hard work. When things don’t go as planned, instead of pointing fingers, use it as a learning opportunity. Discuss what went wrong, what could be done differently, and how to improve.

The art of balancing autonomy and guidance in software engineering leadership lies in creating a supportive environment that encourages individual creativity and team collaboration.

It’s about guiding your team towards success, not babysitting them to achieve it.

By doing so, you’ll deliver successful projects and help your team learn to be collaborative and innovative.

Simultaneously, as a leader, you also need to learn and adapt constantly.

The amount of direction and independence needed may change depending on the specific team, project, or situation. You should be ready to manage any team based on how the team is and not how you want to make things happen.

As an actionable roadmap for building a balanced leadership style, consider these steps:

  • Set clear goals and objectives: Let your team know the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of requirements. Let your team figure out the ‘how’.

  • Allow room for problem-solving: Don’t rush to provide solutions. Let your team try their options to deal with challenges. Be there to support and guide, not take over.

  • Hold regular check-ins: Use these meetings to track progress, identify potential roadblocks, and provide support, not micromanage.

  • Provide constructive feedback: Celebrate success and treat failures as learning opportunities. This fosters a positive and resilient work culture.

  • Foster open communication: Encourage your team to share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. This promotes trust and collaboration.

As a leader, your role is to build an environment where each member feels empowered to contribute their best work.

Software engineering, at its core, is a creative process. As such, it thrives in an atmosphere of intellectual freedom and supportive guidance.

So, embrace this balance and watch your team flourish in ways you never thought possible.

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