Leadership styles

February 18, 2021

Over the years in the industry I have seen a spectrum of leadership styles and every time leadership approaches one end of the spectrum the team morale or ownership tends to suffer. So what are those leadership styles in practice?

On one side we have the visionaries, where the ambition is present but the directions are vague at best. Have you ever faced statements like “Let’s improve customer service” or “Let’s be the best in our area.”? Vision without a plan can work well in the short term as a motivation tool, but the lack of clarity always catches up. It needs to be followed up by a plan.

It’s not wrong for leadership to display ambition towards a product, but a vague direction doesn’t empower problem solvers to actually fulfill this ambition. After all, problem solvers need an actual problem to solve. Having a clear problem statement and a definition of success breeds creativity and ownership.

On the other side we have leaders that go too deep into problem solving without involving the team and end up “delegating solutions”. This has an even worse effect on team morale and growth. Beware of statements like “We will use Kafka” or “We need to migrate X”.

This is usually the style adopted by new leaders that were recognized for their technical skills. It is common for the new lead to feel a big sense of ownership and try to own the entire project or product while still learning how to manage.

Since we are talking about two sides, there must be a healthy middle. So what actionable steps can leadership take to ensure the team grows, feels empowered to solve problems and improve the product?

Set the context

What’s the reason behind high-level decisions? Why should we pursue path “A” instead of “B”? Sharing context is a great way to bring clarity to the team and help individuals make the best decisions for the product. Individuals questioning the path should also be considered healthy.

Identify problem areas

Pointing out opportunities about a particular area and setting success metrics is a great way to empower the team to work on the right problems. From this point onwards the team can explore and figure out the best solution for the problem at hand.

Leverage your network

Identify and invite external stakeholders to do a frank assessment of the team’s work. Making use of your broader network is a great way to ensure that the team will have all the information they need to be successful.

Keep an eye on emerging trends that can influence the product and also pay attention to surrounding opportunities. Leveraging something that another team across the company built or is building is a good example. Partnerships are another great example of leveraging your network and influence.

Ask questions

Sometimes asking the right questions can be more powerful than knowing the answer itself. It shows trust and helps you connect with the broader team. It might even spark innovative thinking.

At the end of the day individuals are looking for something that can help them grow and also achieve something they are proud of. Bringing a clear vision to the table, being fair in our assessments and feedback and providing a good environment through context goes a long way to help everyone achieve their goals.

Bernardo de Araujo

Application Security Manager @Shopify.

© Bernardo de Araujo 2023