5 Characteristics of Successful Engineering Team Leads (that you’re probably underestimating)

Here are five (underestimated) characteristics you can adopt to be a successful engineering team lead.

5 Characteristics of Successful Engineering Team Leads (that you’re probably underestimating)
Photo by Michael Louie / Unsplash

I’ve worked with dozens of engineering teams in my career.

Which means I’ve observed dozens of engineering team leads. And while they didn’t share all of these characteristics. All the successful team leads had at least three of these in common.

Here are five (underestimated) characteristics you can adopt to be a successful engineering team lead:

Characteristic 1: Ability to “Manage Up”

New team leads worry about having a team to manage. But successful team leads are also mindful of “managing up.” They anticipate the concerns and needs of their manager, and act accordingly.

Learn to manage your manager, and you’ll improve your effectiveness.

Characteristic 2: Knowing how and when to listen

At some point, your team will deal with disagreements, frustrations, and conflict. So learning how to handle them in a key to your success. But occasionally the right approach is not to resolve the problem, but just to listen.

Learn how to listen and empathize with your team members, and you’ll avoid turmoil on the team.

Characteristic 3: Understand the business you are serving

Successful engineering team leads understand how to weigh costs and benefits. Which means you have to understand the underlying business goals you’re trying to achieve. Without it, you’ll only see one side of the equation, the code.

Learn the economics of business, and you’ll make better decisions about tradeoffs.

Characteristic 4: Take responsibility for bad outcomes

When you’re just a member of the team, and things go wrong, it’s easy to share the blame. But when you’re in a leadership position, you must take more responsibility. Even if the bad outcome wasn’t directly your fault.

Learn the art of extreme ownership, and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to improve.

Characteristic 5: Understand the quirks of your tech stack

It’s expected that senior devs know their tech stack. But there are some quirks of every tech stack that you only learn when things go wrong. That’s why you need to experiment more deeply with your tech stack to really understand it.

Learn the quirks of your tech stack, and you’ll turn day-long problems into hour-long problems.