Most tech leaders view training as a key investment short/long term.
But in moments of high growth i.e. after series A, the question is: are they prioritizing it properly?
Leadership is about adding value through other people. When you start inspiring your team, providing the right environment for them to do their best work, and helping them to keep growing, your impact is multiplied.
But what if it’s time for you and your company to make others lead that team on your behalf?
Developing leadership skills among your team will bring huge benefits that can be immediately measured: improved communication, effective delegation, less conflicts, more ownership, more engagement…Leadership helps the tech team grow personally and professionally, but as you will see below, can be also the difference between a successful, thriving company, and a failed one.
I often find that companies struggle in high-growth stages, i.e. when raising a series A and transitioning from startup to scaleup. At these points in time, it’s crucial to grow the product, penetrate new markets, and automate processes. That means a lot of work to do related to the product/tech, which means growing the tech team.
In that stage, it’s critical for the CTO to create a middle-management layer that will allow for the operations to scale. For the CTO, it means leaving hands-on responsibilities and leaving room to new, more strategic tasks, from meeting investors to preparing yearly budgets or defining the technical vision for the next 3 years. For the team, it will mean having more personal guidance and support, and better monitoring of processes and execution.
The main problem is that the relevance of this process in the growth strategy, and its complexity, is often overlooked and underestimated. That’s why I have highlight 2 main issues happening at that point:
If you didn’t anticipate the growth stage and plan for it, it will be difficult to keep up with the pace.
Even if you have a continuous learning / continuous development mindset and you want key members to grow to leadership roles, chances are that things will pile up. In the end, for one reason or another, learning & development will be out of the top-3 priorities: a new big partnership, a new market launch, or moving from monolith to microservices…the team will need to keep delivering, and time to learn will vanish.
Who is going to develop leadership skills among your team members?
Leading and teaching leadership are not the same. If it’s going to be you as CTO, maybe you don’t have the time, or the resources to make it effectively, or both.
If you end up in the middle of a growth stage and didn’t prepare your leadership structure properly, you will be forced to accelerate the transition, it will not happen smoothly and the company goals could be at risk:
– Hiring tech leads or engineering managers is expensive, hiring them fast even more.
– The more people you hire, the more the risk of a culture clash
– The onboarding process for tech leadership roles is slow. They need to learn a lot about the product, the culture, the team organization, and about the team members. But more importantly, they need to earn trust, which doesn’t happen overnight. It could affect your deadlines.
“The best moment was yesterday, and then the new best moment is today” – Alvaro Moya
If the situation described previously resonated with you, you are not alone. Here you are some actionable tips that can help you to take action immediately:
1.Recognize the signals (awareness)
Business cases to enter new markets, preparing a new funding round, too many 1:1s with your team that start consuming all your time…they are all signals of future growth. You need to anticipate.
2. Start looking for leaders inside your team
If you see that your company is starting to grow or you know that will happen soon, you need to prepare in advance. Plan for it and train those that will lead soon, those that are going to manage your team as Tech Leads or Engineering Managers.
In a people-first environment, leaders know about the motivations and the expected career path of every team member, so identifying aspiring leaders shouldn’t be complicated. If that’s not the case, make sure you start discovering what motivates them ASAP.
Sometimes you will need to hire those leaders from the market as well, especially in hyper-growth environments where you can not cover the demand solely with promotions. But giving the opportunity to those team members actively looking for it has a lot of benefits, from purely financial (more cost-effective, faster to handover) to motivational (professional development opportunities, aligned goals, engagement).
3. Promote informal leadership among your team
Give them opportunities to develop the skills and learn the process they will need in the future.
Delegating effectively not only takes a lot of time in the short term; it is something that CTOs need to master, so practicing before you are in the eye of the storm will bring benefits to the whole team.
Given that growth is always a goal for startups, I would say the sooner you start, the better. Here you are some examples:
– Ownership: they can lead new initiatives, from a new prototype to a bookclub. They can be involved in hiring processes, product definition… They need to feel the company as if they are the founders.
– Making decisions: Empower them to decide on technical topics, hiring topics, team organization, internal processes. Let them fail, reflect and learn, create a safe space for them where they can be authentic and unleash their creativity!
– Mentoring: involve them in onboarding new peers, or promote enrolling in external mentoring programs.
– Technical overview: foster participation in cross-functional initiatives, knowledge exchange across functions, architecture / systems design sessions. They need to understand the whole tech ecosystem, not just her area of expertise (backend, frontend, QA…)
– Public speaking: conduct sprint demos, speaking at internal presentations or external webinars/meetup.
4. Prepare the transition plan carefully
The transition can be extremely painful for the CTO if the whole company doesn’t support the process properly. It takes a lot of time to define the career paths, meet with the candidates, internal or external, train them, hand over the different tasks, accompany them at the beginning, monitor and support them…All while you keep delivering in the rest of the areas.
So be patient, it will not happen over time. Plan it properly. And make sure you allocate enough time in advance for one of the MOST IMPORTANT tasks you will need to do, so you don’t get trapped in the urgent tasks until it’s too late.
5. Start taking action
– Anticipate. Take action before growth is happening
– Foster leadership skills in your tech team, specially among aspiring leaders but also among the rest of the team. It will pay off.
– Rely on experts to make sure it happens, regardless of the circumstances
– Work with strategic partners that will drive the growth of your team.
Whats works for you today will not work for you tomorrow
The tech world has an impressive speed of change, and leadership is a key differentiator. But training your tech leaders cannot be just a one-shot action. Companies must be constantly upskilling their tech teams to be prepared for new situations and achieve results consistently over time.
That’s why Lidr was born. As a CTO, I always missed a trustworthy partner to help me with leadership training. Now as Founder, I want to help high-growth tech startups building solid, reliable and scalable leadership structures, connecting the pieces between the CTO and the development team to achieve outstanding results.
In a digital world, better tech leaders will make a difference, and Lidr trains those aspiring to be the best!
Are you dealing with the challenge of scale your tech team today?
Founder at Lidr.co, experienced CTO and passionate about the tech ecosystem! If you get a match with this article and you want to talk more about that, let's get in touch through