Team Leads and the Opposable Thumb

I once observed an old-school project manager spew voice-quivering animus all over a Google Hangout.

Most people don’t respond well to controlled anger, particularly millennials. The project manager’s Hangout audience was a group of thirty-something software developers.

I thought, “He’s lost them.”

They wouldn’t follow him into a company-sponsored happy hour.

Software developers have numerous opportunities to pick up and leave should the toxicity level of an organization rise.

Millennials bristle at the scent of an ass-clown.

The developers I have worked with are the polar opposite to the stereotypical slacker dude. They’re Do-ers who bang out complex tasks.

Over the years my teammates and I have gotten reams of code pushed, reviewed, and committed. Productivity aside, work must be fun or millennials are done.

Command and control wind-baggery emanating from some two-bit spreadsheet jockey is a buzz kill that sends the best people packing.

Tim Elmore observed that millennials have intrinsic, extrinsic, and altruistic desires in the workplace.

Intrinsically, millennials want to:

  • feel they’re growing;
  • do interesting work; and
  • be challenged in their tasks.
Extrinsically, they want their:
  • workplace to feel like family;
  • workplace to be social;
  • leaders to be adaptable with time; and
  • leaders to value their contribution and commitment.
Altruistically, they hope to:
  • contribute to their community;
  • contribute to society; and
  • change the world for the better.

A de facto leader emerges from within every software team. De facto means serving a function without being legally or officially established.

de facto (d fkt, d)

  1. Actual.
  2. Exercising power or serving a function without being legally or officially established.

Ideally your team’s de facto leader is also your titular head where the operative root of titular is title.

“Your value lies not in status or title, but in the roots of your character and depth of your compassion.”
Mollie Marti

The titular head might be at odds with the de facto leader, but given time the titular head will be willfully ignored.

Teammates of all stripes would do well to understand the spirit and essence of servant leadership. Mollie Marti wrote,

“A noble leader answers not to the trumpet calls of self promotion, but to the hushed whispers of necessity.”

A team lead should be an indispensable “opposable thumb” who cheerfully helps all the other “digits” grasp and handle stuff.


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