27 September 2023

Preparing star employees to be great bosses

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Brian de Haaff* believes the best organisations are always looking to identify future leaders in their ranks, and giving them opportunities to shine.

Let’s talk about bad bosses. No matter what stage you are in your career, you have likely racked up at least one negative experience with a manager.

Egotistical, quick to blame, micro-managing, a foul temper — each type of lousy boss is unpleasant in their own way.

Now flip it around and think about the best boss you ever had.

Exceptional leaders who are morally sound share a fundamental trait: Integrity.

When your words match your actions and you demonstrate fairness and consistency, people know they can deeply trust you.

Great bosses are honest and humble. They navigate a variety of perspectives and priorities, honouring the needs of the team and organisation above all.

There is not one obvious path to becoming a superb boss.

In most cases, strong individual contributors who perform at a high level over time transition well into a lead role.

After all, the best teammates and bosses are not so different from each other — both focus on the success of the team and make everyone around them better.

However, leadership is a learned skill.

It can take time to develop the additional competencies that are needed to flourish as a manager — strategic thinking, decisiveness, and interpersonal skills to name a few.

Most people want to help others succeed, but may not have had great leadership modelled for them.

Truly excelling as a manager requires shifting your focus outward — prioritising and celebrating the team’s collective wins as your own.

As you progress in your career, success is less about personal achievement and more about how you support those around you to achieve.

It is worth noting that you do not need to lead a team to experience this.

At Aha! we have advanced roles for folks who do not manage anyone directly but serve as technical leaders and mentors.

For those who do want to grow into a people manager role, we promote from within whenever possible — so team leads know first-hand how to do the work they are overseeing.

I believe most star teammates can easily transition into a leadership role if they focus on gaining some key skills.

I asked some of the highest performers I know — members of the Aha! team — to share their thoughts on what some of those skills are.

Responses came from a mix of team leads and individual contributors across different functional groups, from product management and engineering to marketing and product success.

Here are some of the highlights from what the team shared.

Deb Gay, Product Success

“Navigating team dynamics and solving complex problems is tough.

“This is true whether you are joining a new company as a leader or you are recently promoted and now overseeing a group of your former peers.

“My advice is go slow before you go fast; take time to understand what each person does and how the team works together to deliver value.

“Then identify how to engage the team’s collective skills so you can best support team and individual wins.”

Jonathan Steel, Engineering

“You already have deep technical skills and extensive subject matter expertise, but the smartest managers are constantly learning from their direct reports.

“It may be a new coding framework, a process improvement, or a novel way of thinking about an old problem.

“Set aside your existing knowledge from time-to-time so you can be open to fully absorbing new learnings from your team.”

Molly Hinrichs, Marketing

“Sensitivity and compassion are valuable traits for any boss.

“However, internalising people’s personal struggles or drama will zap your energy and distract you from the team’s goals.

“Get to know people on a personal level, but maintain focus on productivity and performance.

“This requires some emotional distance so you can evaluate a team member’s contributions objectively.

“Then you can better decide when to offer extra kindness and when to reiterate expectations for the role.”

Chrissi Bernardo, Product Management

“The best managers advocate for their team, carefully weighing each person’s workload and capacity against the value you are working to deliver to clients.

“For example, my team lead is always mindful of the effort that goes into releasing new functionality every week.

“Whenever possible, he rearranges the schedule or pulls in extra teammates to help.

“Since no single product manager is typically responsible for consecutive weeks of launches, we all feel galvanised to do our strongest work.”

Here is a simple test: Do you feel real joy when the people you manage achieve success?

If yes, then you are on your way to becoming a truly excellent boss.

Take a few moments each day to consider the needs of the team and how you can help it.

This is the crux of what makes a great teammate and a great boss — you focus on the success of the people around you.

Practicing small acts of service is a simple way to empower the team to shine. After all, its success and happiness are yours too.

*Brian de Haaff is the Chief Executive of cloud-based software company Aha! He can be contacted on Twitter @bdehaaff.

This article first appeared on the Aha! company website.

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