Hard Truths About Tech Leadership

Amir Shevat
7 min readAug 22, 2023

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By Ethan Evans and Amir Shevat

Congratulations on your promotion or hiring as a manager! This new journey will be a thrilling adventure, but it’s filled with challenges and learning curves. Let’s chart the course for successful leadership together. If you are new to tech leadership this article is for you.

1. Embrace Your New Profession

The technical skills you honed over the years still serve as valuable insights, but management requires a whole new toolkit. Recognize that you are now untrained in this new field; the parameters of success have shifted from individual contribution to leading, communicating, and aligning a team.

Embrace this transition not as a demotion or loss, but as a transformation. Your journey from a technical wizard to an effective leader begins with understanding that you’ve embarked on a new path. This understanding demands dedication and effort to master the skills and insights necessary to excel in your new role.

The prescription for this transition is recognition, dedication, and education. Seek training, mentorship, or self-study to fill in the gaps of your managerial knowledge.

2. Communication — The Heart of Leadership

Communication is the cornerstone of effective leadership. As a junior individual contributor, your success hinged on technical skills. Your coding, design, and delivery were your measurable attributes. Now, as a manager, the dynamics have shifted. You must communicate in three directions: upward to management, laterally with peer stakeholders, and, of course, with your team. Your ability to align these three sets of people, to make them understand each other, and to create buy-in to plans will largely determine your success or failure.

The transition from valuing technical skills to prioritizing communication might feel like a seismic shift, but it’s essential. Your technological prowess still helps you, but without investing in communication skills, it will be insufficient. Being adept at aligning everyone to one shared goal requires learning, practice, and continual growth. Your mastery of communication will define your legacy as a manager, driving both individual and team success.

3. Make and Face Hard Choices

Leadership often requires diving into the unknown, confronting difficult decisions, and making tough choices that others shy away from. It’s human nature to prefer the path of least resistance, working on simpler aspects of a project or avoiding problems in the hope that solutions might appear. However, as a manager, your role is to break this cycle. You must address the hard choices your team is avoiding, overcome the innate fear of risk and potential failure, and foster a culture that faces challenges head-on.

This responsibility extends beyond merely identifying problems. It requires actively engaging with the issues, understanding the complexities, and guiding your team through potential solutions. Resolving hard choices is not merely about decision-making; it’s about leadership. Your team will look to you for direction, and your willingness to face and conquer these challenges will set the tone for your entire group. This proactive approach will enhance your team’s effectiveness and demonstrate your commitment to success, even in the face of uncertainty.

4. Resolve Issues with Peer Leaders

Issues with peer leaders can significantly impair your team, and thus, addressing them swiftly is essential. As a tech manager, you are responsible for creating alignment between stakeholders to work cohesively toward one goal. When conflicts arise with peers, it means that alignment is jeopardized, leading to a reduction or even crippling of your team’s effectiveness. Such situations call for understanding the real problem and engaging in professional dialogues to find common ground.

Understanding and resolving conflicts require patience, open-mindedness, and empathy. Start by listening to your peer’s perspective without judgment, and ask probing questions to grasp their concerns fully. Remember, it’s not about “being right”; it’s about building trust and moving forward. In the tech world, we can draw parallels to finding and fixing software bugs; once we understand them, they are usually easy to solve. The challenge lies in bridging personal differences, working collaboratively, and focusing on the shared goals that unite you and your peer leaders.

5. It’s Not a Popularity Contest

Becoming a tech manager involves a challenging balance: leading effectively while maintaining professionalism and politeness. Your primary goal is to set a clear direction and hold people accountable to high standards, knowing that this may lead some to dislike you. This pursuit of effectiveness does not grant a license to be unkind; it requires the ability to deliver hard truths while retaining respect. As long as you conduct yourself with integrity, you will earn respect, even if you’re not universally “liked.”

Being effective means prioritizing results over intentions. Your team might have the best intentions, but you are in the business of tangible outcomes, and that’s what counts. It’s essential to communicate your expectations clearly and consistently, focusing on the work rather than personal judgments. By doing so, you ensure that everyone understands the standards and that conflicts arise from objective, work-related disagreements rather than personal affronts. Remember, being an effective leader is the goal, and being liked is merely a bonus, not an end in itself.

6. Your Growth Plan is your responsibility

In the journey of leadership, your growth plan is a personalized map, guiding you to your next destination. It’s YOUR responsibility to create it, not your manager’s. Identify your goals, the experiences or assignments you’ll need, and then actively pursue them. Seek feedback, consider it sincerely, and don’t let your ego get in the way. Understand that weaknesses aren’t failures; they’re opportunities for growth. Whether your manager is supportive or focused on their tasks, you are the captain of your own growth. Ask for opportunities, be open to feedback, and remember, growth plans need not be hard. They should be targeted, actionable, and reflective of your ambitions.

7. Facilitate, Don’t Dominate: Empowering Your Brilliant Team 🚀

Success in leadership is no longer about individual technical prowess; it’s about how well you create an environment for others to thrive. Resisting the urge to take over, solve problems yourself, or overshadow your team’s abilities is vital. Trusting them to lead technical aspects encourages ownership and fosters creativity. This is not about abdicating responsibility; it’s embracing a new role. If your team succeeds, the credit is theirs; if they fail, the responsibility is yours. Striving for glory through solo efforts is past; new glory comes from how well you support, organize, motivate, and set your team up to exceed expectations.

It’s crucial to remember why you hired your team: they’re better at what they do than you are. Your role has shifted from being the technical guru to a leader who sets goals and maintains standards. Embrace this shift, hand over the reins, and let them amaze you with their innovation. Watching your team exceed your expectations is the true joy of being a tech manager. Give them clear directions, set high expectations, and then step back to see how they soar. This leadership style fosters growth and innovation, leading to a dynamic, engaged, and successful team within the organization. It’s about the delicate balance between support and control, a thriving environment where you celebrate their achievements and take pride in their success.

8. Openness to Feedback

Embracing feedback is essential for personal growth and professional development. Seek feedback from various sources — your manager, peers, or even your team — can provide insights into what you need to learn or improve. This openness to feedback must not only be about accepting praise but also about welcoming constructive criticism, no matter how harsh it might initially appear.

Creating a culture where feedback is not only sought but genuinely considered is crucial. It requires moving past defensive postures or ego protection, much like finding a software bug and fixing it. An environment where feedback is a valuable asset rather than a threat promotes a continuous learning cycle. It fosters a sense of collaboration and mutual respect and lays the groundwork for a more adaptable and resilient team. By being open and responsive to feedback, you set a positive example and pave the way for a culture of growth and continuous improvement.

9. Maintain a Neutral Mindset with Your Team

As you navigate your team through the challenges of the tech world, your perception of them must be balanced. Don’t over-praise them to the point of complacency or under-appreciate them to the point of demoralization. High performers desire recognition but can be hindered by excessive praise. Conversely, downplaying their success can cause disillusionment. Your job is to keep the ship steady, recognizing success without inflating it and addressing failures without diminishing them. Like top students, they want the deserved grade on their report card. This balanced approach builds trust with other managers and keeps your team motivated and aligned with expectations.

10.Leadership does not end when you leave.

Leadership is not merely a temporary exercise, confined to the bounds of your employment within an organization. It is a long-term investment in building cultures, practices, and mechanisms that stand the test of time. A successful leader creates an enduring legacy that thrives even in their absence. This includes nurturing a culture that values quality, innovation, and collaboration, and putting in place practices that are self-sustaining and not reliant on constant enforcement.

The real strength of leadership is in its ability to lay down foundations that continue to support and guide the team long after you have moved on. Whether it’s through the development of robust tooling or by instilling a culture that perpetuates high standards, you shape a framework that delivers lasting value. This isn’t about ego or personal glory; it’s about a thoughtful, systems-driven approach that builds something greater than oneself. Your influence echoes in the halls of the organization, long after you’ve turned in your keys, embodied in the ways people work together, solve problems, and strive for excellence.

Conclusion 🎓

Your journey into leadership is a fascinating and complex one. But by focusing on communication, embracing tough decisions, empowering your team, and being open to feedback, you’ll set a course for success.

Remember, as a leader, your joy comes from seeing your team succeed and leaving a legacy that lasts beyond your tenure. Happy sailing, and may you navigate these thrilling waters with grace! 🌊

This article was written together with Ethan Evans who was my amazing tech leader at Twitch. Ethan is a retired Amazon Vice President, now working as a writer, coach, and course instructor. His Substack Newsletter, Level Up, focuses on career advice based on his 30 years of startup and Amazon experience.

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Amir Shevat

Investor in early stage startups. Previously: Head of Product, Twitter Dev Platform, VP product at Twitch, Slack, Google, Microsoft. Author at O'Reilly.