Leading Your Team to Craftsmanship — by Example! (No. 9)

Hey Software Crafter,

Hope you had a good Fourth of July!

Today I was starting some new consultants at my biggest client. These are junior consultants dropped into roles where they have to both excel technically and also exert quite a bit of influence with the client’s engineering team. As if that isn’t hard enough, they have to do this with absolutely no authority; it’s all non-positional leadership they have to demonstrate. I’m here to help them, but such can be the life of a junior consultant.

And their experience made me think about you. I suspect you are either discovering craftsmanship and/or you want to bring more professionalism to your team. Unfortunately, you don’t have the formal authority to mandate the change (both in practices and attitudes) you’d like to see.

Still, getting your team to follow you to a better place is a classic “leadership without authority” opportunity, just like the one my consultants are contemplating in their hotel rooms tonight. Here’s the opportunity: if you can get good at this, you can make amazing things happen with both your code base and your career far, far beyond your individual contributions.

But I’ll warn you, as I warned my consultants this morning, it’s not easy. Indeed, it’s the kind of choice that can lead to frustration, disaffection, and withdrawal if you go about it the wrong way.

For example, what if you read Clean Code over the holiday weekend (you did too, right??), you couldn’t wait for Tuesday to come, you can’t wait to refactor, and you got fueled up on Philz on the way in this morning. You burst into the office and announce on Slack, “Hey folks!! I’m renaming all our variables!!!” I already know the response you’re going to get — I’ve seen it.

It’s easy to get transported to a new mental place by an influential book like Clean Code, but most of your coworkers are probably still in the same mental place they were in last Friday afternoon (or even a little foggier than you left them after the Fourth of July weekend). They aren’t there with you and your over-caffeinated, evangelized self. Most coders are a little skeptical of evangelists. Which stings a bit and could leave you cynically thinking all the puppies and unicorns must be on the other side of some other rainbow with some other team.

So here’s an idea to try before brushing up your resume: lead by example. In The Software Craftsman, Sandro Mancuso says, “When it comes to driving technical changes, especially if the change is about attitude and practices like TDD, nothing will help you more than the ability to lead by example.” He’s right. I’ve seen it. I learned TDD by chance years ago when one of my peers just grabbed a couple of us out of a hallway and said something like, “hey I want to show you how I do TDD.” While I didn’t start doing it consistently right away, as others starting doing more of it, we all started doing more, and I saw the value.

If he hadn’t done that one act of leading by example, I wouldn’t be writing this email today.

(By the way, this post originally appeared as a letter to the LA Software Craftsmanship community. Consider joining us in LA or Phoenix.)

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