Leadership: Start by being a leader

 In Leadership

I once applied for a job that I was a little underqualified for. It was a head of development role, and although I’d been a senior developer for a while on paper, I’d only just moved up to being a technical lead.

In the interview, one of the interviewers posed the question to me: “Your leadership experience is not up to the standard of other candidates that we are interviewing. What steps are you going to take towards educating yourself about leadership?”

My answer was pretty simple. With all the self-confidence I could muster, I said “I plan on learning about leadership by being a leader.”

There were 3 interviewers. One smiled, one looked confused and one looked blank.

I then elaborated that although I hadn’t been in a technical lead role very long, I’d been acting as a lead inside that organisation for longer than that. And that I’d had leadership experience all through my life at school, in sports teams, etc.

I told them I’d read extensively about being a leader. Specifically, about software development team leadership and business leadership in general.

But I told them I didn’t think that mattered. I said that I felt true leadership started with being a leader.

I believe that being a leader and having the title of a leader are two different things. I’ve met junior developers who were great leaders. I’ve met managers who had no leadership skills at all.  In my mind, a leader is something you choose to be, and leadership is something you choose to develop. Then, titles and opportunities might follow.

The end of that interview story is that I got the job. I wasn’t hired as a Head of Development though; I was hired as a Senior Developer.

Eleven months later I was made Head of Development.

Five years after that, the interviewer that smiled at me asked me to be CEO of his company.

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