One thing I wish I'd done as a new tech lead

In the recent Artsy Engineering Radio episode with Anson, Anson mentions the different types of leader you can be as a tech lead - sponsor, mentor, and/or coach.

Here's a good breakdown of the difference between the three:

  1. Coaches talk to you.
  2. Mentors talk with you.
  3. Sponsors talk about you.

In the episode Anson shared that he didn't know which style he'd be as a new tech lead. I recalled that when I was a new tech lead, I had pre-conceptions about which style I should be based on what I looked for in a tech lead.

That was a mistake on my part, and it definitely contributed to me stepping down 6 months after taking on the role. Throughout my (short) time as a tech lead I learned a couple things:

  1. What I looked for in a tech lead didn't significantly impact the kind of tech lead my team wanted.
  2. Different engineers on the team wanted a different balance of leadership styles from their tech lead.

I didn't fully understand #2 until after I'd stepped down. And I still haven't figured out what that balance should have looked like for everyone on the team.

But — in the spirit of "asking vs guessing" — there's no reason I should have tried to figure that out on my own anyway.

If I were the new tech lead on a team today, I would:

  1. Have conversations with my team about sponsorship vs coaching vs mentorship, to align us on what those styles mean.
  2. Have conversations with each engineer on the team about which style(s) they wanted from their tech lead.

There's no reason to think it would be easy for anyone to answer that question in one conversation. But having those conversations more explicitly would have informed me on how to be a better leader for everyone on the team...instead of trying to figure it out on my own.