What are the most underrated and overrated skills needed to lead a technical team?
Underrated - the ability to assemble a productive team that has varying backgrounds, experience levels, and personalities.
Overrated - that a technical team leader has depth of experience as most of the team members - it can help, but the ability to assemble and lead the team is much more important.
A someone who has worked among large leadership teams for over 20 years I can say the skill that is most underrated in many organizations is Self Awareness.
I have seen many leaders hit their ceiling because they are simply not aware of their strengths or weaknesses. Others who asses leaders tend to overlook when looking for a new leader or when assessing an existing leader how self aware someone is. I will take someone who knows their flaws and is working on it over someone who thinks they are flawless or doesn't see their existing flaws for what they are.
As an example I have met several leaders who are not self aware as to their sense of community. They are successful to a point and see other things they need to improve upon but without noticing they lack a community feeling from their peers and employees they struggle with engagement, career expertise, work life balance and many other things.
The most over rated "skill" I have seen I would say is action oriented people. I think its a good skill to have but there are many times when its over applied. Simply answering an email to fast, setting up something in an emergency that's not sustainable or even answering a question in a conversation when you don't have all the information are signs of someone who is overly action oriented because this skill is overrated and held in to high regard.
Great question with different answers depending on organizational culture, business needs and the specific role expectations that you have with your technical leaders. That said, these are some that I've found useful over my career in large and small organizations:
1) Ability to smell BS - sometimes technical people love to hide in the details, a leaders ability to sense when this is happening and call the resource out to ensure delivery of promises made to internal or external customers is critical.
2) Collaboration with Non-Technical Individuals - when I first started my career, there was a hard barrier between technology teams and the rest of the organization. One of the things that I think helped in my career, was my ability to get outside of technology and sit down and discuss challenges with the real users of the system - internal and external customers. Over time, this has become more the norm in technology departments, but there are still too many leaders in IT that speak tech and don't know how to turn it off when speaking with folks that don't care and just want to find a solution.
3) Holding Individuals Accountable - this also has gotten better over time with more Agile techniques where you can see day to day the progress that is being made on specific action items. That said, it's not acceptable for the leader of the team to just take notes - they must be willing to challenge team members when promised activity is not happening and they begin to impact delivery dates.
4) Personal self-improvement - talk to me about what you are learning. Our industry changes rapidly - the technology and frameworks being used, how systems and applications are delivered. You need to show me that you are a life long learner and that your willing to walk away from the comfortable if necessary to deliver solutions that exceed our customer expectations.
5) Problem solving - no day is ever the same and no problem is repeated. Leaders need to be able to step up and guide their teams when the stuff is hitting the wall and be able to demonstrate that they can think outside the box.
1) Specific skill certificates - to me, the fact that you have a certification means you learned enough to take a test, not that you actually know how to apply the specific skills in the real world. Show me you can do it, don't just talk about it.
Some people are capable of leading technical teams - some people are not, I've often let technical team members 'test' the management waters, before putting them in the position permanently. I try to do this in a model of 'if you don't like it, we'll find a way to let you move back into your current position'. That way, they can see if they really do want to be a leader and I can see if they exhibit the traits and skills to be able to lead a team.
Underrated - the ability to lead a group of people were a large portion do not have strong communication skills
Overrated - in depth technical skills
Good Question. Obviously any technical leader needs to have a core competency in the area they are leading. You don’t have to be the smartest person on the team. In fact, its probably better if you are not. Getter technical people to work together towards a common goal is a true talent. Being able to make smart decisions and manage people’s opinions and expectations are very important. The best attribute a leader can have is the ability to “coach” a team to a place they could not get to by themselves. So one must challenge and communicate very effectively. I would also add that a certain level of business acumen is essential. Understanding not only what you are trying to accomplish as a team , but also how it fits into the business strategy. Most over-rated attribute. Being too nice and afraid to ruffle any feathers.
Most underrated skills: Self-awareness / Emotional intelligence / realizing how others perceive you. The ability to collaborate and bring a diverse set of people / skills together toward a common goal. The ability to occasionally remove yourself as a leader from the day-to-day demands and have 'balcony time' with your team; where you can share vision, goals, experiences, and celebrate accomplishments.
Most overrated skills: Knowing each finite technical aspect of your team's responsibility or even in a specific technical area. Being able (or needing) to make every decision in technical solution, purchasing decision, or in problem solving. Certifications, degrees, and or awards.