Teaching leadership through influence

Heemeng Foo

Director Quality / Head of Quality at Rocket Lawyer



Teaching leadership is challenging but necessary for teams to scale. There are two kinds of leadership: (a) leadership through authority, and (b) leadership through influence. The latter is usually more challenging. Over the last year, as my team was growing, I realized that it needed more structure. I identified the four engineers who were the most accountable and who had the most potential for leadership. However, I was concerned about how to give them opportunities to learn how to lead. How do you train someone to lead through influence?

Actions taken

"One simple trick I used to teach this skill to my engineers was to ask each of them to organize a team lunch off-site." - Highlighted quote

This task requires several different skills, which a leader must have. They needed to get agreement from the team in regards to the time and location, and had to plan the logistics of getting to the venue and maybe even make arrangements for carpooling. This involved negotiation skills, planning, and effective communication. This is also a great tool for identifying potential leaders in the team, as (a) it is non-technical, so you don't have to worry about differences in skill levels, (b) it is non-threatening, as it's just a team lunch, and (c) it exposes the potential lead's organizational and leadership skills.

After the team lunch, I had a post-mortem with the engineer who had organized it to analyze what went well and what didn't and I related it to real projects. Out of the four engineers I have trained so far, two have moved up to manager level.

Lessons learned

"It is easy to lead through authority but leading through influence is always more challenging." - Highlighted quote

Organizing team lunches is deceptively simple but is actually an excellent vehicle to train engineers in leadership through influence.

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Heemeng Foo

Director Quality / Head of Quality at Rocket Lawyer

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingEngineering ManagementPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthSkill DevelopmentNegotiation Strategies

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