I work in a small company that have started to grow, Two weeks ago a new intern came in but since I had a heavy workload on those weeks I couldn't give this person any major directions or proper assignments.

Right now more people are coming and my boss has said that I still work alone and that I need to become a leader and improve my communication with my new team. So far in all my working experience I have worked alone at least 80% of the time so it's a really hard thing to do and I I'm not sure of how to act as leader.

Even though my boss have pointed me things that are wrong with the way I have been acting, he hasn't given me any more directions on how to properly become a leader and I'm not sure if I can be a good one. How could I express this to him in a way on which I can still look that I'm capable of becoming a leader?

  • 2
    Like I said in my last exit interview, "I don't want a boss, I want a leader".
    – dvniel
    May 23, 2017 at 14:28
  • I'm surprised the possibility of you having to play a leadership role wasn't discussed at your hiring.
    – user8365
    May 23, 2017 at 19:43
  • @JeffO : things may vary. It was not discussed in my hiring either, but our business model is changing, and I might assume the leadership of temps within a few years. things do vary in a corporate setting. IMHO, what the OP needs is more training in leadership right now. Which I may need within a few years. And his excellent question is "how to ask for it?"
    – gazzz0x2z
    May 26, 2017 at 10:07
  • "Mate, I couldn't get people to follow me to a piss up in a brewery." May 26, 2017 at 10:40

4 Answers 4


First thing you have to understand is that in a leadership role, tasks involved in being a leader take precedence over your individual tasks or you become a bottleneck to the whole group. You should have taken the time to help the intern get started, that is you highest priority unless your boss tells you differently. Let him know that you are doing that and that whatever you were working on will be delayed while you get this person started.

Since you have other new people coming in, you need to take at least a day to prep for them. It's discouraging to come to a new job all excited and then find no one has any time to give you anything to do. That makes for morale problems and people who leave very quickly. It is your job to prevent that by being prepared. Make sure they have the equipment/software they need (I had one job where I didn't even have a computer for two weeks). You don't have to install the software as long as you have the licenses and the locations of the software for them to do the installations themselves. You want to have a list of what they need to have and a policy for what other stuff they may want to install. What approvals do they need, etc. You will want to create an onboarding document with the source control directions and locations, an overview of the project(s), build processes, QA processes, unit testing requirements, coding standards etc. whatever you need to have, key HR policies.

As a company grows, you need to formalize things, so you and your boss should get together and decide what the policies need to be.

On their first day, you will want to get them started by installing the software and looking through the code repository to get a feel for how the project is progressing. Then you will want to talk to each person individually, find out what he/she considers to be their strongest skills and what the are most interested in. Then make assignments based on that.

For all new employees, institute a code review even if you do not currently do that at your workplace. Never let a new employee commit unreviewed code. The place to stop people who are going in a wrong direction is at the beginning. This is even more critical if your new employees are not experienced such as interns.

If you are doing agile, you likely have a daily standup meeting. If not, then at least do a weekly meeting to find out what progress they have made. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to find out that someone was making no progress for weeks without an intervention from you.

It helps to get them started by doing pair programming. Don't insist on being the one at the keyboard however, it helps them to learn if they do the actual typing even if you are telling them what to type. And try to lead them to conclusions rather than tell them outright by asking leading questions. Teach them to google for answers, to understand requirements and ask questions about them and translate them to code, to look at edge cases, to handle exceptions, to do unit testing, etc. Talk about the meaning of what you are trying to accomplish. Why are we doing this, help them develop judgment about selection of tools and techniques to solve various problems. All of these things are done through asking leading questions.

Cut your own workload back. You should plan at least half your time managing the workload of the new employees, providing training and responding to questions, doing code reviews, pair programming, etc. The faster they get up to speed, the faster the overall project will go, so you need to take the time to get them up-to-speed.

After they are doing well, you can cut back but at least a couple of hours a day will need to be done on leadership activities.

As far as getting your own work done, block out a time of day where you are generally unavailable unless it is an emergency. Make sure to give them an assignment before you disappear for four hours to code though. At first this can be readings, code documentation, etc. until you feel they are ready to code on their own.

And don't grab all the good assignments for yourself. It is a better use of your time to give them some challenging things that you guide them to success with than for you to do everything because they don't know how. If they don't know how, then teach them. If they make a mistake that you catch in code review, tell them what to fix, but make them fix it themselves or they will never learn. People tend to live up to the expectations put on them by their supervisor. Make sure you expect them to grow and improve.

Above all, allow time in the schedule for these few weeks of learning. Everyone will get faster as they learn, but not until they are up-to-speed. Don't put unfair expectations on them.

  • 7
    This is a good answer, but not to the question asked. May 23, 2017 at 14:22
  • 1
    Although I didn't mention I was a programmer on the question so it would be more wide, this is a great answer because its what currently I was planning to do. So far I have sincered myself with my team telling them I'm also new at managing teams and apologizing if I haven't given them the appropiate time to address their doubts. May 23, 2017 at 16:18
  • @IllusiveBrian I think this answer is more helpful than a simple direct answer to the question asked - as Richard says in his answer - it's better to bring solutions to your superior than problems, and by following HLGEM's advice, the OP will likely not even need to talk about it at all.
    – HorusKol
    May 24, 2017 at 1:39

This isn't an uncommon situation. I'd suggest you talk to your boss about leadership strategies, and request formal training on leadership. These are skills that can be learnt very effectively.

  • I'd also mention it at your next review. Extra responsibility deems extra reward. Unless your contract says otherwise
    – John
    May 23, 2017 at 16:01
  • This could be the start of a great answer. But could you expand it quite a bit to explain how the OP should prepare for the meeting, what he should say, how to approach etc. May 23, 2017 at 20:17

I don't know how to be a boss.

I disagree. This isn't your problem: being a boss is a matter of a title. You lack particular skills, training, experience, and desire to be a member of, and leader of, a team.

These four things are addressable, but only if you take stock of the specific details. You are in the position you are now because your manager feels you have some of the above, enough to indicate that you should be able to get the rest over time. So they have confidence in you that you'll manage: now you need to work on your side of things.

Take stock of what skills you have and what ones you lack. Then spend some time thinking about how to improve in those areas: are they areas you can

  • Work on by yourself
  • Get advice from others
  • Get training/go to classes to improve

As someone who's not in that different of a boat than you, I can tell you that it's very possible to work on many of these things by yourself.

It sounds like the biggest issue you have is handing work over to the other person/people. That's very understandable in someone who's used to working solo.

A few pointers in that direction, then:

  • You can't hand work over unless it's well documented, right? Guess what, you have someone who can do that - and in the process of documenting, they can learn the process.
  • You need to learn how to trust someone with work. The only way to do that is to give them work, and let them succeed or fail on their own merits. Give them the support they need, but let them do it, and let them fail if they fail (just make sure you pay enough attention so if they do fail, you know in time to fix it).
  • Structure is very helpful for someone in your situation. If you're a programmer, work on programming standards, make sure you have very structured build releases etc.; in other jobs there are similar things. Set up the structure so you can be confident your team is working in the way you're comfortable.
  • Have regular, frequent meetings with your team at first, one-on-one meetings in particular, and ask bluntly what you can do better, and what you can do to help them. That feedback cycle not only helps you get better but shows them you're willing to work on it, and lets them see your progress. Be direct, tell them you're not used to this, and that you need their help finding the right balance.
  • Standardizing the future projects and give them training on working on a specific pattern and standard its what will be more time and resource costly for me. Being younger than all of them could be an issue, but I do have much more experience on programming so I guess that will be my starting point. Sincering myself on my learning curve also has some good impact May 23, 2017 at 16:20

As a rule, it's a bad idea to talk about a problem to a superior until you have some solutions ready.

In your case, I'd research leadership classes online, go to the bookstore, and do the research yourself. Do this quickly (over the weekend, or a few days after work. The emphasis is QUICKLY

After you lay the groundwork, you then go to your boss and say "Boss, I'm having difficulty in this leadership position, I've picked up some books and am looking into some websites on my own, but is there any help or guidance you or the company can give me as well? I really want to succeed at this new position, so I want to tackle this before it becomes a problem".

Take this approach and you've just turned a potential career limiting move into an opportunity to demonstrate that you are a valuable employee who takes the initiative.


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