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What's better: hiring an already established leader or developing one internally

February 01, 2024
7 min.
Views: 258

Valuable leaders are appreciated in any business. However, finding such a manager is akin to winning the lottery. Companies attempt to pull the lucky ticket in the search for capable individuals with leadership skills, but increasingly, time-constrained recruiters end up filling positions with managers lacking sufficient competence.

In contrast, we have chosen a different path and have independently nurtured most of our managers. We share our experience by illustrating the development of a developer into a department head and provide advice on how to recognize such potential leaders among your employees.


Each IT company independently defines the internal hierarchy of managers. The responsibilities of our development department head (DDH) include overseeing their team: assessing workloads, delegating tasks, and managing the process. They monitor task completion and code quality, participate in discussions regarding system architecture and requirements, and prepare and conduct project presentations.

To be honest, we were not actively seeking a DDH. However, we have experience in hiring other managers, which has been somewhat ambiguous. Comparing the pros and cons of hiring a ready-made manager, we have identified the following:

+ No need to invest resources in developing basic skills

- Time required for search and integration into the company's workflow

+ Experience in leadership

- Need to establish a reputation within the team

+ Immediate assessment of competency level

- Risk of misjudging competency level, leading to financial and morale costs

When deadlines are tight and the team struggles without supervision, it may be practical to hire a specialist. However, finding a suitable candidate quickly is not guaranteed. It's essential to pay attention not only to the manager's resume and hard skills but also to their communication abilities. They should be able to command respect, strike a balance between being firm and understanding, and not let work processes go astray or panic in critical situations.

In our case, we took our time and gradually nurtured a manager within the company. We assigned specific tasks, such as conducting code reviews for other programmers and overseeing team work, gradually increasing their level of responsibility. As a result, over 4.5 years, the company acquired a fully-fledged DDH deeply immersed in all aspects of development department management and serving as the deputy IT director.

Daniel, DDH at MediaTen:

I have been working at MediaTen since September 2019. I left my previous job because it didn't offer opportunities for professional growth. When I joined the company, I had basic knowledge, which I felt was insufficient, but the management saw potential in me. In March 2020, I was first included in a project team. This year was challenging overall; I emotionally burned out due to COVID-19, and by September, I realized that my development within the project was stalling. The company's internal support pushed me towards self-improvement, and I was promoted. After that, I was assigned to another product. While working on it, I identified knowledge gaps and quickly closed them.

In 2021, the management noticed my progress and offered me to lead a project team. Initially, combining the roles of developer and manager was challenging, and I faced many difficulties. However, I soon started to explore my skills as a web application architect and developed in this direction. At the same time, I learned to manage teams across multiple projects.

I have always strived to improve as a specialist and to pass on my knowledge to others. It's important to understand that technologies are constantly evolving, and as developers, we must continuously grow. Over 3 years of managerial experience, I have changed my approaches to leadership several times, experienced burnout, and then returned to work.

I believe that the main quality for a leader is to instill a sense of responsibility both for their own actions and for the actions of their team members. A good leader seeks compromises, communicates effectively, and remains calm in any situation.

Based on our experience, we have concluded that if there is patience and time, it's better to invest resources in developing an internal employee rather than hiring a manager externally. An internally developed specialist inspires more trust within the team than an external hire. Their resume and portfolio are 100% truthful, as is their desire to contribute to the common goal.


Hard Skills

Take a close look at your team, especially those employees who are frequently sought after for advice by others. Thoroughly examine their work tools and professional skills. These should surpass those of the employees who will be in the team of the future leader. For example, if a tech lead cannot assist with a challenging task due to a lack of knowledge, it will not only slow down the project but also result in a loss of respect from the developers.

Soft Skills

Pay attention to the leading soft skills of the professional. The employee is not afraid to voice suggestions but does so without crossing boundaries – a first plus. They express themselves clearly, logically, and comprehensibly – a second plus. Efficiently plans the workday and meets deadlines – a third. The most crucial fourth plus – the professional often acts as an expert and willingly assists colleagues. 

There's a possibility that within your team, you may identify several potential leaders. However, it's not excluded that you might not find anyone. In the latter case, you can try instilling leadership qualities in the most productive employee or consider hiring an already experienced leader.

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Publication author:

Lubov Azarnova