Leadership and Mentoring

I am spending two days this week participating in a management/leadership workshop provided by my company.  It’s an interesting experience for me; when I was considering career paths, managing people never crossed my mind.  I like to do things.  I like to learn.  I like developing relationships with people, and I like helping people.  But I didn’t want to tell people what to do.  I didn’t want to “climb my way up to middle management.”

Fast forward a few years to my job in Technical Support at my current company.  When I joined the company it was less than a quarter the size it is today.  At that time it was clear that there were numerous opportunities for management positions.  Initially I didn’t think I wanted to be a Team Leader (logical first step, then Manager, Senior Manager, etc.).  But I remember a conversation with one of the then-Team Leaders, who was talking about who might be promoted next and I thought, “I should become a Team Leader.”  That was the end of my real thought on the matter, but I pursued it.  That is, I made clear that I wanted to move up, but I never really considered what it would mean for me.

Then I became a Team Leader.


I struggled.  I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.  And while I had previous managers and mentors that I wanted to emulate, I had no idea how to do that.  I also had less and less time to do technical work.  I missed learning and problem solving.  My company has long recognized the value of developing employees, and there was an eight month long leadership program to which I was accepted.  I learned a lot.  A lot about myself, a lot about what I needed to do, and a lot about what I didn’t want to do.  Eventually I faced the fact that I wasn’t happy as a Team Leader.  I also was burned out from Technical Support, and felt myself drawn to the database team.

I stepped down from my Team Leader position, moved to a different deparatment, and immersed myself in databases.  It was one of the hardest decisions I have made in my career, but thus far it was one of the best.

Fast forward, again, to last fall.  I was asked to lead a team with the primary reponsibility of helping with support issues that involved the database in some manner.  I hesitated.  Ever since I stepped down from the Team Leader position, I said I had no desire to be one again.  Not much had changed…or had it?

I thought it about.  I knew what I would be getting into this time.  Really knew.  I knew more about my strengths and weaknesses.  I had a great management team that I trusted to support me.  I had great ideas that I wanted to implement, to better help and serve our customers, but I never had time to get to them.  With a team, I would finally have that time.  I thought about it for a quite a while, and in the end said yes.


Two individuals from other areas of the company moved over, and today we are a team of three.  They already know the application, it’s my job to teach them about databases.  My approach is that on our team, I am the one with more knowledge about databases, so it’s my job to teach my team members everything I can.  Yes, I’m responsible for more administrative stuff, and that part I really don’t love.  But it was a compromise.  I take on that work, and ultimately get to do more of what really interests me.  And I will continue to keep my hands in the technical stuff.

Do I want to be a Manager?  I don’t.  I am a geek at heart.  I think I could be a Manager, and manage fairly well, but I do not love it.  If I am going to take time to develop and hone some knowledge, I want that knowledge to be about databases and SQL Server.  Today’s workshop drove that home.  Don’t get me wrong: the workshop has incredible value.  I am immensely grateful for the training opportunity.  Regardless of whether I want to be a Manager or not, what I am learning about myself is useful and applicable in my job and every day life.  It makes me a better person and a better Team Leader (and makes me appreciate those who do choose to manage, and do it well).

So if I don’t want to be a Manager, am I happy as a Team Leader?  Yes.  I love our team.  My peeps are soaking up knowledge and I am starting to set them free on projects of their own.  Small tasks to start with, then on to bigger projects.  I try to strike a balance between pushing them, not overwhelming them, not letting them get bored, and allowing them to show iniaitive.  It’s tricky.  But I am open and honest, and do my best to be available for questions, teaching and some good discussion about how SQL Server works.  Am I leading?  Sure.  But more than anything, I’m mentoring.  For some reason, it has taken the title of Team Leader to actively engage me as a mentor.  But I realize how much I enjoy it.  And that I’m finally giving back what Dr. Brown gave to me

The takeaway?  If you’re thinking about management or leadership, think it through.  Consider the responsibilities, how daily tasks change, how important relationships become.  And remember that you don’t have to be a Team Leader or a Manager, or have any other special title, to be a leader and a mentor.


7 Responses to Leadership and Mentoring
  1. ted krueger
    April 21, 2011 | 12:30 pm

    Very nice, Erin! Having those roles and the same thoughts in the past, I truly know where you are coming from. The SQL Community, for one, is extremely lucky to have you as a leader and a mentor. I can imagine your team feels the same way and then some having the chance to pull your knowledge from you as well as your passion.

    And glad you aren’t “The Manager”. We’d never let you touch a database again 😛

  2. Erin Stellato
    April 22, 2011 | 1:37 am


    I often wonder who else in the community has been (is?) a manager/leader by title, and the story around it. I want to hear the details some time 🙂 Thanks for your comment!


  3. Bradley Ball @SQLBalls
    April 25, 2011 | 1:58 pm

    Hi Erin,
    Great post, I’ve wrestled with the exact same thing, and I’m glad to see that I’m not alone.

    I love learning, I love teaching, and I love helping. But we all know that managing really pulls away from some of that.

    Good luck to you and your Team!

  4. Erin Stellato
    April 25, 2011 | 5:53 pm

    Bradley – you are definitely not alone! And I agree, managing on any level pulls away from the technical pieces. You just have less time to do everything. I’m hoping to be efficient in what I do, but in the end, so much depends on my team members and how that plays out. Stay tuned 🙂


  5. […] might be thinking, “Really Erin? You’re blogging about ordering some books?” Yes, yes I am. Back in January I wrote about one of my big goals for the year: finding balance. Thus far I am doing ok, but I can do […]

  6. […] of.  Since taking a team lead position, I don’t get to do quite as much technical work every day as I would like.  I am […]

  7. Myrene
    September 18, 2015 | 9:06 am

    Enjoy this day Erin with the thought that your fdeinrs are equally happy and proud to witness your growth and success. Regular DBA speaker then MVP then a member of SQLskills. Whew Amazing! I just hope you’re also planning for someday when you come and present to the Charlotte SQLPASS Chapter. The membership here would be thrilled to see you.

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