Prepare for your new responsibilities by investing time and effort into learning what it takes to be an effective leader.
Moving into your first team leader role can be a daunting experience. Until this point in your career you’ve been able to focus on yourself but now you will be responsible for others and their overall performance and behaviour. A large part of your role is to help others achieve success and fulfill their potential, so understanding how to direct and motivate people is an imperative.
The qualities and skills required to lead a team will come more naturally to some than others, but they can mostly be acquired and developed as long as you have an open attitude and a willingness to learn. As a leader, you will be on a learning curve for some time - some would say for your entire career - and it is definitely steeper at the beginning. Investing time and effort into learning what it takes to be an effective leader from the outset will make the journey a far more comfortable one for yourself as well as your charges.
Work on your skills
Good team leaders need the full range of soft skills, such as an ability to communicate clearly, to listen, influence, facilitate, negotiate and inspire. Your IQ (intelligence quotient) has helped get you to where you are so far but as a leader you will also need high levels of emotional intelligence (EI). Individuals who find it easy to see another person’s point of view and empathise with them tend to have naturally high EI levels. Few can turn themselves into a leader without a training intervention so discuss the possibility of formal and accredited leadership and management programmes from organisations such as the Institution of Leadership & Management or the Chartered Management Institute.
Training courses are available at different levels so it’s possible to take a staged approach to your development and align it with your career ambitions as you gain greater responsibility. A major benefit of accredited training is you then have recognised management and leadership qualifications to carry throughout your career.
Where new leaders go wrong
For those individuals who have excelled technically, it can be difficult to accept you then have to learn a new set of skills in order to remain a high achiever. Rosie Bailey, co-founder and principal consultant at people development firm OnTrack International cites “arrogance” as the biggest failing of new leaders.
“Assuming because you have been promoted into a team leader position that you know everything that there is to know about leading people,” she says. “Remember that you are at the beginning of your career journey and will have a lot to learn.”
She adds that while humility is an important attribute, having self-belief and high self-esteem is required to inspire confidence in the team, so try to find a healthy balance in between these two points and also remember to give yourself “thinking time”. “Taking time to think is a key skill of a leader,” she notes.
Focus on the team
Management and leadership success hinges on your ability to build trust and a rapport with team members.
“Make time to communicate and build relationships with each member,” says Bailey. This means finding out about what motivates them and, without prying, gaining insight into their personality and life outside work. Communication should be open and honest at all times if trust is to be preserved and Bailey emphasises the importance of leading by example: “Do as I do as opposed to do as I say creates real follow-ship.”
Bailey also advises new team leaders to hone their communication skills: “Developing critical questioning skills and building on your capacity to listen actively is the biggest compliment you can pay your team members.”
Importance of mentoring
A mentor is different from a coach and acts as a sounding board and critical friend, which can be extremely valuable in your first team leader role when building confidence and skills. Many organisations have embedded mentoring into their company cultures. If a formal programme doesn’t exist, express your desire to find a mentor.
Remember that a mentor doesn’t have to work at the same organisation as you and could be someone in your external professional or personal networks. Having identified a person, explain why you think they could help and discuss your aims before formalising the relationship.
Alongside mentoring, take every opportunity to learn from the depth of experience around you. Bailey points out that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, but warns that you should remember the power of reciprocity. “Most people are very happy to help but remember to return the compliment at some stage.”
Continue to learn and grow
Having grasped the fundamentals of leading a team, continue to build on your capabilities and invest time in reading about management and leadership theory and thinking. It will be down to you to decide how far you want to progress up the leadership ladder. Some individuals find a mid-tier level in which they are comfortable and where they can retain a use for their technical skills while others enjoy the business of leading so much that they are happy to leave the technical side of the business to others.
Whatever level you aspire to, Bailey’s advice is to be a learning person: “Never stop learning, growing and developing.”