How to Become a Good Team Leader

How to Become a Good Team Leader

5 levels of leadership

To become a good team leader all you have to do is constantly communicate with your team, set clear tasks, give proper feedback and delegate. Also, you should listen to their needs and provide coach-like guidance when required. Simple, right? Well, not really...

The above-mentioned tips are just quick fixes that can improve the functioning of your team in the short run, but they have no effect on you becoming a better team leader.

Building yourself into an effective leader is a difficult, slow, and meticulous process, which requires both personal and your team’s devotion.

John Maxwell, in his 5 Levels of Leadership, describes the path a newly appointed leader has to take to become a good team leader.

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Level 1: Position

You achieve the first (and lowest) level of leadership simply by being placed in the position of power. There is nothing wrong with being in the position of power. However, relying solely on it to have your team follow you is counter productive. When you start handling your team as a newly appointed team leader, they will have no trust in you or your leadership abilities. The only reason they will follow you is because they have to.

The first level is the starting level and a base for further improvement. You can start investing in your growth as a potential leader, and use this time to prepare yourself for the next level. You can achieve this through prioritizing and diligence.

TIP: How to know if you are a level one leader? Get an intern (a student or someone who just wants to learn a thing or two about the job), and treat them no different than all the other members. If they start disobeying you or voicing their dissatisfaction with your leadership ability, you should think about adjusting your approach.

Level 2: Permission

The next step toward becoming a good team leader is building strong relationships with your team members. Treating individuals as they have value, will develop positive influence, trust, and respect. At level 2, your team will tacitly give you their ‘permission’ to lead them. Members will follow not only because you are their supervisor, but because they genuinely like you as a person. When that happens, it is up to you to maintain that relationship with respect and consideration of your team’s needs.

Level 2 leaders are relational leaders: they listen closely, observe carefully, and are always learning. They als ohave a Servant-Leader attitude, which has proven to be essential for the further advancement of leadership skills.

TIP: A level 2 leader talk less and listen more, which is why some recommend the 70-20-10 conversational rule: you should spend 70% of your time listening to your team, 20% of time enquiring with the just right amount of support, and 10% analyzing the information you’ve gathered. Summarize and sort the information, and then choose the appropriate course of action.

Level 3: Production

You’ve built mutual trust with team members, and things seem to fall into place. Now, it is time to get things done. You know you’ve reached level 3 leadership when you start using your influence and credibility to motivate your team to produce results. You have quite a few notches under your belt now, and your team knows it. They will no longer follow you just because they like you - they follow because of your track record and credibility.

At this point, the snowball effect occurs: your previous accomplishments build upon themselves and become the base for further success. Morale will improve, projects will be completed properly and on time, and you will provide your team with a momentum to tackle every problem.

Level 3 leaders shouldn’t stop acting like level 2 leaders: you should remain the relational leader your team ‘fell in love with,' but also start using new level 3 strategies.

TIP: Use a combination of push and pull influence styles to make sure your team achieves results:

  • Push style forces someone to take action using logical reasoning, threats, or rewards. Even though this approach brings fast results, it guarantees only short term success and should be utilized only as a last resort.
  • Pull style motivates someone to take action. This approach is effective if the leader wants to gain commitment and quality, but is slow at achieving results. Be wary though as people can interpret insincere ‘pull’ as a blatantly dishonest manipulation, which can bring tarnish your reputation.

Level 4: People Development

At this level, you already have a high performing team that trusts you completely. Your primary goal as a leader now becomes ‘reproduction’: identifying and developing as many leaders as possible by investing in them and helping them grow. Furthermore, when you invest in new leaders, a bond of trust will be created between you and them. You will have an ally and someone you can always rely on.

Successful people position themselves well. Successful leaders position other people well. - John Maxwell

According to Maxwell, the key to being a successful level 4 leader is in three simple steps:

  • Recruit well - the better the person you bring in, the higher the odds they will contribute to team success;
  • Position well - find out strengths of a potential leader and allow them to grow in that particular niche;
  • Equip well - provide leader with means to success, through tutoring and training.

TIP: Level 4 is all about developing as many leaders as possible, so train only those that will help others learn the same process.

Usually, there are 4 steps to training and onboarding a new employee:

  1. Initial onboarding;
  2. Mentoring and demonstrating how work process should be done;
  3. Allowing new employee to perform task themselves while monitoring and tutoring them;
  4. Enabling them to perform tasks themselves without supervision. 
    However, a true level 4 leader will implement an additional fifth step:
  5. Require that the trainee transfer knowledge further.

Once you manage to continuously develop leaders who can train other leaders, you can achieve fifth level.

Level 5: Pinnacle

People follow Pinnacle leaders because of who they are and what they represent. Fifth level leaders are rare.

A number of true level 5 leaders in the world is really small. You can only reach ‘level 5’ if you are willing to invest your life in the lives of others for the greater good of the company. It requires constant learning on a personal level and continuous focus on developing new leaders.

Level 5 leaders develop Level 5 organizations and have access to opportunities other leaders don’t. They create legacy, while their leadership earns a positive reputation. Consequently, Pinnacle leaders often transcend their position, their organization, and sometimes their industry. They become the person everyone in the world turn to for guidance.

TIP: If you find yourself at the fifth level of leadership, there is only one tip you need: always improve. There is an always a new book to read and new technology to master, because a true leader knows they can never be all knowing.

Final Words

Just like with the case of team forming, your reputation among team members may vary: some may consider you a ‘level 4’ leader, while others regard you as ‘level 2’.

Naturally, newest members will feel loyalty for no other reason than your supervising position, but even that can change swiftly if they fall under the influence of their colleagues.

So remember: always improve, always teach, always adapt - that is what makes a leader great.