When you embark on the five-step journey to becoming a good team leader, having the right attitude is not enough. Even if you are an indispensable team member with lots of knowledge, the new leadership role is challenging.
We asked 10 experienced team leaders:
- What skills do new leaders need?
- What challenges do new leaders face on a daily basis?
- What mindset do new leaders need to inspire and motivate their team?
Here's their advice.
Calamity is the foundation for rational decisions
Patience, the ability to see the big picture, good judgment of character, and keen observational skills are just some of the characteristics that make a good leader.
In my experience, the best type of team leader is the one who is always calm in the face of panic.
A team leader needs to be able to calmly assess a situation, know his team members' strengths, and properly delegate work to get the job done. Leading a team means having a basic understanding of each job, but not necessarily being an expert in each, so it is up to the leader to understand and respect the responsibilities of each team member.
Never be too hard on a teammate and respect their work space. The team leader should always ask questions to ensure quality, but shouldn’t overrule an expert developer on development decisions, as they will lose self-confidence and respect for their superior.
— Daniel Ali, Vice President and Project Manager at My Quick Startup
Take interest into your team's personal preferences
Take the time to get to know your team, figure out what drives them, what motivates them and how they prefer to communicate.
As the leader of the solutions team, I think that simple communication is not enough - you have to get familiar with your team’s motivations and dreams. Never underestimate the power of a catch up over coffee: it takes 15 mins to sit down with one of your employees and understand what is happening in their world. This simple hack will not only enable you to keep your team motivated but you will notice issues before they arise as well. Get to know your team inside out on both a professional and personal level - you won’t regret it!
— Hannah Munro, Senior Business Technologist at Itas
Make right, not popular decisions
Popular decisions are not necessarily the best ones. True leaders will make the tough call, even when their decisions are heavily frowned upon.
Employees respect owners who are willing to make unpopular decisions, especially when they can explain why they are making them. The leader shouldn't strive for the safest, but for the best thinking in the organization. It is fine to avoid unnecessary risks in business, but if the owner always takes the safest route, they are likely to lose good employees and hold on to only those who are risk averse. Involving the staff in critical decisions, seeking a variety of inputs and making the best decision – even if it’s not the safest one – will grow the respect of the team.
— David Scarola, Chief Experience Officer at The Alternative Board
Don’t doubt yourself
A solid leader needs a set of good problem-solving skills, the ability to define tasks and set clear goals for their team. Also, they provide clear vision and work their pants off for the team. However, confidence is the key prerequisite for a successful leader.
Even though it sounds basic - always do what you think is right! I’ve seen many leaders lie and play politics for personal gain, especially in projects where there so much room for error and interpretation. I’ve seen leaders blatantly make a wrong decision that cost companies money. I have personally been asked to make decisions that would be detrimental to a project. Once, I even gave in and ended up on the receiving end of that mistake. In the end, do what you think is right because you probably are.
I made the mistake of publicly scolding team members when they made repetitive mistakes, or when it resulted in unexpected issues. Now my experience has taught me that one-on-one meetings always end in mutual respect and understanding.
— Gavin Woods, Director of Consulting at PITSS
Share the mistakes you’ve made
Lecturing someone publicly is never a good move. Being a good leader means treating your team the way you’d like to be treated.
Your job as a manager is to give your team everything they need to be successful, which means boosting their confidence too. Instead of just telling someone how to set up an email server, explain to them why they should do it a certain way. Talk about the time when you set it up wrong. Sharing your mistakes not only builds rapport, it also helps you build invaluable experience and triumph in the IT world.
— Roslyn McKenna, Brand Manager at SH Data Centers
Learn from previous mistakes
Every mistake is a valuable lesson in disguise. Team leaders become successful only once they become fully aware of what ineffective team leading is. That way they can learn both from their own mistakes, as well as mistakes of their previous bosses, becoming better leaders in the process.
One of the mistakes I made was assuming that my team members were adequately adapting to our company culture and atmosphere after too short time. I felt as though I may have overwhelmed them with multiple tasks and challenges without checking to see how comfortable they were. From that experience I learned that it's better to ask and check with your team members about how familiar and comfortable they are with what they are doing, instead of only making assumptions.
— Jake Tully, Head of Creative Department for TruckDrivingJobs.com
It doesn’t matter if your team is dispersed across the globe - a true leader makes members feel like they are working right next to one another. Members need to respect the leader, but only if the leader maintains a delicate balance of humility and authority.
Listening to your employees is essential (especially when you aren't seeing them face-to-face), which is why I've told my team not to hesitate to reach out to me anytime, night or day. Also, we have a weekly check-in to discuss current projects as well as any concerns they might have.
However, communicating solely via text can be a challenge if you don't express yourself properly. On one specific occasion, I responded in a hurry and without thinking through what I wrote, and the message came across as a demand rather than a request. Consequently, I've learned that it's always better to pause and re-read before hitting "send" and maybe include a well-placed emoji, gif, or funny meme. It won’t hurt if you want to lighten the tone.
— Cassie Bottorff, Managing Content Editor at Fit Small Business
Being an expert doesn’t make you a leader
The most important skill a tech industry leader needs to have is to be an excellent engineer with an ability to delegate.
Seniority of tech leaders derives directly from technical excellence. However, this can cause many problems. For example, if an exciting project or problem is brought to leader’s attention, their inner-engineer can take over: they will immerse themselves into the task at hand, forgetting that each hour spent on the problem, is an hour they don’t spend taking care of the team. This kind of behavior can send the message that the members’ contribution don't matter and that they are here to handle the tasks which team leaders won’t do themselves. It is necessary to include your team in every endeavor. Otherwise, you are destined to fail as a leader.
— Julien Veneziano, Lead Android Engineer at Fueled
Adjust your approach to suit each member
Each leader who takes on a new team should take some time to get to know each member as an individual.
When I was a new team leader, I was more directive when delegating and assigning tasks. However, I quickly learned that this approach is not effective in the long run. My philosophy now is to hire great people and create an environment which allows them to thrive. As a leader, you should be there to remove barriers, provide support and encouragement, and then just get out of your team’s way.
All employees desire to be appreciated for the personal value they bring. Since everyone is different, ask them how they like to be recognized: some would prefer under-the-radar, sincere emails, while others prefer loud-and-clear public displays. By respecting their wishes, you will provide them with the recognition they crave and build mutual trust.
— Shawna Clark, Founder of Clark Executive Coaching
True team leaders are all-rounders
Being a good team leader is like solving a puzzle - to get a proper effect, a lot of smaller pieces need to fit in.
If you want people to follow you, they need to be fully aware that you are competent for the job at hand. Once you’ve established yourself as an expert, do not let it go to your head: build healthy, two-way relationships with your teammates, and encourage open communication as well as a constant exchange of ideas.
Take your time, get to know all members of your team, and get an insight into their strengths and weaknesses. Afterwards, delegate work accordingly. Delegating adequate tasks says two things: first - I know your strengths, and I want you to use them to the fullest, and second - I know your weaknesses, and I will not let you come out of your comfort zone. Finally, a true leader emerges in the state of urgency and uncertainty. When the times are tough,your team will come to you for your guidance - do not let them down.— Dejan Kikaš, PHP Developer and Team Leader at S7 Design