How to become a better team leader.

Why do people want to become managers?

There’s rarely one reason why you may choose to pursue a career as a manager (we’ll be referring to you from now on as a team leader). Research has suggested that more often than not it’s due to a person wanting to have more control and autonomy over their lives, rather than actually wanting to lead people and make business decisions. Having the freedom to resist the influence of others and thus to shape your own future is incredibly appealing.

It might purely financial too; it’s no secret that becoming a team leader is seen as a step up on the social ladder. However, is chasing a managerial position for monetary gains a good idea? Definitely not, and it’s unsurprising that it has been highlighted as a key reason why managers end up performing poorly.

Why we created this guide:

The harsh reality is that being a team leader is tough; there’s no real step-by-step guide to be great at managing people, yourself and your tasks. It’s so much more than a job title and ultimately, it’s a position where you’re regularly asked to put yourself last – which naturally, is a hard thing to do.

However, with the difficulty and challenges that face leaders, what can people in managerial positions do to ensure that they’re constantly improving and becoming a better team leader?

We’ve listed 8 things in this article that any team leader should consider if they want to get better at leading. At the end of each section, you’ll find an action point that you can utilize in your role.

Let’s dive in!

PRACTICE CLEAR COMMUNICATION

Building up trust between you and your employees is essential to ensuring that you work together as a team. Communication is at the heart of that, and in general, how the team performs. Failing to communicate with your team can result in:

  • Lack of clarity in your team of what they’re expected to do and when
  • Missing clients project deadlines or failing to hit your team and company targets
  • You may even miss your personal and professional goals

As a team lead you should always try and be ‘available’ for your team – being present and accessible is the first step to ensuring that employees feel comfortable bringing up challenges.

Action point: Practice being an active listener. Research has shown that people are more likely to communicate accurately and honestly if they practice self-disclosure.

BE MORE EMPATHETIC THAN YOU WERE LAST WEEK

Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experience of others. According to research carried out by the Center for Creative Leadership, the ability to have and display empathy is an important part of leadership. A manager’s capacity to implement it effectively (or not) can have a profound impact on the performance of the team

Let’s be clear that empathy is not agreement or sympathy, but it is more about understanding the people on your team. A recent survey showed that “58% of managers fail to show the right level of understanding toward their employees,” which ultimately supports the theory that most managers struggle to practice empathy effectively.

Action point: You can’t suddenly become an empathetic person, and no one will expect that to happen overnight. However, you can begin to practice empathy in the workplace by:

  • Spending time getting to know your employees, both in the office and outside of it (use our check-in tool to make this easier)
  • Set aside some time to lend a hand.
  • Show an active interest in what your employees are doing.

BE A POSITIVE FORCE AT WORK

As a leader, the decisions you make on a daily basis will have a significant impact on how your team performs. Taking a positive attitude, looking at a gloomy situation from a positive perspective, or reinforcing positivity can be powerful. Your positive attitude will have many benefits for your team as a whole, including:

  • Personal productivity – a positive working environment results in an increased level of productiveness and performance
  • Team proactivity – encouraging your employees can, in turn, increase their capacity to take a proactive approach to their work
  • It’s energizing – a little comment here and there can act as ‘ fuel for your team

Action point: It really doesn’t take much to have a positive influence on your team, so start with something small. For example, when you’re walking past your employees’ desks have a 2-3 minute conversation with them to see what they’re working on and then accompany that with a supporting comment. Also, make sure to recognize them for a job well-done.

LESS TALK, MORE ACTION

As we’ve mentioned, the decisions you make will heavily influence the performance of your team, and as research has shown, taking action will have an effect on your team. How you’re perceived by your employees can determine whether they respect and trust you, or the opposite, which will unsurprisingly have a direct impact on their performance.

Saying the right thing is one challenge, but then acting on it is a different story. If you’re unable to act upon your strategic decisions how can you expect your employees to do so?

Action point: The next time you have a team meeting, make sure you clearly outline the action points that you’re going to take to ensure team productivity.

ENCOURAGE FEEDBACK

Feedback is arguably one of the most useful and cheapest management tools available at your disposal, yet it is still underused by many managers. It helps you to track your progress and effectively determine whether you’re doing your job as a leader, according to the people who you’re actually leading. It also builds up psychological safety.

Feedback has many benefits, particularly for team leads, including:

  • It’s available 24/7, you can get feedback from your team at any time during the week
  • It can be motivational for both you and your employees – asking them for feedback is a compelling method of saying “I trust you and your insights”
  • It’s one of most efficient ways to continuously learn about yourself, your role, and your team
  • It creates a platform from which toxic situations can be resolved in your team

Action point: Receiving open and honest feedback from your team might not be quite as easy as you’d expect or hope, particularly if this will be the first time you’ve done it. In order to receive as high-quality feedback as possible, you can:

  • Setup one-on-ones with each employee as an arena for them to give you feedback
  • Prepare a list of open-ended questions that act as conversation starters
  • Share some self-reflection or self-feedback as an example

LEARN HOW TO DELEGATE

Learning to delegate tasks is a priceless skill for two main reasons:

  1. You can’t complete everything on your own – you only have so many hours in a day.
  2. It’s a great way to help grow future leaders. Your team may surprise you when given the opportunity.

As a manager, you know better than anyone that you always have tasks to do, but your primary task is to ensure that your team members are doing what they were hired to do and that they’re effective at it.

Action point: Try asking yourself these questions:

  • Who else could do this, and do it better than I could?
  • What’s the purpose of this task?
  • How much time will this take me versus someone else?
  • Why is it a priority?
  • What levels of authority are needed to complete the task?
  • How much monitoring or control over the process will be required?

PRACTICE HUMILITY

Humility is a trait that we could all do with practicing in our lives. Research in the January 2014 issue of the Administrative Science Quarterly found that managers who tend to exhibit traits of humility directly resulted in their employees having increased engagement and improved performance.

That said, it’s easy for managers to overemphasize humility and end up appearing wishy-washy or ‘fake’. Above all else, being humble in your workplace build a stronger team.

A great example of humility in the workplace is when you receive praise as a team leader that you take the time to point out it wouldn’t have been possible without your team. They were the driving force being the bulk of the work. Remember that.

Action point: Try putting into practice the following three actions that should help you be more humble throughout the day to your employees:

  1. Be open and willing to learn about other people’s opinions
  2. Accept that ambiguity is a real thing – it’s not possible to know everything
  3. Self-reflect on your decisions and actions

TRULY UNDERSTAND YOUR TEAM

If at any point during your time as a team leader you’re struggling for whatever reason, there are two questions you can ask yourself (we wrote a guide on more questions you can ask).

  • If I were an employee on my team how would I like to be led?
  • Based on what I know about my team, how would I like to be led?

The second question is the most important, and unsurprisingly, you might not be able to answer it very well until you’ve worked with your team for a while. Your understanding of your team members, and of yourself, should help you realign your ideas and take appropriate action.

A common mistake that many leaders make is to think that everyone is the exact same as they are, that they want the same things in life, and that they’re motivated in the same way. That’s not true.

In order for people to follow you as a leader, they must feel confident in the direction which you are taking them. You can achieve this by having clear, distinct targets and expectations for your team, plus supporting them with an engaging and motivational reasoning.

Employees want a leader who can justify why they’re trying to sell 10,000 units this month, rather than a leader that makes sure they know about it when they don’t hit that target.

Action point: Ask yourself the questions above. Once you’ve done that you should write down everything that comes into your head and ask yourself:

  • What am I doing now as a manager that I shouldn’t be?
  • What am I not doing now that I’d expect from myself if I were an employee?

WRAPPING UP

Did any of the points we listed resonate with you as potential strengths or weaknesses in yourself as a leader? There’s only one sure way to find out; start your journey to becoming a better team leader by asking your team to carry out some feedback on your performance over the last 6-12 months. When that is complete:

  • Summarize what your key strengths and weaknesses were based on their comments
  • Create a list of personal targets for yourself for the next 3, 6, and 12 months – these should focus on what you can improve based on the feedback from your team
  • Create a simple spreadsheet or document that you can use to track the progress of these targets

We hope this article was useful and helps you become a better team leader! If you’re looking for an easy way to improve communication with your team, feel free to give Friday a try.