Team Leadership: How to Be Successful
There are many avenues to success in team leadership, and if you regularly work in a team-based environment, it’s essential to know the ins and outs of these avenues. The majority of skills and traits that make for successful team leadership are ones you’ve likely heard previously, such as managing team performance and facilitating healthy team dynamics, but the combination of them is what’s most vital.
Having every skill working together is the best way to overcome the numerous obstacles every team faces from time to time. So, focus on honing each of the ones we’ll go over below, rather than trying to pick out two or three and utilize only those.
Essential Leadership Skills For Leading a Successful Team
While there are core skills and traits that all great leaders possess, the functionality of said skills and traits will differ depending on the environment and people. What works for a team of people who work together daily in a physical space might not necessarily work for a team of people who work together daily in a digital space.
Many people have come to realize that this is the case due to the recent pandemic, and it is proving difficult for some to adapt their leadership responsibilities to an environment where virtual team collaboration is becoming the norm.
If you’re finding yourself in a similar situation, leadership theory has identified certain traits that all good leaders have in common. Read on to learn about eight leadership qualities you can use to have success in leading a team of individuals.
As the leader of a team, you set the tone for the team members in every single area that matters the most. Moral standards are one of these areas, so what is acceptable and not acceptable from an ethical standpoint is entirely determined by you. If you expect a certain level of moral integrity in all your team’s work, you have to set a precedent for them.
Leading by example is the best recipe for success in nearly every situation. Doing it with morals is a must because of its reinforcement to your team members. People will generally do the work you instruct them to do, but they won’t always do it to the standard you expect for a variety of reasons, and one of these reasons can be a lack of ethics/morals.
In any workplace, there is a drastic difference between telling someone to make a piece of work good and showing them how to make a piece of work good. This is why new employees sometimes struggle to properly do their tasks initially if they only receive training through some written manual. The same can apply to morals.
Suppose you set an example by actively showing your team members what you expect from them. In that case, the chances that they meet whatever standards you set will increase. From there, it will come down to whether or not you continue to hold yourself to that same moral standard, as the members of your team will naturally keep reflecting the image you present to them as a leader.
Remember that there will always be instances where team members fail to meet the standards you set, and it’s in those moments where you have to hold them to the standard instead of lowering it to them.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
A leader with poor organizational skills will likely wind up making more decisions that harm the team members than help them. Or, at the very least, a leader who lacks organizational behavior will not do a lot to put the team in a position to succeed.
Unlike with some of the other skills in this guide, you might not pay as much attention to your organizational skills depending on the type of work you do, as not every leadership role puts this specific set of competencies to the test.
However, if your role requires you to do something, like setting up people in a teamwork scenario to work on multiple projects that must all be complete by a specific date, then you’ll know if you have good organizational skills or not. And it won’t be particularly difficult for you to tell either.
When a leader has poor organizational skills, there are generally many instances of the team members asking for essential information. Think due dates, a general brief on the work they are trying to do, details on or from the client if the work is someone you’re working for, and other things of a similar nature.
To be a leader with great organizational skills, put yourself in the position of the team members and think of all the information you’d want to do your task. This approach makes it so you can ensure they get everything they need to get themselves started.
It won’t make it so that they don’t come to you for any future questions, as good team members will always ask clarifying questions to ensure they stay on the right track. However, covering all the fundamental information will allow you and your team to spend more time on the more specific points that will no doubt arise in your work down the line.
Ideally, good organizational skills are the things that allow you to optimize the work experience for yourself and your team members. That way, everyone can feel that they are making the most of the time they have to work with.
Good communication skills will go a long way regardless of what type of environment you are leading in. Without strong communication, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to have any consistent success because a team will rarely be on the same page at any given moment.
This is especially the case in larger teams where information can fall through the cracks if not everyone is properly communicating with one another. And it only takes one person missing out on a critical piece of information to cause severe problems in the development of a project, so you really can’t afford to have bad communication.
Leaders with good communication skills will open up multiple communication channels within their team. They will communicate with the team both as a whole and the individual members because both forms of communication can bring about different types of information. This also somewhat plays into organizational skills to some degree.
Making use of individual and team-wide communication improves employee engagement and allows the team members to feel connected to each other as a group and connected to you on a more personal level. Going out of your way to address them one-on-one shows great initiative as the leader, and it also shows that you view them as more than just a cog in the machine that is the whole team.
Through this form of empowerment, you’ll build relationships with your team and likely have better workflow because the team members will feel more confident in communicating with you openly. Ultimately, this is what you should strive for; you don’t want your team members to feel intimidated by you as the leader because that’ll make them less likely to approach you about important issues.
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There’s a great deal of collaborative work involved in any team environment, but not every leader starts with good collaboration skills. As the person running the show, it’s both tempting and easy to push your ideas to the front of the table and then work with a team to realize them, but that’s no true collaboration.
True collaboration involves working with your team through every step of the process regarding whatever work you’re trying to achieve. Team members never want the leader to view them as nothing more than laborers because that takes away from team spirit and the motivation they have to do their work.
Instead, as the leader, you want to do everything you can to foster the motivation of your team members by relying on them whenever possible. This can be in the form of consulting them for ideas, getting feedback on your ideas from them, or including them in discussions about topics that affect the team as a whole.
Essentially, inclusion is the key to developing strong collaboration skills. Look to include your team members whenever and wherever you can because that is how you can create long-lasting confidence and trust with them. The more they feel like a valuable member of the team, the harder they will strive to be productive and do great work, which will rub off on everyone else on the team.
The healthier and friendlier work environment you get from this is the end goal you should aim for. Whether or not you can maintain it will come down to how well you continue to push for everyone to collaborate more and more.
Like morals, you set the tone on the issue of responsibility. Your style of leadership has to be crystal clear on this particular issue because it is one of the most critical. Every team member needs to know and understand the role that they have, and they also need to understand the specific responsibilities that come with the position.
The last thing you want is a member attempting to do work outside of their area of expertise because they misunderstood the nature of their role within the group. The most common and significant problem that stems from this point is certain members trying to pick up the slack when other members fail to fulfill the requirements of their roles.
This then leads to some people getting overworked to the point where they are no longer an asset to the rest of the team, and it reflects poorly on you as the leader for allowing the mismanagement to happen at all. To avoid this scenario, every team member needs to hold each other accountable.
Once accountability becomes a formality that team members acknowledge and not a rule that they follow, you might start to see some red flags. These can come in the forms of members turning in work late, turning in work unfinished and leaving the finishing touches to someone else, not seeking help when they are having trouble with something, and several other things.
While you can only do so much to ensure people are responsible for completing their work in the best fashion possible, it’s your responsibility to hold their feet to the fire when necessary. And be consistent about it. If you let someone off the hook for that kind of behavior, they are bound to repeat it at some point and keep repeating it for as long as they can.
There is an argument for decision making being the most crucial trait/skill that any leader can have. It’s the main thing that most team members will look to the leader for, and rightfully so.
Earlier, we went over the importance of having collaboration skills as a leader and the need to involve all the team members to make them feel valued. As important as that is, there will come times when the involvement of team members is not going to do you much good because you’ll have the final say.
You must have enough conviction to feel good about deciding in these moments, and you cannot worry about pleasing everyone. Sometimes you’ll have the luxury of a decision that does successfully appease all the team members, but this is rare, and the vast majority of the time, someone will not like whatever decision you make.
That is the unfortunate responsibility you have as the team leader, and it’s essential always to see the big picture and remember that the decisions you make are never personal ones. Having the capacity to figure out what’s best for everyone as a group and moving in that direction is the mark of a leader with solid decision-making skills, and it usually takes trial and error to develop.
Because of this, don’t concern yourself with trying to make the decisions you think will hurt the fewest feelings. The better thing to do is acknowledge the feelings being hurt and make an effort to appease them without going against your better judgment.
It’s an incredibly fine line that you’ll learn to balance, but no matter how adept you become at trying to please everyone with your decisions, someone will always feel left out.
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A leader without thick skin will crumble quickly as soon as the going gets rough, and a lack of perseverance in the leader is often the downfall of many teams.
If you look at a team of people as a car, the leader is the engine, and once that part of the car starts to give out, all the other parts won’t have the capacity to do anything significant. The team members look to the leader for direction at practically all times, and when that source of direction stops functioning, they will have no sense of what to do next.
Granted, if you’re the leader of a team, it can get difficult to constantly motivate yourself enough to keep the other members engaged in the work you’re doing. Even the best leaders go through a phase like this for many reasons, and it’s essential not to let it show too much.
The moment your team starts to see you showing a lack of drive in whatever you’re doing is the exact moment they start to feel that lack of drive in themselves. At that point, it becomes an uphill battle to recover and bring everyone’s morale levels back up to the healthy spot, and in the process of trying to do that, you can experience all manner of other issues that delay your work.
Finally, a good leader champions flexibility. As important as sticking to deadlines and things of a similar nature is, nobody likes working for someone who has no sense of flexibility. Having to crunch to meet a deadline is sometimes worth the effort, but it’s on a case-by-case basis that you need to recognize as a leader.
There will come times when flexibility, as opposed to rigidity, is the better option for you and your team as a whole, and it’s up to you to know when to lean one way or the other. The best way to do this is by gauging your team’s morale and then going based on that.
If people are up for a work crunch, then go with that option, but if they are vocally against that idea, then strongly consider opting for a more flexible option. It may cause issues in your team goals and short-term production. However, it’s better to have those issues than moral issues within your team.
Photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash
Good team leadership requires problem-solving and several working parts, and hopefully, you now have a good understanding of some of those parts. While some of them have more relevancy in certain areas of leadership theory than others, they are equally valuable. Regularly putting them into practice is the best way to improve your team leadership skills.
Remember that becoming a good team leader does not happen overnight or even over multiple days. It can take several weeks and even months to truly begin grasping the fundamentals of having good team leadership. How much you commit yourself to the process will also play a heavy role in determining how fast you learn.
With this in mind, don’t rush the process. Take your time, refer back to the various points in this guide, and don’t feel afraid to ask your team members for feedback. The people you lead often have some of the best insights into how you can lead them more effectively, so don’t neglect that potential source for information.
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