When you think about career success, whether it is a person you look up to or achievement in an organization, it usually is someone in a leadership role. It’s an individual who climbed the corporate ladder, from functional contributor up to the role of managing people and the strategic direction of the organization. We understand their career trajectory from point A to point B, but what we don’t know is how they successfully made that transition throughout the stages of their career and what it took.
When you are first promoted into leadership, the transition from looking up to your leader to being the one looked up to can make your head spin. That’s because team leadership is an entirely new skill set from the knowledge and skills that made you thrive as an individual contributor. Here are 6 truths about team leadership that may help ease the transition.
1. team leadership can be lonely
There was a time when you were on the other side of the table, looking up at your leader. You’re there with your colleagues, chatting at the coffee maker post-team-meeting about the new announcements. But now that you’re the team leader, you do not have that level of connection - you feel cut off as many people don’t view you as their friend but as their boss.
The first step is acknowledging the feelings you’re experiencing. It’s natural to feel rejected when your former peers go off to grab coffee together after a meeting while you’re stuck running off to your next meeting. However, things have to be different when you are the leader of a team as you have access to privileged information and conversations. Not to mention, that the time may come where you need to make decisions and take actions that are not popular with your team.
Fortunately, enlisting the support of a mentor or professional leadership coach can help combat loneliness along the way while giving you insight into someone else’s journey.
2. you'll need more than leadership skills
Stepping into a team leadership role requires a shift from functional expert to one that has a holistic understanding of the organization. When you take that leap, new skills are required to be successful. Some key skills to acquire include:
Strategic and Big-Picture Thinking
Now that you’re leading a team, you will need to be able to step away from your functional silo to focus on how your actions and decisions impact the organization. This requires an understanding of the big picture and strategy of your organization. Comprehending the mutual dependences and interconnections between departments is critical in explaining the corporate strategy and decisions made to your team. In addition, you will need to have this knowledge to appreciate the connection of the corporate strategy to your own team’s tactical execution.
Having the knowledge to interpret financial reports is essential to team leadership as you need to understand how decisions impact profitability and cash flow. Having a basic understanding of finance, key metrics, and concepts allows you to explain to your team the rationale of decisions in regards to their financial implications.
Understanding of the Customer and the Competitive Landscape
No matter your function in the organization, those in team leadership roles should have a deep understanding of the customer, their objectives, and why they purchase your products or services. In addition, an appreciation of industry trends, competitors, and the market will serve you well when leading a team as you can better explain opportunities, threats and why your organization is moving in a certain direction.
3. youR team will look up to you
Like it or not, your team is watching how you behave, interact with others, and the norms you set for your team culture. They will in turn model the behaviors you demonstrate as the appropriate way to conduct themselves. It’s up to you to act in the way you want them to act.
You cannot have a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. That is not team leadership. Think about the type of culture and the associated behaviors you want your team to have, and start by modeling those behaviors yourself. Talk about and reinforce the desired behaviors when you’re leading your team meetings.
4. inclusive leadership is fundamental to team success
The numbers speak for themselves for the importance of inclusion in team leadership. In one study, they found a direct correlation between inclusive teams and business performance.
- Team performance improved by 50% when everyone feels included
- Inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time
- Decisions made and executed by diverse teams deliver 60% better results
So, how do you build inclusive teams?
You need to focus on the talents and strengths of the individuals on your team and how they can be collectively harnessed to drive inclusion to achieve the team mission or goal at hand.
One of Niagara Institute’s partners, The Submarine Way, has written extensively on the topic of inclusive leadership including in their book, "Diversity and Inclusion: The Submarine Way" which takes a deep dive into how a focus on strengths and talents to deliver the mission at hand, which naturally creates a more inclusive environment and better outcomes.
“People want to be appreciated for their strengths and contributions. We cannot build strong and diverse teams if we don’t encourage people to be the best they can be. We might be lucky enough to create diversity by this means, but if we spend our time trying to fix people instead of focusing on talents and skills, what are the chances we are going to get the best results for our efforts?”
By taking what they call “a strength-based approach to leadership,” the focus shifts predominately to what talents the individual brings, not what they don’t. As a result, the conversations change to the value people bring. This drives performance, creates deep inclusion and outcome-focused mindsets.
5. Effective Team Communication is Critical
Effective communication and team leadership are intertwined. It is hard to have one without the other. Team leadership requires a leader to be motivating, inspiring, and energizing and the vehicle to do so is communication. Your ability to drive action, rally around a common goal, build excitement and engagement can be directly correlated to how concisely and clearly you speak to your team.
Finding opportunities where you can upskill your communication techniques across a variety of formats is always a great option to increase your team leadership skills. Look for training that allows you to put your communication skills into practice.
6. team leadership skills can be learned
While you may now be overwhelmed thinking about the new skills needed to be successful at team leadership, the great news is that it all can be learned. Not to mention, organizations understand the importance of leadership development and many are willing and ready to provide their leaders, especially those new to the role, with opportunities to grow these skills. In fact, in 2019, over $169 billion was invested into leadership training in North America alone, with that amount growing annually.
Therefore, when sourcing leadership training that will equip you with the skills you need to confidently lead the people you manage, look for training that is rooted in the realities you face as a leader, is practical and is delivered by a trainer who has walked in your shoes.
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