This article first appeared in ICMI.
Admit it, your first experience as a team leader was a strange, perplexing, and overwhelming experience. Were you prepared to manage four, seven, or ten other people? Were you happy to be responsible for their performance?
I bet you felt an assortment of emotions - scared, excited, overwhelmed, frustrated, etc. You might have a few questions that are keeping you up at night, like, “How can I be a great team leader?”, “How do I motivate and encourage my team to deliver?”, “A couple of my team members are struggling, how do I help them?”
We deliver through our direct reports. They interact daily with their team members, and we cannot achieve success without them. Consequently, a big part of our success comes from helping our team leads become successful. So how do we do this?
Soft skills are the focus when you move into management roles, but a lot of these interpersonal skills are hard for new leaders. They experience an abrupt switch from managing themselves and usually meeting all their goals, to managing others who aren’t as personally motivated or disciplined. In trying to combine team management and performance, they often fall into quick and easy negative management practices. These faulty methods almost always trip them up as they continue to climb the ladder.
Some interpersonal skills you will need are:
- Negotiation skills (with team members and other team leaders)
- Empathy (putting yourself in your team member’s shoes)
- Overseeing training and development (helping team members improve their skills like time management)
- Ability to manage pressure (from sales targets, SLA targets, etc.)
- Delegation (to build competence and skills in team members)
- Motivation (motivating their team members), active listening, flexibility, etc.
Here are a few tips on how to help our team leads become successful leaders:
Show them by example
A lot of us learn by directly or indirectly watching those we admire. We have role models that help guide or govern our goals, aspirations, personal and professional development. There are several studies that show the importance of role models in early career stages. A study also stated that individuals choose role models throughout their careers. Most people learn by watching and experiencing, rather than through lectures and training courses. So if you want to have your team develop important qualities, you demonstrate it through your actions first.
Talk with them often
Have one-on-one discussions with your team leads explaining why each interpersonal skill is important. Share your personal stories of growth and development. Tell them how these skills have improved your leadership and helped you succeed.
Make training a part of their schedule
Cultivating leadership skills isn’t about assigning your team leads a training course to complete in their free time. As one author put it, “the urgency of work invariably trumps the luxury of learning.”
Training courses can become an immense burden when it’s expected to be an addition to your workload and personal activities. As the manager, you need to carve out time from within your team leads’ daily work schedule to complete any necessary training and development courses. Agree on a set period of dedicated time, or find ways to incorporate training into the platforms they use regularly.
This shows your team leads that their success is important to you, important enough that you are giving them time at work to improve on their skills.
Send leadership and management content
Regularly share helpful articles or content with your team leads. This could be an official email, a link sent via a personal chat, or an article shared on LinkedIn. Whenever you come across a great article, training course, or piece of content on leadership or management, send it to your team leads. They will know that you’re invested in their success.
Strengthen good leadership behavior with verbal commendations, written notes or emails, and small gifts. This is something we often forget or overlook. A simple, “great job” goes a long way in reinforcing leadership skills and motivating others. We know how it feels when we get positive validation on a skill or action. It fills us with pride and further convinces us that the skill or action is necessary.
Stepping into a leadership role can be overwhelming, but it’s important to practice these skills every day. Which one can you start today?
Sayo Afolayan is passionate about customer-centricity and using it to drive sustainable competitive advantage. She is a proud contact center professional who is confident that they will take over the world. Her career, which specializes in strategic management and implementation, spans over a decade within the financial, fin-tech and technology industries. Her favorite things to do in her free time are hanging out with her nephews and visiting her favorite vacation spot.