Seven Team Leadership Hacks Part 1

1.   Flip the switch from technical master to personal risk taker.

Most people that are appointed to lead a team for the first time are there for one reason – they have displayed sufficient aptitude at the technical skill performed by the team to assume the role of leading it. That means they could be the best sales person, or have superior communication skills to their peers. It doesn’t, however, guarantee they will be able to make one of the most difficult transitions available in the modern working environment – that from technical master, to taking the personal risks required to successfully lead a group of people.

One mistake new team leaders often make is to double down on their technical skills once they are in the leader role. This could be for a few reasons – to really prove their technical worth to the team, or to mask a fear of embracing what team leadership actually involves. Often they haven’t had sufficient training to actually know what they don’t know – so it isn’t their fault. But the sooner new leaders move on from wearing their technical hat, and put on the leadership hat, the more they will enjoy their new roles, and gain increased respect from those around them.

So how does one do this? One good way to start is to write a list of the leadership attributes you have admired from other leaders you have worked with before. Ideally, it’s good to adopt a blend of attributes from numerous leaders, rather than trying to mimic just one or two, no matter how strong those leaders may have seemed. In practice, with the numerous skill sets required, you will find yourself reflecting on many approaches observed that resonate. You may look to a couple of role models that were strong in influencing outcomes; others will be better networkers, and so on. Combining these raw skill sets with your own natural style is a solid beginning.

Reaching out to these role models for mentoring support is another sensible step – in my experience, if you ask people for advice, most of the time they will be happy to help you.

Another important thing to make time for when new to team leadership is to act like a leader. This is where the concept of “personal risk” comes in. Effectively, this means taking on activities where you aren’t completely sure about the outcome. For example, you might put your hand up to join a project team, where you know very little about the subject matter – but you can see a benefit from the project to your team in due course. Or your application to the mentoring program sees you assigned to the CEO!! While outcomes like this might produce an uncomfortable element of scuttlebutt (“S/he manages up really well but is light on substance”), by taking these types of risks in the first place, you are already exposed to more people in the business than if you sat back and assumed no risk. You are more likely to see and hear about new corporate strategies (and maybe even shape them), add value to others through your experience, and learn tactics to deal with “imposter syndrome”, the fear that you don’t belong where you are, should it appear.

Taking these types of actions builds confidence in yourself as a leader. Assuming you feed back relevant information to your team from these activities, they will feel more comfortable that you are a person interested in their development and connectivity with the rest of the organisation. Once you start feeling like a leader, and others perceive you that way, you are on the journey away from technician – and are less likely to gravitate back there.

For more information on Imposter Syndrome, read “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes.

2.   Don’t miss the opportunity to turn your next 1:1 into a great coaching

When assuming leadership roles, the natural tendency for many is to assume the role of “story telling” and replay examples from their own experiences as a way of helping people solve their issues. There are some shortcomings with this approach – not all situations are exactly the same, everyone has their own value set, and most importantly, people respond best when they “own” their problem, rather than being told what to do. Even if the person doing the advising here is coming from a good place, the chances of obtaining a successful outcome without adopting a coaching approach is limited.

Many organisations have (thankfully) disbanded the twice-yearly performance appraisal process and replaced it with a series of more frequent 1:1 discussions. These are often conducted without an agreed structure and, as a result, can meander into a high-level review of the “to do” list and leave both the interviewer and interviewee without any concrete outcomes from the discussion.

If conducted as coaching conversations, however, these more frequent discussions can give the interviewer a clear picture on how the interviewee has progressed over the year in their key result areas. For the interviewee, they stand to feel more supported, more confident in their decision making, with a clear feeling of being empowered. People that are used to frequent, quality coaching conversations are more likely to take personal risk, invest more time in their own development, and in turn act as good role models for others as they assume leadership roles.

The GROW model (Goal, Reality, Options, Way Forward), first published by John Whitmore in his 1992 book “Coaching for Performance” is a well-known framework that can be applied to a coaching conversation. GROW adopts a series of questions that identify a desired Goal (“What is the outcome you desire? How important is it to you?”), the current Reality (“What is working or not working? What is your role in the situation?”), exploring Options (“What would be an option beyond what you’d normally consider?”) and agreeing a Way Forward (“What specifically will you do from here? How confident do you feel about next steps?”).

Used consistently, with good note taking and regular reviews of outcomes of agreed actions, coaching conversations provide insight into decision making processes, create a “stretch” environment, and most importantly, a quality lens into on-job performance. They are also excellent ways of building trust within working partnerships, role modeling leadership behaviours, and create a strong sense of achievement – the ultimate essence of team leadership.

For further reading, try “Fast Coaching for Busy People: How to Coach in 10 Minutes or Less” by Michael Bungay Stanier.


FOUNDER: Lewis Williams


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