A team is only as strong as the person who leads it. Effective team leadership is an indispensable part of having a successful team, but it’s an element that many teams lack. In fact, according to a Gallup poll, only about 35 percent of managers say they’re engaged in their jobs. Too often, teams struggle with the challenges they face, from low productivity to workplace conflict, all of which threaten to derail projects. The solution involves having team leaders who can motivate and guide their team members. However, possessing those leadership skills doesn’t always come naturally.
Companies without effective team leadership can quickly find themselves falling behind the competition. Teams with great leaders operate with a purpose, but they also do more than just hit project deadlines and company goals. They push the boundaries of what’s possible and create a group unified in hearts and minds. As Babe Ruth once put it, “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success.” Only the right team leader with the right skills to bring people together will be able to reach that next level of success.
Read on to find out more about team leadership, why it’s needed, the traits good team leaders show, and the leadership skills you can start working on today to get the best results.
What is Team Leadership?
Team leadership is when a person takes a group of individuals with different skill sets and talents and directs them toward a desirable destination. Team leadership involves inspiring others on the team to action and providing the necessary support to overcome obstacles. Leaders set the team’s tone and keep team members on task and focused on what matters most. Most teams succeed or fail based on the skill of team leadership.
Why Team Leadership is Needed Today
Middle managers and team leaders face complex leadership challenges today. Much of the business world is in the middle of a shifting landscape not seen since the internet first burst onto the scene decades ago. A report from GitLab indicates that more than half of organizations allow for at least some remote work. This means instead of being located in the same office, many teams are spread out, with some team members living across the country from each other. Teams need strong team leaders to coordinate their efforts, or they risk having everything fall apart through miscommunication and disorganization.
What Makes a Good Team Leader?
It’s easy to say that teams need a great leader to show the way, but it’s much more difficult to pinpoint the traits that make a leader great. Every team faces unique challenges, and not every person will have the leadership qualities that meet those challenges. Even so, the following tips can help people develop into good leaders who can help their teams be successful.
Set an Example First
A team leader needs to set an example for others to follow. If a leader only demands without showing, team members can end up lost or even resentful, thinking they’re doing all the work while their team leader only bosses people around. Understand that team members are watching you. If they see you putting in the time and effort to get things done, they’ll follow suit. On the other hand, if they see their team leader slacking off, they’ll have less desire to work hard.
Figure Out Your Leadership Style
While every team needs a good leader, that doesn’t mean anyone can fill in. You need to develop the leadership style that works best for you and your team. Some styles are more direct and outgoing, which works great for extroverts. Others are quieter and less aggressive, a perfect fit for introverts. Do you want to develop a servant leadership approach and focus on serving your team? Or would you like to practice your public speaking skills to deliver an inspiring speech? Think about what your strengths are and how those strengths can motivate your team. That should help you develop the best style to reach your team’s goals.
Taking on the role of team leader doesn’t throw away all the doubts and fears you may have. A team leader deals with some heavy responsibilities, but they can’t let that intimidate them. Senator John McCain once advised, “Some of us have more fears than others, but the one fear we must all guard against is the fear of ourselves.” Project confidence in all you do, and your team will see that and feel confident along with you. You may not have all the answers, but you can feel confident tackling your biggest challenges knowing you’ll still get the job done.
Team Leadership Skills
With those tips in mind, it’s time to look at the team leadership skills that contribute to being a great team leader. The process of developing leadership skills should be ongoing as no leader is perfect. Make a note of which skills you want to focus on in the weeks and months ahead.
A leader who can’t communicate isn’t much of a leader at all. Communication skills come in many forms, such as nonverbal, written, and public speaking. Many established business leaders say that public speaking is an essential skill everyone should develop. Warren Buffett once told Columbia University business students that simply learning communication skills like public speaking “can improve your value by 50 percent.” Even if public speaking isn’t your forte, casual conversations with team members can give you the opportunity to show your appreciation of their work and inspire them with newfound confidence.
2. Constant Learning
With so much changing in the business world, an essential skill for leadership and management is constant learning. Leaders need to have an inquisitive mind eager to consume more information. Search for books and articles to read. Find topics that fascinate you. These topics don’t have to be immediately related to the company you work for, but make sure to include reading material that will help expand upon and improve your skill set.
A team leader can’t do it all. You’ll need to learn the fine art of delegation to achieve your team’s goals. In the immortal words of Henry Ford, “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” Delegation saves time and keeps stress levels low for the entire team. It also shows your confidence in your team members as you trust them to handle important tasks and responsibilities.
Team leaders need to know what their team members are thinking, and the best way to do that comes from listening. Take the time to listen to understand people’s complaints and concerns. By listening, you can pinpoint where problems might happen, or obstacles could spring up. You’ll also have an easier time addressing concerns before they turn into full-fledged disasters. Team members will appreciate knowing that they have a leader who cares enough to hear them out.
5. Goal Setting
Poet Bill Copeland once said, “The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never scoring.” Teams can work hard every day, but if the team leader fails to set a goal properly, they risk having all that work go to waste. Create a clear vision for your team. Make sure they all understand what they’re working toward. Outline the steps needed to reach it. Once team members see the big picture, they’ll have a better grasp of the context of their work.
No one wants to work for an employer they don’t trust, but unfortunately, it happens. Research from EY found that less than half of workers worldwide place “a great deal of trust” in their leaders. Executives, directors, and managers must earn the trust of their team members. Many of the above skills, such as communication and listening, go a long way toward establishing a high level of trust. Be upfront and transparent with team members. Don’t keep them in the dark on important details involving company strategy. As long as workers feel like their supervisor treats them with respect, integrity, and fairness, employees will trust their leaders to guide them where they need to go.
People don’t like to listen to doom and gloom all day. They want to hear good news and positivity, especially when it relates to their jobs. Team leaders need to show this positive attitude to motivate and inspire their teams. Equally important is the need to show this positivity each day. A positive demeanor can quickly spread to the rest of the team. When everyone has a good attitude, productivity will increase, and people will feel more fulfilled and happy at work.
Just like team leaders must set a good example, they also need to hold themselves accountable. Team leaders who shift the blame to their team members will only lead to discord and conflict among their teams. Take full responsibility if things go wrong. Show that you’re willing to learn and correct past mistakes. Team members will see this and practice self-accountability as well. If everyone does this, they’ll lift each other to a higher level of performance.
9. Sharing Vision
Many team leaders find themselves getting pressure from above as well as below. They have their own bosses to answer to, so they have to show the willingness to be followers as well as leaders. Part of this responsibility includes understanding the vision for the company and getting others excited for it too. Understanding vision also includes understanding the role they and their team play in the big picture. To do this, team leaders will need to work closely with their bosses and their teams to catch the vision and impart its importance to others.
How to Work on Team Leadership Skills
Very few people start out as an ideal team player. It takes work and a constant desire for improvement to develop the necessary team leadership skills to lead a team to success. You can work on your own leadership skills by following these tips.
- Identify one or two skills you want to improve.
- Set a goal to work toward (i.e. improve your listening skill by holding one-on-one meetings with your team members once a week).
- Read books about the skill(s) you want to get better at, including leadership books.
- Listen to business leadership podcasts.
- Practice team-building exercises.
- Set time aside every day to practice your skills.
Teams Need Great Leaders
Teams without effective leaders won’t perform as well as those who have great team leadership. Your abilities as a team leader will depend on your dedication to developing the right skills to lead your team through the highs and lows they’ll experience in the future. From problem solving to decision making, you’ll be on the front lines as you set the example for your team members to follow. Work on these leadership skills now so you won’t get caught unprepared later on.
Looking for more help with your team? Check out the following articles: