10 Essential Skills to Become a Successful Team Leader and Manager

There’s an age old debate on whether good leaders are born or made. And while we will not be settling that argument here today, I think it’s safe to say that even if you aren’t born to leadership, there are some skill sets that you can employ to become a successful team leader.

The Difference Between a Boss and a Leader

The terms boss and leader are often times used interchangeably, and with good reason. There is a lot of overlap in their meaning. But there are subtle differences, the most important one being that almost anyone can be a boss, leaders are harder to come by. Some of the differences between a boss and a leader:

  • A boss manages work, a leader inspires people – A boss will assign tasks and duties to their team, monitor the progress and assess the results. A leader inspires people to willingly contribute to the success of an organization.
  • A boss always has an answer, a leader always looks for a solution – Part of leadership is coaching your employees. This not only helps to build cohesiveness within the team, but is a great way to build your employees’ problem solving skills and further their career.
  • A boss monitors value, a leader creates value – Every employee needs to bring value to the organization, and that value needs to be greater than the cost of that employee to the company. A good leader is able to recognize their employees’ unique skill sets and utilize them in ways that maximize their talents for the benefit of the company.

These are just a few of the differences between a boss and a leader, but you get the idea. Now we’ll move on to some of the techniques you can use to become a successful team leader.

10 Essential Skills to Become a Successful Team Leader and Manager

1. Confidence (Not Arrogance)

People are naturally drawn to confident leaders.((Forbes: Why Confidence Is Always A Leader’s Best Friend)) Having clear goals and a clear sense of direction on achieving those goals is critical to successful leadership.

Just be careful that your confidence doesn’t turn into arrogance.

Think about the pilot of an airplane. In order to fly from point A to point B, a pilot needs to be confident in the route chosen, his/her ability to fly the plane and the competency of the crew. That pilot inspires confidence and most of us would be willing to take that flight. If however, that pilot starts out with only a vague idea of where they are going and the route they will take to get there, it doesn’t inspire confidence and very few people would be willing to follow that captain’s lead.

2. Decisiveness

Leaders make decisions in a timely manner. Not doing so is just letting the situation escalate until circumstances dictate an answer. Letting this happen is the exact opposite of leadership and will not inspire anyone to follow.

Here’re some tips to help you: 5 Tips for Lightning-Fast Decision Making

3. Organization

A good team leader recognizes that all resources are limited. This includes monetary capital, human capital as well as time. Being able to organize and prioritize each of these things so that waste is minimized is essential to a good leader.

Hint: Employ systems to streamline productivity as much as possible. Have a standard system to deal with email, paperwork, time management and anything else that you can.

Without organization, a lot of important decisions will be left to circumstance.

4. Negotiation

Whether it’s in the job description or not, almost any team leader needs to be a good negotiator.

Disputes and conflict will inevitably arise within your team. When that happens, you need to be willing to settle these disputes and restore harmony within the group.

Always keep in mind that when dealing with different personalities, perception is reality. You may see one side as rational and the other side as ridiculous, but through that person’s eyes, they have a legitimate gripe. You need to not only solve the immediate issue, but also ensure that any resentments won’t impact the larger goals of the team.

Start by listening and acknowledging both sides, half the battle is reassuring people that you have heard them and take their issues seriously. Then, try to come up with 2 to 3 compromised solutions that would be acceptable to you.

Finally, ask them to pick the scenario that they both could live with. You’ll find that while neither one gets what they want, if they feel invested in the solution, they will be much more likely to abide by it.

These tactics maybe useful for you: 12 Tactics to Negotiate Better and Not Be a Pushover

5. Delegation

Knowing how to delegate is not an option for a good team leader; you MUST be able to delegate tasks to your team members without micro-managing them.

In order to become an effective delegator, you must first have a clear understanding of the scope and time frame of the project. You also need a good understanding of each team member’s skill set.

Once those things are clear, you can then break down the goal into individual tasks that need to be accomplished within a time frame. You can then assign each task to a team member according to their individual skill sets.

Your job then becomes one of answering questions that arise, monitoring progress and tying everything together to make a finished product. Proper delegation is the truest form of management.

6. Prioritize

Being a good prioritizer is an undervalued skill, but it’s essential to optimizing your team’s time, effort and resources.

In a team leadership role, you need to be able to prioritize the tasks that are the most essential and the most time sensitive for the success of the project. From the point of view of the small business owner, you need to prioritize what you will personally do.

In my businesses, all of my efforts are devoted to activities that will increase sales and income for the company. I spend my time marketing, networking and promoting the businesses. Anything that takes me away from those activities needs to be done by either an employee or it gets contracted (or delegated) out to a specialist.

Take a look at this guide if you want to prioritize better: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

7. Motivator

Being a good team leader means knowing how to motivate both the group and the individuals within the group. Using techniques like outside team building exercises can enhance group cohesiveness and group problem solving skills. These are the very things necessary when working in a group environment.

While implementing good team building activities is essential, it’s not enough. You need to understand how to motivate the individuals within your team. Everyone has their own motivation for doing things.

Some are motivated by money, so is there a bonus at the end? If not, make sure they understand that their performance will be taken into consideration during their next annual review.

Some people (especially parents) may be motivated by having a more flexible schedule. Can you offer them Friday afternoon off if they come in an hour early on Monday – Thursday? (or stay an hour late)?

Some people are motivated by fear of consequences. And while constantly threatening people’s jobs may work in the short term, it’s no way to motivate people in the long term. But that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be consequences for missed deadlines or poor performance.

As a team leader, you have both the carrot and the stick at your disposal.

8. Maintain Composure

Any human endeavor that requires group coordination over a period of time is bound to run into snags, problem and issues, some foreseeable, some not. When these issues arise, a good team leader will stay focused on solutions rather than being fixated on the problem. This attribute does not come naturally to most people, but it is one that can and should be learned.

I personally learned this skill when I became a pilot. First of all, as any pilot will tell you, if you get into trouble flying an airplane, the worst thing you can do is panic. No one makes good decisions in a panic of distressed state of mind.

It’s important that you are able to calmly gather all the information about the problem before you do anything that might make the issue worse. Only when you are clear about the nature and cause of the problem can you then address it properly. There’s a reason that most plane crashes are due to pilot error. Don’t let pilot error crash your project.

9. Encourage Creativity

This has a lot to do with having good listening skills. A good leader will listen to their team at least as much as they direct the team.

Having regular meeting where team members can discuss the problems and issues they are having is a great way to not only build team cohesiveness, but it also allows for the brainstorming of ideas to solve problems.

As a team leader, you should set ground rules for these brainstorming sessions that include:

  1. There are no stupid ideas – Brainstorming sessions by their nature are creative endeavors, nothing squelch’s creativity faster than a judgmental atmosphere.
  2. Don’t criticize other people’s ideas – A brainstorming session is not the forum to decide if an idea is good or not. In fact, you should be encouraging people to come up with wild, strange or unlikely concepts. After all, that is how industry changing breakthroughs come about.
  3. Build on other’s ideas – This is where encouraging wild ideas pays off. It’s very common that one person’s idea will trigger someone else’s different (or even better) idea. In effect, your team is harnessing and building off of each other’s brain power. And this is what we are after, it’s this type of “out of the box” thinking that can lead to revolutionary changes.

10. Integrity

No one can be an effective leader without integrity. It doesn’t take long for the troops to lose confidence in a leader who won’t stand up for them or who blames others for their mistakes. These types of leaders quickly evolve in to tyrants. They are no longer seen as a “team player” by the group and trust quickly dissolves. Once this happens, they no longer have the ability to inspire people to follow them, and the only tool left is to lead by fear and intimidation.

Obviously, this can work in the short term, but not as a long term strategy.

To avoid this, you can inspire confidence in your organization by listening to your staff and taking their advice (when warranted). Be forthright and admit to mistakes when you make them. And finally, don’t be afraid to go to bat for your employees with upper management if you think you are right. You don’t necessarily have to win, but it’s important that your troops see that you tried.

If you employ these tactics, you can inspire people to follow your lead without having to rely on intimidation or fear.

Final Thoughts

We’ve talked a lot about what makes a good or successful team leader . But why is it important for a leader to inspire followers as opposed to intimidate them? After all, we’ve all known leaders that have gotten good results using fear and intimidation as tactics, so what’s the advantage to inspire them? I think the answer is three fold:

It’s better for the organization. n terms of both the quality of the end result and the monetary costs to the company. It’s been well established that employees who feel vested in both the organization and the project become much more productive than those who don’t. Employees are also much more likely to remain with the company if they are happy and don’t fear losing their jobs. Retaining good employees can be a major cost saving tactic.

It’s better for the employee. Don’t underestimate the value of job satisfaction to an employee. Things like enjoying their job, co-workers and boss contribute a lot to morale. Often times, employees value job satisfaction over monetary issues and will stay with the company because of that.

It’s better for you. s we’ve said before, fear and intimidation will get you results in the short term. However, longer term the results will suffer as employee satisfaction and retention rates go down. As the team leader, you are ultimately responsible for the product your team puts out. Ensuring that your employees are giving you their best efforts only helps you.

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