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10 Essential Skills to Become a Successful Team Leader

10 Essential Skills to Become a Successful Team Leader
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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.

But first, you need to understan 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:

1. Confidence (Not Arrogance)

People are naturally drawn to confident leaders.[1] 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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

More Tips About Effective Leadership

Featured photo credit: Louis Hansel via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

David Carpenter

Lifelong entrepreneur and business owner helping others to realize the American Dream of business ownership

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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