7 simple lessons to become a better team leader

Neal Ellis Teamwork • Collaboration • 4 minute read

If you're lucky, you've experienced the difference that a great leader can make. Someone who motivated you, trusted you, earned your respect, and helped you do your best work. How did make all that happen?

The best way to become an effective team leader is surely through experience, but it can be an intimidating and challenging process along the way— how to get the best from your team, get along with everyone, and develop your own leadership abilities. 

In time all leaders discover their own unique strengths and style, but there are a few simple rules that can go a long way towards making you a great leader.

1. You are part of the team

You may be in charge, but you are still part of a team. A common leadership trap is to consider yourself outside or above your team, and become less effective as a result. 

Because you are the leader, your job is to be the best teammate. You need to be loyal, a good listener, a hard worker, show patience, and put the needs of the team above your personal needs. 

2. Meetings are not leadership

Some meeting may be essential to keeping a team together and a project on track. But, never make the mistake of thinking that you are being a good leader just because you know how to hold a meeting.

The one universal truth of meetings is that meetings are for talking about work, not for actually doing work.

3. Start with trust

Trust in the team setting is tricky. You will have to earn the trust of your team. But, a great leader knows one of the fastest ways to earn the trust of your subordinates is to trust them immediately, without them having to earn it.

The members of your team may have a different approach than you, but unless you fully trust them to do their part, the team will never achieve its maximum potential.


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4. Lead with your attitude

Everyone gets frustrated. Often the team leader is stuck in a corporate no-man’s land between departments and at the mercy of ambitious but clueless junior executives. Keep your complaints to yourself. Your team needs you to be positive. If they hear you complaining it kills motivation.

Don’t give your team an excuse to fail. Besides nothing cures hurt feelings and difficult bosses like success.

5. Be a respectful critic

Team leaders don’t get to be the cheerleaders all the time. Sometimes people make mistakes that need to be corrected, or the entire project is in jeopardy. You will earn the gratitude and loyalty of your team if they know you won't criticize them publicly. Most of the time people know they have made a mistake.

Make any criticism short and private. When anyone does something worth praising, make sure everyone on the team knows about it. This makes the team member feel good and it motivates the rest of the team.

5. Share credit and take the blame

Team leaders are a lot like elite sports coaches. Often the leader has little power to actually get the work done. Their job is to organize and motivate the team so that everyone is used to their full potential. This means that when a project succeeds you should give credit to your team. They are the ones that got the job done.

But, failure is sometimes a lonely business for a true leader. If you take the blame for failures, it will earn you the respect of both your team and your superiors.

6. Be open about mistakes

Not everything will go smoothly during the project. But, if you stay connected to your team you should be able to spot trouble early on. Great leaders are bold leaders. They are not afraid to admit making a mistake and then making a course correction.

Your team will trust you more if you can admit mistakes and get things back on the right track. Nobody wants to feel they are sailing on a doomed ship with a captain unwilling to admit an error.

7. Build a path for growth

You did not come out of the womb ready to lead. You had mentors and coaches who showed you the way. Pay that back by giving your team members chances to take on new roles and more responsibility in various parts of the project. If you take the time to develop your team, they will be more productive, and you will have powerful new contributors in the future.

Ultimately, one of the most satisfying achievements of being a great leader is enabling others to grow and develop into leaders themselves. And your trust, attitude, respect and support will make all the difference for you and your team.




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