Question: I’m in my early 30s and nearly 10 years into a successful IT career. I’ve recently been given the responsibility of managing a team of junior staff. If all goes well, I’ll be offered an official management role. However, this is my first time taking any kind of team leader responsibility and I’m worried about taking on such a big responsibility. I’m determined to be a good mentor and a strong team leader but I don’t know where to start. How can I approach this new role and start off on a strong note?
Answer: First of all, congratulations. It is great to hear that you understand the gravity of the change that you will be undertaking in your role. High-potential individuals, having displayed exceptional skill in their role, are often promoted to the very different position of team leader or manager. While seen as a natural “next step”, the skills required in managing people are often very different to the qualities and actions required in the day-to-day role.
For example, delegation, empathy, planning, negotiation may all be demanded daily of a team leader. In order to approach the role with confidence, take some time to think about how you are going to approach this new opportunity. Here are some items that you should consider.
Examine the key characteristics or skills of a leader or manager you respect or admire
Take some time to contemplate the qualities and actions of a current or former leader, which you have seen as being particularly effective. Focus on the areas that you believe makes them successful, rather than just what makes them “likeable”. Think about how you can emulate these behaviours while still retaining your own personality and style. Some of the most important qualities may include: integrity, open communication, drive, reliability and empathy.
Tap into the resources in the organisation
The Human Resource (HR) department or existing managers likely hold considerable information on processes and procedures commonly used and promoted within the organisation.
Feedback loops such as monthly or quarterly performance reviews, on-going goal or target setting, and daily check-in processes can provide useful guidelines or support when managing communications. Should issues arise, it is important to follow set procedures to ensure the best possible outcome for your team and the organisation.
Identify a mentor
Have others been given similar responsibilities or promoted internally? Find out if one of them would be willing to act as a formal or informal mentor. Drawing on the experiences of others, learning from their mistakes or victories and picking up invaluable tips on dealing with frequently-occurring issues can not only save you from repeating previous mistakes but also give you the confidence to take decisions.
Mentors can also benefit from improved engagement, developing their coaching and mentoring skills and even learning from the mentee’s approach or opinion.
Analyse any gaps
Be honest with yourself regarding any areas that you identify for development within your own skill base. While experience is something that time and exposure alone can solve, other areas such as listening skills or openness to change can be actively worked on a daily basis. Undertaking a personality inventory questionnaire can help your awareness of areas for development. This should only be administered and interpreted by a trained professional and is most valuable when used in conjunction with a series of coaching sessions.
Don’t be afraid to request training
People management, coaching, and leadership training courses can provide a valuable tool kit. While there is no replacement for real-world experience, having some “go-to” methodologies or reflections can help to think through new or difficult situations.
Don’t be over zealous
Respect the boundaries of your role where necessary. Most people react well to encouragement, a shared responsibility and guidance, rather than an aggressive or directive approach. Subtlety, delegation and praise are just as important as enthusiasm.
Build your team going forward
Once your initial training period is complete, continue to build your team. Rewarding positive behaviours as a group, attending social events together outside of work, or simply having lunch together on occasion can promote team bonding, loyalty and dedication.
And never forget to afford your future reports the same opportunity you have just received!
This article was first published in the business section on The Sunday Independent, on 3rd September 2017, and the original version can be found here.
Senior Occupational Psychology Consultant