Some people are born leaders. Wherever they go, they don the hat of the leader. However, most people succeed as team leaders not because they are destined to but because they are determined to. What does it take to be an effective team leader? Not much, you may assume, as it is the team member who does the dirty work.
When the going is good, the leader can bask in reflected glory. However, when the going is not so good, he is in the direct line of fire and is held accountable for any goof-up by a team member. Here are the 5 traits a Team lead will have.
Open communication channels
Poor communication skills can be the kiss of death for a team leader.
· Precise and Clear: If you are not precise and clear about what you expect from your team members, you will not get the crisp action and results you want.
· Simple information — like who is in charge of the project, what are the team members’ primary and secondary responsibilities, what is the deadline, what is the team’s cumulative target, what is each individual’s contribution towards achieving the team’s objectives, in which direction is the team headed, on which parameters is the quality of performance going to be assessed — goes a long way in clarifying roles and expectations.
· Avoid Misunderstandings: Most misunderstandings occur in the long run because things are not made crystal-clear at the very onset. Take the case of Roshni, a senior customer service representative at a reputed call centre. When her team leader asked her to walk the floor in his absence, she assumed he was grooming her to step in his shoes. She made no bones of the fact that she considered herself to be the chosen one. However, she got a rude shock when the promotions were announced. It took her a while to realise that she was reading too much into things. Being asked to shoulder extra responsibility does not necessarily translate into a promotion. One needs to possess the required qualifications, expertise, domain knowledge and be adept at people management to bag a promotion.
· Availability: Make sure your team knows that you are approachable and you consider them worthy of your time.
· Respect: Every member of the team has strengths required to make the team successful. So, each should be treated with the same respect. An informal atmosphere is an added advantage.
Management guru Robert Townsend, who wrote the bestselling book Further Up the Organization, hit the nail on the head when he said, ‘If you are the boss and your people fight you openly when they think that you are wrong, that’s healthy.’
It is up to the team leader to be farsighted, anticipate problems that may plague the team in the future and take preventive measures. Effective problem solving requires discipline and organisation.
· Record Minutes: An effective rule for managing issues is: When you hear it, write about it. This ensures that all related details are recorded and can be subsequently reviewed. Each issue can then be prioritised and attended to accordingly.
· Reduce Excuses: Townsend states, ‘An important task of a manager is to reduce his people’s excuses for failure.’ These excuses later on take the form of issues or problems. As long as they remain unresolved, safe and valid excuses for delay and unaccountability will exist in the minds of the team members. The solution lies in nipping the problem in the bud. For instance, if your team members crib that they have a lot on their plate and hence cannot make time to follow systems and processes, sanction them half a day’s time, officially, to get things in order. Explain to them the importance of doing things right at the first go. Once systems and processes are set, the team members have no option but to align themselves accordingly. They will respect you for your farsightedness and efficiency in the long run though they may crib initially at the changes you have brought about, especially if they are not used to maintaining records.
Be helpful, not forceful
Gone are the days where the command and control format applied. Leadership as of today is all about guiding — not ruling. People management skills are a pre-requisite for anybody aspiring to be a team leader.
· Gauge the Team Members: You need to gauge your team members accurately. It is only by understanding their individual work preferences, core competencies, motivation levels, areas of improvement and strengths that you will be in a position to assign them tasks accordingly. Walk the job. The need of the hour is for a hands-on boss.
· Easily Approachable: The Boss needs to be approachable when the situation so demands. If your team member has goofed up in the process of learning the ropes, help him save face.
· Damage Control: Start damage control immediately. Get the required support and flex your muscle to get things moving during an emergency.
· Help Team Members: If one of your team members is finding it difficult to meet his deadline, get a colleague, who is relatively free, to chip in. Two brains are better than one. Your team members will definitely appreciate your sense of solidarity and respect you more for saving the day for them
Trust is the key
No relationship is long-lasting or worthwhile if trust is missing. This holds equally true for the team leader and team member relationship.
· Increase Trust: The first thing a team leader needs to get straight is that his team will not trust him because he considers himself to be trustworthy. Anyone who has ever walked a corporate corridor knows that trusting the wrong person has led to many an executive’s downfall in the long run. What you may have mentioned to a colleague whom you considered to be a friend over a couple of drinks may become a topic of debate and discussion by the higher management in their next meeting. When power and authority are at stake, the trust factor takes a backseat. As we all work in such high-pressured environments, our defences are naturally up. It takes a leader with sterling personal qualities of professional integrity, courage, industry, maturity and most importantly, the ability to inspire trust in his team members, to deliver the goods. It is the moral responsibility of the team leader to shield his team from any problems that can occur in the distant future as well as any management decisions that can harm his team in any way. He needs to exhibit trust-building behaviour. He needs to trust his team members before they trust him. It works both ways.
· Optimum usage of Resources: As the team leader is the connection between the team and the higher management, he needs to work in tandem with both parties to obtain a full commitment from the management in support of the team’s programme. It is his responsibility to ensure his team members are making maximum use of the resources and the support provided. He needs to earn the trust of both parties to meet his objectives. Betrayal of trust leads to an inevitable downfall.
· Have faith in team members: Have faith in your team members to achieve miracles. Provide them with opportunities, equip them with relevant training and support and they will repay your faith. If you as the centre manager see the spark in your counsellors, give them the opportunity to rise to their potential. If they can talk their way into the clients’ hearts and pockets, they are cut out for a career in business development. Give them a platform to showcase their skills and get the orders pouring in.
Show the way
Meetings, issues, firefighting and meeting deadlines sometimes makes the team leader put mentoring of team members on the backburner.
However, today’s executive is no longer lured by just the job guarantee factor or a fat paycheque. More than anything else, he is looking for professional growth.
· Building and supporting a career development atmosphere is paramount. By empowering your team members, you empower yourself. You need not then micro-manage your employees and can concentrate on matters that merit your time and attention. The investment in making sure that every team member is ascending his personal learning curve pays great dividends. Not only does it boost their confidence, the team members become increasingly valuable to the organisation. Equipping your team members with the relevant skills, giving them adequate exposure, training and broadening their skill sets helps build on their expertise, optimise their individual talents and groom them to take on greater responsibilities. Leadership is all about creating conditions under which team members can perform effectively towards a common goal and actualise their potential.
· Team members need feedback on a regular basis, not just during the annual appraisals. They need to be made aware of their performance levels and be given an opportunity to discuss their needs for growth and development. Recognition of efforts is essential for lifting the executives’ spirits and strengthening their sense of commitment. Likewise, the executives must be told — firmly but gently — about their areas of improvements as well as shown ways and means of working on them. Quality needs to be inspired, not dictated.
· Set high standards for yourself and your team will follow suit. Your example will always be emulated. Nothing inspires a team member more than seeing his boss hard at work.