Making of a Great First-time Team Leader

Making of a Great First-time Team Leader

“I was living in a fool’s paradise,” exclaimed one of the vice presidents after coming out from a meeting to get feedback on a newly promoted team lead. As a team leader, managing people is a critical position, and many difficulties arise when you start that journey. Often, managing a team becomes a natural choice if you are 2-3 years in a role and looking to move up the corporate ladder. The transition to being a team leader from an individual contributor role requires training, temperament, and a flexible mindset.

“If you don’t take the time upfront to figure out how to get the team working well, problems are always going to come up,” says Mary Shapiro, author of the Harvard Business Review Guide to Leading Teams.

If you are thinking of becoming a team lead or are already in the role, the following six strategies will streamline your journey.

Understand the role

how to become a good team leader

A team lead role allows you to manage multiple careers and implement organizational strategies at varying levels. Are you ready for it? Do you know how to do it? Read the job description multiple times. If it is not available, ask for it. After reading several times, score your ability on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 is worst, 5 is best) for each requirement. This scoring needs to be an honest assessment, as no one knows you better except yourself.  Here is a simple format:

List of skillsRank
Skill 13
Skill 22

If your average is three or more across all skill sets, you are ready to take on the role. If it is not, then draw up a plan of action on how to increase the score. Achieving your goal may take a month or a year, depending on the gap, but do not get disheartened.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” said Benjamin Franklin, one of the leading figures of early American history.

Concrete preparation is the foundation of success in any endeavor.

Discuss with your manager

managing people effectively

Have an open but structured discussion with your manager. Here are some points for you to think about:

A) Why do you want to become a team lead? This approach shows you have given it thought and not made an impulsive decision

B) Why are you ready? Share courses you have done, feedback received from your colleagues and stakeholders, etc.

C) What plans do you have for the team? Do your homework on how you can assist the team in reaching and exceeding goals your management has set.

D) Ask your manager what she thinks about your readiness.

If the outcome of the discussion is not in your favor, don’t get discouraged. Ask your manager to give you a project which you can lead with some of your colleagues as team members. This project will be a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate your ability as a leader without having a formal title. Why not suggest a project to your manager

Have a mentor

have a mentor

A mentor or coach helps you navigate your career successfully. Identify one or multiple mentors who would give you objective feedback on your strengths and opportunities. Identifying a mentor is a process in itself, but you would reap the benefit for years to come. When you finally become a team lead, there will be challenges which you never thought about it. A dedicated mentor will be at your side to overcome those challenges like a boatman who takes you to the shore unharmed amid turbulent weather.

Sabina Nawaz, a global CEO coach, leadership speaker, and writer’s article on mentoring is an excellent piece on how to find a mentor.

Ask for feedback

Making of a Great First-time Team Leader

After a couple of months in the role, solicit feedback from your manager and the team about your performance. Proactively asking for feedback has two benefits. First, it gives them an indication of the trust you have in them to improve your performance. Second, your manager and the team would appreciate it that you take your role seriously. Here are three questions you can ask:

A) What shall I start doing?

B) What shall I stop doing?

C) What shall I continue doing?

You will be amazed to see aspects of your performance which you could not figure out on your own. Don’t forget to thank them for their inputs and assure them you will implement their feedback in a timely manner.

Conflict management

Making of a Great First-time Team Leader

Managing people is an art as well as a science. You may complete numerous leadership courses, but you should be ready to flex modify your approach to solve conflicts as they arise. It is not easy to predict people’s behavior. Remember, you can’t manage a conflict by avoiding it. You can do two things. First, assess the situation beforehand to take measures so that conflict never arises. Second, if you are in the middle of a conflict, consider both facts and emotion underlying the problem and then have a balanced approach. By managing conflict successfully, you will save costs for your company. A research showed $359 billion in lost productivity per year in the U.S. alone due to conflict.

You need not be alone in solving the conflict, so please reach out to your manager and mentor for guidance when you are stuck.

Team comes first

Making of a Great First-time Team Leader

No one in the team, including you, is bigger than the team. Keep that in mind whenever you make a decision, especially an unpleasant one for a few team members. There will be times when you will be asked to make decisions that you don’t like personally. However, it would help if you realized that you made them for the betterment of the team. Don’t take anything personally, as the company comes first. That does not mean you will not voice your objection to your manager. If you lose, own that decision instead of ranting against your management.

You are responsible for building a culture of collaboration within the team. Pay attention to develop and maintain a culture where everyone and every idea is heard without a biased judgment. Creating an environment of diversity and inclusion is a must, not an option anymore.

If you are promoted among your colleagues, then you need to be aware of how they perceive you now. Have open conversations with them. Tell them you are there to help them make progress in their careers. Help them to complete deliverables and if required do some of the work yourself. They will have trust in you, and your help would help flourish the team.

In conclusion, managing a team is a rewarding and privileged experience. Numerous studies and personal experiences show bad management caused a significant percentage of employee attrition I am sure you do not want to be a bad manager. Someone told me that as a people manager, you don’t earn money; you earn people as a leader. So, be a guiding light who would bring in transformation not only in the organization but also in your team members’ lives.


Mitadru - Podcast

He is the Vice President – Global Credit Risk Middle Office at JPMorgan Chase. He has vast experience in developing and uplifting heterogeneous teams towards goal alignment and is also a subject matter expert in design thinking, global risk strategy, risk analysis, and data governance.

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1 thought on “Making of a Great First-time Team Leader”

  1. Excellent article. Proud of you Mitadru. I would add one more suggestion id est self assessment. All of us want to grow to the next level and we all know the competition gets tougher at the next level and our performance is going to be compared with those at that level already. A realistic assessment of how well we are in our honest opinion against those at the next level in terms of communication, product and process knowledge, control mindset, people management, innovative thinking, visibility etcetera will help assess are we aiming for success or failure in the disguise of success.

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