What I learnt from leading

5 lessons from a first-time team lead

K. Robertson
Sep 27, 2020 · 6 min read

In 2015, I was tasked with leading a team. I had never done this before, but it was the job at hand and I had to embrace it. Now, I had never considered myself a people person. I can’t recall ever wanting to be a supervisor or team lead. I mean, I did apply for a similar position but wasn’t successful at the time. And in hindsight I can say I am glad I didnt get it, because I don’t think I was ready at that time.

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

Anyway, I was now in charge of a small team with indirect responsibility for an even larger team. I had to learn to lead and I had to learn fast. To be honest, I wasn't thinking about being a good team lead. I was more focused on the work I had to do. I was focused on my deliverables and understanding what was required of me. Once I figured this part of the job out it was on to the hard stuff …. the people management … the actual leading.

Let’s back-track a bit. I took over the position when someone vacated the post. I didn’t have a chance to be trained by the individual. However, I was working in the unit I’d now be supervising, so I had the benefit of knowing the tasks I’d be overseeing. This really helped because I understood the make up of what would eventually contribute to my deliverables. From here, I could implement improvements and strategies that I thought would help my team meet their targets.

Then came the hard part though. I was no longer responsible for meeting my own targets. I was now responsible for the targets and KPIs of my direct and indirect reports. I now had the challenge of working with a set of people who needed guidance and motivation to do their best. And I think once I recognized that I was able to split my focus between deliverables and people management. Here are some of the things I had to learn:

  1. I had to learn to manage performance — When you are in charge of your individual performance, you can strategize and execute according to your whims (well not really whims). However, when you are managing a team, it gets a little more complicated. I had to prepare myself to plan and assist multiple people with meeting their targets. I had to learn to encourage those who were doing well, while coaching those who werent doing as well. I had to be on the lookout for ways to get my team to improve on what they were doing. I had to be prepared to equip the team with skills they needed such as pipeline building and KPI tracking. What really stuck with me, was that I couldn’t divorce myself from the process (not that I wanted to). This wasn’t something that could be delegated. This wasn’t something that could be left up to chance. Managing the team’s performance was a very involved process and I believe embracing that it had to be this way, helped tremendously. My team knew that we were all it in together. They knew the could count on me for assistance with anything from strategies to meet specific targets, to jumping on calls with difficult clients to actively helping them find hot leads.
  2. I had to learn to communicate with people — I feel like this is clear but, man, was it a challenge. Not only did I have to take into account the different methods of communication, I had to cater to different personalities so I had to adjust and be mindful of my audience. I cant say that I got it right all the time, but I really tried. Some people preferred to talk via email, while others were ok with face-to-face. Then you had those who didnt want to talk at all. Some folks responded better to their progress reports when they were ranked against the team, while this was demotivating to others. Regardless of the what and the why, I tried to make sure I had control over the how, because I didnt want to turn anyone off. I tried to get it right and I can only hope my team thought I did a good job.
  3. I had to learn to motivate people — This was a tough one because I often struggle with feeling motivated. But I recognized that, as much as it was difficult for me, it might be difficult for those around me as well. We all had targets to go after as well as we had our personal goals that we were trying to meet. So there was a big need for support and encouragement. I took to sending weekly emails with motivational quotes. I sent progress reports. I sent achievement updates. We had weekly huddles. I tried and used several approaches because there is value to each approach and each person benefits from it in a different way.
  4. I had to learn to give and take feedback — No one likes being criticized but it kinda comes with the territory. I had to be willing to listen to my team as well as my boss and learn from the things I was doing that didnt sit well with them. It didnt have to be anything big, but I had to make sure I was open to whatever feedback was coming my way. I had to be willing to learn so that we could work and grow as a team. Just as I had to be willing to hear good and bad feedback, I had to learn to give it. I had to learn to praise my team, both publicly and privately, because for some this is a source of motivation. Similarly, I had to learn to give negative feedback. I didnt like this because I dont like conflict and I felt like I was being the bad guy. But I thought to myself that, I preferred to be the one to “correct” and coach my team, rather than someone else. I had to be willing to speak up and let my team know how they could improve and be their best.
  5. I had to care about my people and not just their performance — Its easy to get caught up in the work, but what I realized what that I couldn’t be all about the job. I couldn’t just focus on targets. I had to care about my team. I had to care about the things that affected them personally. The things that were happening outside of work could have a positive or negative reaction on their performance at work. I tried not to get personal, but I had to be approachable and caring. I had to be genuine too. I made it clear that I wasn’t trying to pry, but that I was open to hearing about whatever was on their mind. If your kid was sick … if there was a death in your family … if your school work was too burdensome … if you feared for your job, I was willing to listen. If needed, I’d provide advice, otherwise I was just there to hear them out.

There were many other lessons I learn during this stint. Most were learnt on the job, but I also went on leadership courses and I took notice of leaders I admired. I thought about the bosses I previously had and tried to emulate the attributes that I most appreciated. I hope to continue to improve on my leadership skills so that I can bring positive results to whichever area I work in.

Follow me here or subscribe for more like this!

An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

Everything Begins With An Idea

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store