I remember my first day of my new job as a Team Lead for a call center. I came onto the floor in the middle of a crisis meeting between management and staff at a fever pitch.
A screaming match between one of the supervisors and reps was at the peak of the drama. What I eventually found out is the supervisor on one end of the screaming match only started a few weeks before me.
I’m sure that’s not how she intended her first month to go.
Leading a team is never easy. Whether you’re fresh on the scene or an experienced manager taking on a new team, you will encounter serious challenges as a leader.
Here’s a good jumping off point for anyone deciding to take on a leadership role or being asked/hired to lead a team or company.
The Golden Rule
Before navigating your new team or role, here’s the number one rule to remember:
Leading is not managing
You manage numbers, not people. You manage equipment, customer requests, and even Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), but not the people behind them. Leadership takes time.
While it’s easy to learn how to crunch the numbers, leadership is far more nuanced. It’s about figuring out the personalities of your team and how you can leverage them to make the team run smoothly. It’s using your experience and emotional intelligence to create an environment of respect and synergy.
Leading makes the sum greater than the individuals.
If it sounds difficult, it’s because it is. More importantly, you can’t expect to become a leader in 30 days. But you can start laying the foundation.
Here are some steps to position yourself as a leader for your new team
1. Set one or two themes for your first month
A theme could be a quality you’ll adopt wholeheartedly for the first month or so. For example, your theme could be Active Listening or The Extra Mile. This means you’ll take every action during this period through the lens of your theme.
- Meeting with team members? Make sure to practice Active Listening.
- Taking to customers? Go The Extra Mile.
And so on.
The thing is, it’s easy to lose track in the minutiae when you start off. There’s a host of expectations. But having a theme to ground yourself in the first month or so, makes you feel a lot more accomplished.
More importantly, you want this theme to be grounded in a behavior natural to you. You don’t want to put on some fake stuff and then your true colors show when you get comfortable. When you start off your leadership role from a place of authenticity, it becomes easier.
2. Learn the pulse of the environment
Every team or organization has a pulse. A set of values or norms built up over time. Some are set in stone, others are unspoken rules. And the ethos looks different at different levels. What a team leader sees may be different from what team members see.
So spend the time getting deep, with a genuine curiosity of learning the environment. Learn about the processes. Figure out who the top and struggling performers are. Learn about clients and customers. How are they treated?
Learning the pulse helps you to see how you can add your skills to make the team better. You get a feel for personalities and how you can gel with them to get the best out of the group. You also get to ask the question…
Why is it done that way?
This question opens up dialogue and allows you to implement changes the team desperately needed but were too afraid to ask.
3. Take some time to do the work
One of the best things to start your first month is to get involved with your team’s work.
If you’re promoted through the ranks, you’ve done the job already. But it’s still a great opportunity to show you’re still working with them.
If you’re new, it’s twice as important for you to do the work.
Not only do you build empathy for your team members, you see first hand the challenges faced. They also see you’re interested in what they do and will be more willing to help and follow you.
More importantly, you can earn trust and respect. This behavior should extend beyond the month and be part of your monthly routine.
One thing I’ve seen leaders do throughout my career is to assume they are exempt from the groundwork because they’re in management. Yes, you have your own deliverables. But when it’s mission critical, can the team rely on you to jump in front of the crossfire and take the lead?
4. Meet your team where they are
It’s easy to be appalled by the behavior, methods or relationships of some team members, especially if you’re new to a team or business.
A team’s dysfunction is usually down to one person or group.
But is it really their fault?
In most instances, people come into a team bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to make a difference. Then other people, processes, and the environment beat them down to the team member in front of you today.
Don’t assume anything about anyone. Have some deep conversations about their history and find out where it all went wrong. Then look for patterns and fix any low hanging fruit. Your team will be happier and more productive as a result.
If you’re building a team from scratch you have an advantage.
You get to set the tone.
Come together in your first month and create a team culture. A set of rules to help the team’s chemistry and productivity. Review this team culture on a quarterly basis. Make it a priority because consistency is the downfall of almost all team chemistry. Consistency comes from the leader.
Ready to lead?
Leading a team, department or organization is not easy. It continues to be one of the most in-demand qualities needed by businesses of all sizes.
Leading a team requires a lot of tweaking, course correcting, and initiative. Once you get a good start in the first month, it sets you up for a great relationship with your team.
And helps you be a boss, like a boss.