Big Picture

The 5 essentials of a first-time people leader

How do you transition from being one of the team, to leading the team?  One thing’s for sure what got you here, won’t get you there!  Not only will you need to wrap your head around letting go of being the expert, you’ll need to establish a coaching approach to the leadership of your team and then deliver on the five essential duties of leadership.

  1. Connecting with your team
    Connection is the precursor to trust.  And whilst there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for building connection, there are some basics you must get right:# Meet your team members with an open mind and ‘mine for gold’. Look for what’s good about them.
    # Always greet and farewell your team members each day in a way that’s appropriate for you and for them.
    # Seek common ground with each of your team members. Ask curious questions.
    # Remember what your team members tell you, so you can build your understanding and appreciation of them.
    # Say ‘I’m sorry’ when you make a mistake. Own it. Solve it. And try not to make the same mistake twice.
    # Ask your team members for help. Working through a challenge together is a great way to build connection.
    # Use your manners.  No-one connects with someone who’s rude.

    Genuinely care for your team members. Make sure they’re okay. And when they need more help that you are qualified or able to provide, refer them on to someone else who can help.

  2. Communicating with your team
    Effective communication is simply the transfer of understanding from one person to another, and the responsibility lies with the sender.  When your message isn’t landing, adapt your style to better match theirs.  When you’re not sure what style they are, consider using a quality profiling tool like DiSC or HBDI to get some insight.  Ask your HR team for support.Importantly, irrespective of style, everyone wants to understand the ‘why’. When you can’t share this, explain why not. Saying ‘my door is always open’ is not an effective communication strategy so ensure you schedule regular one-on-one time with each of your team members.  You must also hold regular team meetings and ensure that these are about the team – not a random selection of presentations from across the business.  It’s far better to have more, shorter, focused meetings and fewer long, rambling, unfocused meetings.  And if you’re working virtually, have a short daily ‘check in’, to maintain connection within the team.
  3. Focusing your team
    Knowing why your team exists enables you to establish what matters most.  This is critical if you’re going to prevent your team from becoming overwhelmed, as it enables you and your team to decide what to do and what not to do.  When you have  multiple priorities they dilute focus and erode cohesion.  Distilling your single priority will enable your team to come together and deliver on its purpose.  Once you’ve nailed that one, you can select another to work on.
  4. Developing your team
    You must train and develop your team members.  Both are important, but they’re not the same.  Training relates to the specific knowledge, skills and competencies that your team member needs to perform effectively in their current role.  Development is focused on the person’s potential for growth and their future aspirations.Training and development engage your team members and help retain them in your team.  Remember that development is so much more than a training program and will look very different for different team members; make it personal.  Establish a cycle of regular development discussions with your team members, discuss their needs, provide positive feedback and feedback for improvement, make a plan and follow up.
  5. Resolving problems with your team
    Likely the biggest change you’ll need to make as you become a people leader is enabling your team to solve their own problems; don’t solve them for them.  You need to stop being the expert and start being their coach.  The GROW model is a useful coaching tool you can use to help your people solve their own problems.  Switch from providing answers to offering curious questions and empower your team.

Now that you understand the five essential duties of a leader, which one do you think you need to focus on first to become the best leader you can be?


Written by Anna Marshall.

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Anna Marshall
Anna Marshall, author of On your marks, get set… LEAD!: A beginner’s guide to people leadership, is an engaging facilitator, inspiring coach and entertaining speaker. Anna enables CEOs and their organisations to flourish by developing their leaders, transforming their cultures and enhancing their people systems.


Anna Marshall is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.