Leadership and management are more than a mere title. Without the right skills, you’ll be a leader in name only. To be an effective team leader, you need skills—a recipe of sorts—that will combine organizational, attitude, business, and psychology into the mix.
For the most ambitious team members, here are 31 important skills every team leader should aim to have:
People follow as they’re led. Fake it until you make it.
Confident leaders create confident teams. Workers don’t willingly follow an unconfident leader. For these reasons, you must show confidence (which is not the same as cockiness) when making decisions, and in all other interactions. If you don’t feel confident, fake it. Acting confident can create the real thing.
Disorganization is no joke. It actually costs you money, even if it’s hidden in other data like lost sales, late projects, or retention problems.
Being able to stay organized will keep you on track, on budget, and make sure team projects aren’t derailed.
- Organized people have systems. They have actually made decisions on how to handle things. For example, they have a system for keeping email organized, or digital (or paper) files organized. They have a to-do list system. They don’t leave things to default or chance.
- Organized people are mindful about time use. Time flies, especially if you’re not aware of how you’re using it. Your schedule isn’t just for meetings with other people. Organized people schedule their own time to make sure what needs to get done, does.
- Organized people are flexible. Organization isn’t always rigid. Every day unfolds differently than planned. Being able to adjust your schedule or plans without collapsing in chaos is part of staying organized.
- Organized people cut what’s unnecessary. Clutter has no place in the organized life, whether it’s actual physical clutter that keeps you from finding things, or emotional clutter that keeps you from being clear-headed.
Not only do you need to stay organized yourself, but you will need to create systems which help your team stay organized. It won’t come naturally to all members.
But organization definitely needs to start with you, first. You must model the behavior, and also make being organized a habit so that you don’t have to think about it when you’re trying to get your team organized.
As a facilitator, you make a project or task easier for your team. Facilitators need to be good listeners, and flexible to shift midstream. A facilitator should:
- Speak less than they listen.
- Ask questions that make their team think (i.e. ask open-ended questions, not yes-or-no questions)
- Manage time well to stay on track.
- Able to stay neutral when there is disagreement.
Remember, you’re there to make things easier for others to get their work done, whatever that looks like.
Be respectful to your team, and they will be the same towards you.
Everyone wants their personhood, their life, their efforts, and their interests to be respected and treated with dignity. Disrespect sows resentment, fear, and anger.
Whether you decide or not, you’re making a decision.
Leaders need to make the tough decisions in a timely manner. Indecisive leaders allows circumstances to decide things by default.
Being decisive means:
- You triage decisions. You understand what has to be decided now and what can wait for more information. You don’t procrastinate the important decisions.
- You understand the options. You aren’t making decisions based on guesses, but all the information you have at the time.
- You have confidence in your decision. Even if you aren’t completely sure, you need to exude confidence so that your team isn’t fearful or second-guessing your decision.
- You communicate the reasons clearly. Having the ability to explain why you made the decision you did will help in some situations where your team wants or needs to understand.
Making tough decisions won’t make you popular immediately, but in the long run your team will appreciate the lack of confusion that comes from a leader who has the guts to simply decide.
Being fair means you follow your own rules and guidelines to the same degree for everyone, no matter if they’re friends or difficult team members.
Being fair means:
- You establish the rules and guidelines, and make sure your team knows and understands them.
- You constantly confront and question personal bias you might have in each situation.
- You walk the talk yourself. You abide by the same rules you ask of your team.
- You don’t choose favorites, not in people, not in approaches, and not in ideas.
7. Tech Savvy
It’s tough to lead your team when they are more technologically skilled than you are. You need to keep your tech skills sharp.
Whether you get outside training at conferences or classes, or you have someone come in and teach you and the team, you need to be at least as technically skilled as your team in general terms. No, you don’t have to be able to code like your developers. But you should be able to use the communication and customer support software, for example, and any other hardware.
When you lack the skills your team has, it is difficult for you to understand why they might be struggling with a project you are pushing them to finish. You also run the risk of creating skill silos; team members who are the only ones who know how to do something can use that as an unfair bargaining chip.
You will find yourself, whether officially or unofficially, as a negotiator during conflicts, or even in otherwise innocuous brainstorming sessions. Negotiators have to analyze problems, listen, and work towards a solution that works for everyone all while keeping their cool.
As a negotiator in your team, you:
- Negotiate with individual people, not organizations or problems.
- Must have a grip on reality, but also understand that perception is reality for the people you are dealing with in negotiation.
- Are looking out for the health of your team. You don’t win if one party feels extremely slighted or angry. You’re looking for win-win, here.
Being curious is a good quality in a leader, as long as you can direct it meaningfully and not get distracted by every shiny new thing.
Curiosity inspires creative thinking, and it also tends to make you ask questions (and give your team a chance to share their opinion) that you genuinely want to know more about. As Walt Disney said, curiosity leads you down new paths. It’ll keep you from growing stagnant.
Being ethical and honest in all things is crucial to a team leader.
Having integrity means:
- It doesn’t matter if anyone is watching. Whether your team is looking or not, be a leader of integrity.
- You don’t engage in behavior that is seen, in your workplace culture, as being wrong or unacceptable.
- You don’t try out slippery slopes, and you’re aware of precedents.
When you lack integrity, you lose your identity as a leader in the eyes of your team.
Wielding influence is less about power and more about psychology.
You can influence your team in a positive way by:
- Remember their name, and use it!
- Showing genuine interest in them and their work.
- Listen in a way that when you have future interaction, what you learned from previous listening sessions can be referred to.
Basically, you are finding ways to come alongside them instead of over them, getting them to see you are approachable, knowledgeable, and open. They will be willing to take your suggestions and advice.
Anyone can influence by brute force, it takes someone who understands human psychology to get your team to do what you want them to do with them thinking it was their idea.
You need to be able to give tasks to your team, and not be a micromanager. You can’t do everything, and you shouldn’t.
Delegation requires the skill of first knowing the skills and true abilities of your team members. Then, you must understand the components of the work and how it can be broken down into chunks. You must also understand the order that those chunks have to be completed in. With this in hand, you can delegate manageable work to your team members who are capable of doing it well, without overloading one or two members with a general “hey, do this big project for me, thanks.”
You need to be able to share ideas or instructions with your team clearly in different media formats so that all personalities are able to understand is no small feat.
Good communication always starts with listening. It avoids jargon or sloppy language that unintentionally (or sometimes intentionally) confuses the listener. It understands the limit of the medium (e.g. written communication lacks body language, so the words will be different than what you might speak in person).
You must be able to set goals for yourself as well as for your team’s projects. That means you are able to create goals that:
- Are about achieving actual progress, and not the appearance of progress.
- Have consequences, i.e. there’s a reason you want to meet the goal for more than the mere checking of a box.
- Aren’t too numerous. You don’t need a million goals and objectives. You should focus on a few high-priority goals to keep the team on track without losing sight of what completion looks like.
- Are well-thought-out. Your team shouldn’t waste time researching the validity of the goal.
15. Reward achievements
Some leaders fixate on problems and forget to reward their team’s achievements. Learn to notice successes in your team, even small ones. Each team member is at a different place in their career, so not all successes will appear the same for each person.
Avoid using rewards so heavily that they turn into bribes, however. Bribes cease working the moment they go away. Bribes are not the way to spur on productivity.
16. Big picture view
Can you step back and see what really matters? Or do you get lost in details that won’t matter in the long run? Instead of being a micromanager, you need to be a macromanager. You manage big issues, not small ones. Entrust those to your team.
There is some information your team doesn’t need to know, but too often managers withhold information (i.e. silo it) because they don’t trust their team, or because they use information as a form of power.
Be willing to share information with your team to build trust and so they can make better informed decisions.
Your first responsibility is to look out for your team, and not yourself. When good happens, spread it to your team. When bad happens, take one for the team. Selflessness is not weakness by any means. It is how we make it possible for our team to succeed through our service to them.
19. Sense of humor
A sense of humor will go a long way for your team. As long as you aren’t making jokes at the expense of others, humor can alleviate stressful situations and make awkward moments be less painful.
Here’s a thought: Humility and humor go hand in hand. If you can laugh at yourself and your mistakes without groveling, you can be both humble and lighten the mood.
20. Problem solver
There is a difference between being a decision-maker and being a problem-solver. You may be better at one than the other.
Problem solving skills (or the ability to recognize them in your team) involve triage; when one problem is solved, another soon pops up.
21. Cool, level-headed
Lead with a cool head and a warm heart—that’s the saying.
Maintaining your composure when things get difficult is a practiced skill that involves controlling emotion, body language, and your mental attitude. As a leader, you control the temperature of the room. Your response is a model for how your employees respond, as well as how they feel about a negative situation. If a customer comes in and is combative, stepping in with a cool head both shows your team how to handle it in the future as well as helps them feel less stress inside.
22. Positive attitude
There are three basic reasons why having a positive attitude is important:
- Your attitude has an impact on the energy you bring to your team. It takes practice to find the positive in what can be negative.
- Your positive attitude encourages productivity. It is easier to work in a positive environment instead of a negative one.
- You will attract team members who also have positive attitudes.
Leaders can inspire or coerce to get the job done, but inspiring will keep your team from turning on you over time.
Inspiration leaders are positive, let their team know they’re grateful for them, are good listeners, and have a vision for the future that they communicate clearly. They have a way of helping the team rethink what has happened. They are great storytellers, able to use narratives to help their team see something new in a situation, inspiring them in their work.
Conflict resolution is part of leading a team, and being able to arbitrate will be crucial to holding them together after the conflict is over. Being a good arbitrator requires compassion and empathy.
Do you lead your team by making them feel less than you? A humble leader:
- Listens to the opinions of others and admits mistakes.
- Isn’t apologetic for being a leader, but you aren’t lording over your team.
- Understands there are times of ambiguity, when things aren’t perfectly controlled or understood at the time, and helps the team work through it all while acknowledging lack of answers.
- Is mindful and takes time to reflect on their own actions.
There’s this idea that leadership that’s confident is a sort of excessive outgoing or domineering person. That kind of leader can almost be frightening; your team wants a realistic, humble leader.
Business moves faster now than ever before. To lead a team that stays on top of and ahead of it all, you must be creative. A creative leader:
- Goes to battle for the team. They aren’t afraid to approach higher management to defend a team’s unique idea.
- Isn’t afraid of listening to his gut. It’s not the only input, but it is definitely a form of input.
- Isn’t afraid to take action, even on a “crazy” idea.
- Gets input from lots of sources, stays educated, and is curious. These all bring in new ideas from seemingly unrelated sources.
Thinking and problem solving must be creative, not predictable. The problems change, and so do the solutions.
You’ll be like a maestro, directing an orchestra of many instruments that can make a horrible racket or beautiful music. The maestro gets and holds the attention. She raises the baton and then lowers it when the time is right to start. She has the trust of everyone whose eyes are on her.
All your team needs is someone to get their focus, channel their skills, and direct them so they work together.
Strange as it sounds, it takes skill to not be afraid to be unpopular.
If you’re going to be ethical, fair, and honest, you’re going to be unpopular to someone sooner or later. A poor team leader is someone who is afraid to be unliked, someone who wants everyone to be her friend.
Being a teacher is more than listing step-by-step instructions. It brings a concept or a task to life in a way that someone fully understands how to do it, why it’s done that way, and leaves a little leeway for them to figure out new methods on their own.
A great teacher teaches with the hope the student surpasses. A poor teacher teaches vaguely hoping the student always feels less and in need of the teacher.
30. Trend Spotting
You must be able to spot trends and patterns.
Whether in data or in behavior, trends and patterns are those subtle things that establish themselves before problems are easily seen. If you can spot the pattern, you can get ahead of the problem before it is rooted and established.
Trends and patterns are value neutral; they can be positive or negative.
A true critic provides valuable input in the form of critique. Critique is not the same as criticism.
A critique highlights both positive and negative behavior or work, from which advice for change or holding course can be given. Criticism, however, generally focuses on the negative and is limited in producing good change or results.
It might be easy to confuse being a manager with being a team leader, but they are not the same. One is all about managing moving parts, while the other is leading those moving parts in the same direction. To truly lead, you must possess the skills to take a group of people with conflicting personalities, ideas, and motivations, and move together towards a common goal. Now that’s a leader.
31 Team Leader Skills Every Manager Should Have Sam Campbell