The Managerial Skills Your Team Leaders Need to be Successful

Half of employees who quit do so because of a bad boss.

Team leaders aren’t off the hook even if they aren’t the head honcho. Anytime you have people you’re responsible for, you’re the boss whether there are people above you or not.

Team leaders have it rough. They are down in the trenches. They are dealing directly with people in motion and with emotion. They are trying to implement systems and use technology and answer to others higher up the ladder.

It’s like herding cats. Big ones.

When team leaders lack managerial skills, you end up with that employee retention problem, plus disgruntled employees (75% of workers say that their boss is the most stressful and worst part of their job), low productivity,  and a damaged bottom line.

Here are the most important managerial skills to help you avoid problems and enable your workforce:


It seems silly to suggest that being able to decide is a skill, but there are people who struggle to come to any kind of conclusion on any matter. Poor decision makers are easy to identify:

  • They overthink things to the point of confusing themselves and anyone around them.
  • They get caught up in researching options and delay a decision until it’s too late.
  • They are afraid to put their head on the line.
  • They procrastinate so that a default decision is made for them.
  • They don’t know what is going on and assume subordinates will make decisions for them.
  • They make satisfactory decisions instead of optimal decisions, because it rocks the boat less.
  • They can’t clarify what they want or are trying to achieve in a situation requiring a decision.

Not making a decision is its own decision.

A team leader who can’t make any decision is the opposite of a micro-manager, but just as frustrating for employees. Sometimes, when a team leader promotion is made within the team, the new manager doesn’t pick up the mantle of making those higher level decisions and instead continues to focus on the kind of work he or she did before. Because that work is still good, top level managers or the boss fail to recognize the problem and leadership happens by “default.”

To make good decisions, team leaders need:

  • Accurate information.
  • An understanding of what the optimal end result should look like.
  • An ability to create a standard to compare the information with to determine that optimal decision.
  • The courage to make the decision, and stand by it.

When it comes to decision making, team leaders must be out front. Even if you ask your team to comment and participate, the final decision is ultimately the leader’s job. If it’s based on good information and on carefully considered reasoning, justifying decisions to those who question them should not be terrifying.

Great Communication Skills

A work environment lives and dies on communication. We all like to think we’re master communicators, but that’s actually pretty far from the truth.

Great communication is multi-pronged. You have to be able to both communicate what you want done clearly, and also be able to listen to what others are telling you. One feeds the other. That cycle looks like this:

  1. Know when to listen. When emotions are high, you’re leading a team collaborative effort, or employees are sharing ideas with you, great communication is about listening.
  2. Know when to facilitate. When team conversation is happening, the leader can aid communication by simply finding a way to keep that conversation on track and plugging those ideas into the topic at hand. If conversation wanes, the leader prompts it to get going again.
  3. Know when to speak. When there is clear confusion, a need for efficiency, or employees don’t know what to do and are asking for direction, it is time to speak.

Communication is about knowing when to speak and when to be quiet. There are moments when it is top-down, but much of the time communication is not about hierarchy. Too much of a top-down approach where you constantly give orders can create a team that is unable to do anything without you telling them what to do first.


Team leaders have to be able to motivate their team, and they have to be motivated themselves.

Motivation is a better predictor of success than intelligence, ability, or even salary. And yet, too many leaders don’t know how to motivate those they are trying to lead.

  • Stop bribing your team. Handing out rewards might work in the short term, but after a while, people are only motivated to get rewards, not do the work. When rewards are gone, so is the motivation to work. Rewards have their place, but they can’t be your go-to tool to get daily and necessary work done.
  • Get your team to feel something. Whether it’s passion, purpose, excitement, a shared story, or cohesiveness, motivation that stems from such things is permanent compared to bribes. If employees are negative, deal with the issue. How they feel about work and each other affects motivation.
  • Show their progress. Not all people are motivated by results, but most are. And if you can show your team how they are making progress, that in itself is a motivation to keep going and do better. If our work seems to have no purpose or value, we lose the motivation to do it.

Great workers are mostly motivated by a sense of purpose and autonomy.


Team leaders who manage by default are basically punching their time card and doing little else. They make sure the required boxes get checked and don’t stop to ask if there are areas where things could be improved.

Are your team leaders able to think beyond the current system or way of doing things, or do they revert to “that’s how we do things here”? And not only do your team leaders need to be able to spot what could use some fixing, but they are also able to determine what would help.

  • Communication. What are team members telling you is a problem?
  • Translation. Are you able to hear a team member talk about a problem and discern if there’s a different underlying issue at work?
  • Measurement. Are you actively measuring benchmarks and tracking to see if they’re being met?
  • Observation. Are you able to pick up, by observation, a problem that seems to keep happening and a pattern or situation it tends to occur in?

Team leaders are busy, and it can be easy to just settle into the routine and not rock the boat by digging to find areas where things aren’t working. Still, those problem areas can sometimes grow quietly and create a monster that’s difficult to deal with down the road.

Confident In Their Leadership Style

Managers should understand their leadership style. Most probably fall into at least one (maybe more) of three types of managerial approaches:

  1. Technical. This leader is skilled at not only the machines or devices required in their job, but also at understanding the numbers and measurements that define how well things are going.
  2. Conceptual. This leader is able to understand abstract concepts. They are the big-picture people who see more than data or individual situations, but can find a pattern and identify something larger at work.
  3. Interpersonal. This leader is good at working with people, understanding their motivations and able to spur them on in the right direction.

Ideally, team leaders would have a bit of all three and be well-balanced. If there is a weak area, team leaders can either work to improve those skills, or partner with another leader or team member to help.

The key here is to be able to do a self assessment and be honest about strengths and weaknesses. If you’re a team leader and aren’t a people person, acknowledge it and find a way to either fix that or create a system with an intermediary to help in that area.

Give Credit Where Credit’s Due

The squeaky wheel gets the oil, the saying goes, and that tends to mean that the problems get all the attention.

When an employee does excellent work, it’s easy for leaders to miss seeing it. After all, great work is what they want and when it happens, it feels like that’s supposed to be the norm, not the exception.

If a leader’s attention is so devoted to seeing and dealing with problems, they forget to acknowledge great work and the employee who did it. 37% of employees say that their boss doesn’t give them credit even when it’s clear they deserve it.

Team leaders need to recognize good work, and then recognize the team members who did it.

Great at Delegation, Yet Hard-Working

Workers get pretty frustrated when their team leader is quick to delegate all the work to employees and doesn’t do anything themselves. That’s the boss that farms out all the work and spends the day shopping on Amazon in his office.

On the flip side, a manager that tries to do everything without letting employees flex their work muscles doesn’t work, either. The former is a “do as I say, not as I do” problem, while the latter makes employees feel like they aren’t trusted to do any serious work.

In an ideal world, managers know employees well enough to know what kind of work they excel at, and are then able to delegate tasks or jobs to those best suited. This isn’t an ideal world, of course, but there is still a game plan for delegation:

  1. Know your team. By observation and talking to them, know what they do best. Know what type of work they have strengths in.
  2. Break up larger jobs. Delegation often means being able to break up a large job into manageable tasks. Team leaders should be able to dissect those big jobs and know how to break them up into smaller tasks that will lead to success both for those undertaking the work and for the final project result.
  3. Train someone if necessary. Delegation is the doorway to learning new skills. It’s time consuming at first, but training a team member to do something now means delegating it in the future is going to be easy.

Delegation is difficult for people who are perfectionists. They can’t imagine anyone could do it better than they could, or decided it would be easier to do it themselves rather than train someone to do it. Remember the issue of motivation? Refusing to let your team members do work simply because you won’t delegate is demotivating.

Efficient With Their Time

It’s not enough to simply manage employees or equipment. Team leaders need to manage time.

For some people, this comes naturally. They are naturally organized, disciplined with their to-do list, and are able to triage as far as what needs doing now and what can be put off for later. If you’re not among the lucky ones that finds this easy, there are some things you can do to improve:

  1. Make a top-down list. Start each day with a list where the first items must be done and the last items could be done. This is triage.
  2. Decide who will do what. On that top-down list, decide which team member is best suited for the job, or if the group needs to discuss it.
  3. Break tasks up into type. For the items on the list that are yours to do, break them up into type. For example, some items might be office tasks, and others might happen on the sales floor. If you start your day clearing your desk, and end it out on the floor, knowing what tasks happen where helps.

If, as a team leader, you can’t manage your time well, the negative effects trickle down to your team. Efficiency and productivity depend on how well a team leader manages their time and is an example to the rest of the team.

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