10 Lessons for Team Leaders

While cleaning out my office ahead of our recent office move, I found this list I wrote nearly 10 years ago for my fellow team leaders at JS. I can’t say I’ve done all of them perfectly over the years, but the advice still holds. I’ll hang onto these tips as we move into our new home upstairs.

1.  Your #1 job is to remove barriers to your team’s success. You’re not responsible for your team’s performance. They are. But, you are responsible for positioning them for success. Every time you assign a project, make sure the team member knows you’ll do anything you can to set them up for success, but ultimately they are responsible for the outcome.

2.  Let them own it. Aren’t you more motivated when you feel like you’re calling the shots on your career? Involve team members in decision-making and goal setting. Look for leadership opportunities that will challenge them. Try to get them to self-diagnose performance problems. Remember, asking questions will often get you farther than making statements when it comes to empowering employees to “own” their work.

3.  Make it safe to fail. If your team members aren’t failing at least once in a while, they aren’t challenging themselves. Never, ever chew someone out for a mistake. You’re always on their side.

4.  Never be too busy for your team. Always stop what you’re doing and give your full attention when a team comes to you for help. No matter what you’re doing, it can wait a few minutes.

5.  Celebrate your team constantly. Maintain a steady stream of positive reinforcement by celebrating victories big and small with the entire team. Think High Fives, lunches, happy hours or just celebratory break.

6.  Leaders model right behavior. They always step up when needed, they’re high energy, and they always, always have a positive attitude.

7.  Follow the rules. Don’t create a different set of rules for yourself than for your team. This creates an “us” vs. “him” mentality. While you’re at it, do some of the less desirable tasks once in a while.

8.  Be passionate, visionary. Are you passionate about your account? If you’re not, why would your team be? Get excited about the possibilities and communicate that excitement to your team. Paint a clear picture of where you all might be able to take the account by exceeding expectations.

9.  Give feedback immediately – positive and negative. Make a point to provide immediate feedback to a team member on a job well done. Face-to-face is always better than the “great job!” email. Consider celebrating it (see Tip #5). The same rules apply if you’re dissatisfied with performance. Immediate and face-to-face (unless you’re angry, in which case, take some time to compose yourself so you don’t let emotion interfere). When discussing negative performance, try to avoid critical statements and use questions to help them self-diagnose the problem whenever you can (see Tip #2). Pinpoint the negative performance or behavior that you want to change with specific, recent examples. Do not generalize.

10.  Never stop learning about yourself. Regularly seek out feedback and constructive criticism from team members (even more often than reviews). It’s easy to assume you’re doing all the right things. And easy to be wrong. The more you come to grips with your own leadership strengths and weaknesses, the better leader you’ll become.

Now, a question for you: Which of the above comes naturally for you? Which one do you struggle with the most? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments.