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Volatility and uncertainty may be the new normal, but they’re still unsettling. Even the most resilient employees look to their leadership for reassurance and consistency in the face of rapid change. The introduction of new working practices, such as flexible and remote working, may also impact team dynamics. So, how can you best support your team members in this complex and ambiguous work environment? What skills and competencies do you need to be a successful team leader? How can you continue to develop your abilities for future challenges? We’ll cover all that and more in this article. We’ll take a look at what team leaders do and the essential skills they need. We’ll also look at the steps to becoming a great team leader and the future of the profession.

What do great team leaders do?

Team leaders are responsible for the management and motivation of their team. They can work in both the private and public sectors. Team leaders are found across all industries. 

Typical responsibilities might include:

  • Organizing resources to deliver tasks
  • Motivating team members to high performance
  • Offering developmental feedback to help individuals and the team improve
  • Giving appropriate rewards and recognition for a job well done
  • Communicating requirements clearly and concisely
  • Creating a respectful and harmonious workplace environment
  • Setting measurable goals for the team and monitoring progress
  • Providing training and development opportunities for staff

Great team leaders differentiate themselves by walking the walk. They understand that it’s important to role model the behaviors they ask their team to demonstrate. Great team leaders are authentic in their leadership style. They understand there are many different ways to lead a team. They don’t try to be something they’re not.

The best team leaders can have a significant impact on the happiness and effectiveness of their team. They motivate their team members to give their best. They support their team to continuously develop themselves and build their skills for the future. 

Effective leaders don’t shy away from offering honest feedback to their team. But they communicate it in a way that feels supportive, not critical. It’s clearly positioned as a way to produce the best possible outcome for the individual and the entire team.

What are the soft skills needed to become a great team leader?

There are several essential skills required to become a great team leader. Let’s take a look at the five most important.

Leadership skills

It goes without saying that great team leaders need leadership skills. But what does that look like in reality? To start, you need to accept responsibility for your own performance and that of your team. Team members need to trust that you’ll support them even when things aren’t going well. 

Taking accountability for outcomes, good and bad, is an essential trait for a good leader. Celebrating success allows your team members to feel proud of their achievements. Apologizing for mistakes shows your team that errors aren’t something to be feared. Indeed, they can be a catalyst for improvement. Fostering a growth mindset inspires team members to seek opportunities for professional development. It also helps them become more resilient to change.

To be a successful leader, you also need empathy. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes helps you connect on a human level. Building and maintaining effective working relationships is crucial for great team leaders.

Communication

Effective communication skills are vital for good team leaders. Most organizations still utilize a hierarchical structure. So communications are disseminated from the top down via team leaders. Managers need to be able to consolidate all the information streams and distill the key messages into something accessible for their team.  

Team leaders also need to be able to clearly explain company goals and team goals. They need to be able to paint a picture that inspires the team to high performance. Team leaders need to help each team member understand how their work contributes to the overall organizational mission. 

When team members don’t meet expectations, team leaders need to offer appropriate feedback. Constructive feedback clearly articulates what standard wasn’t met and what needs to change for the future. It should also explain how the team member will be supported to improve.

Decision-making

Great team leaders need to be highly effective decision-makers. They need to be able to think critically to narrow down available options and make the best choice. Good team leaders are able to digest information quickly. They’re then well-placed to make informed decisions rapidly, even in an uncertain environment.

The best team leaders keep the needs of the business at the forefront of their minds. Sometimes this can mean having to make unpopular or difficult decisions. This means great team leaders also need to be courageous.

Good decision-making should also be transparent. It should be clear to the team how the decision was reached. This is especially important when it comes to recruitment and reward and recognition processes. Transparent decision-making helps build trust and promotes a culture of fairness.

Organizational skills

The best leaders are also successful managers. They’re responsible for planning and organizing tasks and prioritizing work. Great team managers know the individual strengths and development areas of each of their team members. This allows them to delegate work most effectively, meeting the needs of both the individual and the organization.

Team leaders also need to efficiently and appropriately manage resources. As well as personnel, these resources may include money and time. Cost and duration are often in conflict when it comes to task delivery. A great team leader manages to strike the most effective balance between them.

Great team leaders also maintain an overall view of progress. They need to be constantly anticipating what’s needed to optimize team performance. Then they need to reprioritize resources and reorganize work in order to deliver the required outcome. 

Problem-solving

Great team leaders are constantly problem-solving. They might be considering how to optimize a process that isn’t working. Or how to deliver a task when a team member is off sick. Or how best to support a team member who’s struggling to master a required skill. 

There are many different problem-solving techniques out there. The best team leaders have a few in their toolbox that they can turn to when faced with a tricky challenge. But great team leaders are also unafraid to say when they’re stumped by a problem. They know the value of bringing in other experts to help find a solution. 

The best team leaders are also happy to involve their team in solving problems. They’re happy to step up and provide a solution if required. But they’re not afraid to acknowledge other solutions that are better. Great team leaders want the most effective solution for the business. They’re not precious about where it came from, even if it was suggested by a more junior team member.

Develop these important team leadership skills

Becoming a successful team leader is rarely about the qualifications or technical skills you possess. Mastering essential soft skills is critical to achieving success as a team leader. To improve your capabilities, it’s important to honestly evaluate your current strengths and areas for development. Engaging in 360o feedback with your boss, mentors, peers, and subordinates will help with this evaluation. Consider your motivations for leadership and what type of leader you want to be. 

At F4S, we’ve been studying the motivations behind these types of soft skills for over 20 years. We developed our people analytics tools to gather insight into the attitudes and behaviors needed to succeed. 

If you want more clarity on your own motivations, take our assessment today. Once you complete the assessment, Coach Marlee will offer you personalized insights. These will help you determine which skills you want to improve. As well as feedback on your motivations, we’ll also offer insights related to any blind spots. 

You can use this feedback to set a development goal or learning plan. Plus, use F4S’ free coaching to maximize your performance and help you excel in a team leadership role.

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What are the steps to becoming a great team leader?

There’s no clearly defined pathway to becoming a great team leader. People come to team leadership from many different backgrounds and with many different skill sets. 

But all of them have one thing in common. They are laser-focused on business performance. Great team leaders know that the essence of their role is to get the best from each and every team member. Individual high performance drives business success. 

So how do you maximize individual performance? Let’s take a look.

Build self-awareness

To become a great team leader, you need to have total clarity of your personal strengths and development areas. Without this understanding, you can’t look to capitalize on your strengths. And you can’t create relevant opportunities to tackle your blind spots. 

As you grow your self-awareness, you gain clarity on what others need from you. By dialing in to informal and formal feedback mechanisms, you’ll hear where you are, and aren’t, meeting their expectations. This is hugely valuable. Meeting the needs of your team and the business is a key performance indicator for great team leadership.

To improve your self-awareness, look for feedback beyond the obvious. Use active listening skills and non-verbal cues to gain a greater appreciation for what is required. Observe your team’s response to various approaches and note which seem the most successful. 

Define your leadership style

To get the best from others requires a deep level of trust. Team members need confidence in their own skills to produce their best work under pressure. They need to trust you’ll provide stretch goals that help them maximize their performance without overwhelming them. And they need to trust that they can make mistakes as a route to improvement. 

Inauthentic leadership destroys trust. It’s essential that you define a leadership style that feels genuine. Start by researching different leadership models and choose the one you feel connected to. Use it as a blueprint to create your own leadership approach. Discard principles that don’t work for you and double down on those that do. 

You should monitor how your leadership style works for your team and for the business culture you work in. Flex your style as required but never dismiss it entirely. Remaining authentic is crucial if you want to be a great team leader.

Stay accessible

There are different routes to team leadership. You might be hired into the role, or you might be recruited from within your current organization. Both come with their own unique challenges. As a new employee, you might feel pressure to immediately make an impact. As an internal hire, you might feel you need to establish new boundaries with your ex-peers.

Moving into a leadership role does not mean you have to act differently. It’s great to reconfirm expectations and appropriate ways of working. But suddenly adopting a superior attitude won’t do you any favors. 

It’s important to be accessible to your team when you take up a leadership role. Whether you’re an external or internal hire, there will need to be a transition period as team members adapt to the change. Ensuring you’re available to support them through the uncertainty will go a long way to building the trusting relationships needed to be successful.

Look for mentors

Leadership roles can be extremely rewarding. But they can also be lonely. Your existing relationships will likely change as you take on the responsibility of your new role. Look for mentors to support you as you get settled in and throughout your career. Mentors can be both internal and external. 

Internal mentors can help you better understand the organizational culture and build your network. This is crucial for improving your ability to move work forward effectively. External mentors can provide an objective view of how to tackle leadership challenges. They’re distant from the organizational politics that can influence your decision-making. If you’re struggling to see the wood from the trees, their insight and experience may provide clarity.

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What are the career opportunities and outlook for team leaders?

The career outlook for team leaders is generally positive. However, the opportunities can look different depending on the sector, industry, and geographic area. It is also challenging to fully interrogate and interpret data regarding this role. Many different job titles share the responsibilities outlined at the beginning of this article. 

But we can gain a snapshot of the likely outlook for this role type. In Australia, overall job growth for team leaders working in business administration is 2.5%1. In the U.S., managers responsible for business administration can expect 7% job growth.2  

A recent report by the Institute of Leadership & Management showed nearly 30% of large organizations had compliance with rules and procedures as a key priority3. This creates a significant opportunity for those looking to work in first-line management.

In terms of career opportunities, the soft skills mastered as a team leader are highly transferable. Team leaders can move into middle or senior management with increased experience and continued professional development (CPD). While higher education isn’t necessary to be a great team leader, nearly a third of Australian team leaders have a bachelor's degree4. So returning to school may put you ahead of the competition.

Team leaders can also continue their development with professional training. The Institute of Leadership & Management offers several leadership development pathways to help people upskill. Many well-known universities also run online development courses. Harvard Business School runs an online Leadership Principles course. The University of Melbourne offers a Professional Certificate in Leadership.

Where can team leaders work?

Team leaders can work pretty much wherever there are teams of people! Team leaders are found in both the public and private sectors. They are also found across all industries and geographic areas. All businesses need people to help organize and delegate work. And all businesses need people to motivate and develop their employees. Great team leaders are valued for the difference they can make to business outcomes.

Most organizations continue to be hierarchically structured. There may be fewer team leadership positions in flat organizations. These organizations rely less on management layers to drive work forward. Smaller startups, for example, may not yet require this type of managerial oversight.

Team leaders may also find themselves leading people they don’t have direct line management responsibility for. They may be asked to lead a cross-functional project team, for example. The team leader will be responsible for successfully managing people to deliver a positive project outcome. But the employee will also have a functional manager to report to. This type of matrix management requires flexibility and cooperation.

How much can team leaders earn?

The salary for team leaders can vary depending on geographic area and industry. The average annual salary in the U.S. is US$68,8175. However, the actual rate you’ll receive is highly dependent on skills and experience. Great team leaders can make nearly double that.

Location also matters. Team leaders tend to make more in Alaska, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island6.

In the U.K., the average team leader salary is £27,560 (US$33,514) per year. Entry-level team leaders earn about 20% less than this figure. Highly experienced team leaders can expect to earn up to 25% more7

The average base pay for team leaders in Australia is AUD$90,000 (US$60,387) annually8. In India, the average salary is ₹1.1 million (US$12, 070)9. This discrepancy is probably indicative of the overall lower cost of living in India compared to the U.S.

Frequently asked questions

How do I handle problem team members?

Handling problem team members effectively is a crucial leadership skill. Effective teams are built on trust and cohesion. Difficult team members can disrupt collaboration and destroy camaraderie. 

It’s important to talk one-on-one with team members who are causing problems. Actively listen to their concerns and try to negotiate solutions. Often fear can drive challenging behaviors, so outline ways you can support them. 

Ensure you also reiterate acceptable and unacceptable ways of working and the consequences of working outside these boundaries. Set a timescale for when you’ll review their behaviors, and make sure you follow up regularly.

How can I be a great assistant team leader?

If you’re not quite ready to lead a team yet, how can you best support as an assistant team leader? Great assistant team leaders look for ways to make their team leader’s life easier. Ask if there are tasks they can delegate to you so their workload becomes more balanced.  

Be proactive. Look for suboptimal processes or procedures and suggest improvements. Offer to support or mentor new or less experienced team members. Great assistant team leaders should also build their own self-awareness. This will help identify areas for development to put them on the path to becoming a great team leader in the future.

How can I be a great team leader supervisor?

Great team leader supervisors are acutely aware of what their team leaders need and will directly respond to that. It’s important to offer support and guidance appropriately. Micromanagement can stifle innovation and cause frustration. Being too hands-off can leave team leaders floundering and overwhelmed. The best team leader supervisors clearly articulate what needs to be done. They use relevant performance indicators to help their team leaders know what success looks like. 

Great team leaders should be able to articulate their development goals and what support they would value. Listen carefully to their individual goals and needs. Work together to build an action plan to help them meet their CPD objectives. That could involve formal education, professional skills training, coaching, or mentoring.

Improving team performance

Dale Beaumont

With F4S, you can make better decisions in terms of your hiring and where to focus your team and your financial resources.
Dale Beaumont, Founder and CEO, Bizverstiy
Show References
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  1. Corporate Services Managers | Labour Market Insights - https://labourmarketinsights.gov.au/occupation-profile/managers-corporate-services?occupationCode=1321#outlook
  2. Administrative Services and Facilities Managers : Occupational Outlook Handbook: : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) - https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/administrative-services-managers.htm
  3. Future-Focus-Shifting-Priorities - https://www.institutelm.com/resourceLibrary/future-trends-shifting-priorities.html
  4. Team Leader Salary and Job Outlook | Open Colleges - https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/careers/frontline-management/team-leader/outlook
  5. Team Leader Salary (December 2022) - Zippia - https://www.zippia.com/team-leader-jobs/salary/
  6. ibid
  7. Team Leader, General Salary in United Kingdom | PayScale - https://www.payscale.com/research/UK/Job=Team_Leader%2C_General/Salary
  8. Salary: Team Leader (December, 2022) | Glassdoor - https://www.glassdoor.com.au/Salaries/team-leader-salary-SRCH_KO0,11.htm#:~:text=How%20much%20does%20a%20Team%20Leader%20make%3F%20The,to%20see%20Team%20Leader%20salaries%20in%20your%20area.
  9. Salary: Team Leader in Bangalore, India | Glassdoor - https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/bangalore-team-lead-salary-SRCH_IL.0,9_IM1091_KO10,19.htm

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