What is a team leader — and what makes a great team leader?

Before asking these questions let’s take a look at the leadership skills employed by successful leaders who focus, motivate, and mentor team members working toward a targeted outcome:

  • Qualities of a good team leader include emotional intelligence, effective communication and team management skills, a good understanding of team dynamics and team building, and fluency in the business language of the company culture. A great team leader will turn a group of people with talent and strong skill sets into a successful team.
  • Responsible for team management and time management, the best leaders have an eye always on the team’s common goal. Their engaged style of leadership focuses on maintaining a positive working environment: It encourages constant communication and feedback that enable the team leader to manage performance effectively and solve problems quickly and decisively.

Now that many workplaces include remote development teams, especially in the healthcare and tech industries, effective project management favours evolving leadership techniques and tools that rely upon online communication. Remote or onsite, leadership skills hold it all together, often called upon to coordinate communication and teamwork on a multi-time zone schedule.

Respect starts at the top

Respect starts with the actions and example of a strong leader. Employee engagement — both with management and other team members —relies upon communication skill, a vital management skill rooted in active listening. Knowing the team and the quality of the strengths they bring to the table clarifies vision, focuses team commitment, and helps the team leader shape their management message with objectivity and integrity.

Great leaders:

Act objectively

A successful team leader is objective, able to understand various points of an argument or discussion, and open to goal-oriented solutions. Objective leaders weigh external factors in order to reach fair decisions that are clear to the team. Open leadership lets team members know that the decisions made are fair and just, and not based upon unclear preferences or presumptions.

Act with integrity

Leaders with integrity are clear about right and wrong, for a start. They communicate openly and directly, keep promises, and are consistent in their expectations and decisions. In return for this good leadership, team members will invest their own work with respect, confidence, and loyalty.

Make the hard decisions

When confronted with a difficult decision — often with limited information — an effective team leader first determines the common goal, the big picture. Effective problem-solving is the team leader’s expertise and responsibility. They weigh the possible consequences of their decision, consider any useful alternatives, evaluate opportunities that may be in play, then decide with the confidence that earns the respect of their team.

Lead by example

Great leaders demonstrate how to succeed, then establish that success as a benchmark for their team. The example of their own expertise earns respect and builds the team’s confidence. Great leaders inspire.

The best leaders are transparent about expectations and objectives, and they demonstrate how to achieve them. Their teams know what the team leader is doing, and how they’re doing it. These realtime learning opportunities often inspire team members to new levels of excellence.

Motivate and empower

Great leaders understand the key to successful teamwork: People give their best when they have a sense of ownership over their work and know that their work is meaningful. To guide this process successful leaders set clear goals and deadlines, then give their teams the autonomy and authority to decide how the work gets done. The best leaders set expectations high and encourage creativity and innovation, and include their teams in the decision-making process.

Embrace failure

Failure is an inevitable part of every success, and a great leader doesn’t shy away from it – they use failure as an opportunity for growth. As Robert Kiyasaki observed: “Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.” Point taken.

Leadership by example is a quality of the best leaders. They encourage team members to acknowledge and learn from failure, to acknowledge performance setbacks, and to share their solutions and improvements with the full team.

Whether they result from team leadership miscalculation or a disruption within a team, points of failure can also be points of clarification: Is the team’s skill set adequate to the tasks required? Might it be helpful to re-delegate tasks? To refine a job description? At pivot points like this an able team leader encourages and leads the team to challenge the status quo, to improve performance, and to innovate.

Leadership development and the big picture

Leadership skills are learned most effectively — let’s say only — when combined with experience. Being part of a development team, honing new skills and putting what you already know and have learned into your best work, makes the progress to a common goal vital to leadership development.

When the job description is Team Leader, it’s time to draw upon the active listening skills, project management expertise, and team member retention awareness learned from experience and training. The great team leader respects and encourages every individual team member’s career ambitions and knows how to channel them with initiative clarity and achievable team goals.

When looking at leadership, there are many ways to approach it. If you would like to practice your leadership and coaching skills with someone, you can contact Leadership Tribe and we are happy to get on call with you and discuss the best way to join our high performing Agile Training & Coaching Practice sessions.

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