Leader managing their team- Hays careers advice

A key determinant of getting the best from your team is fully accepting that leading them is a core part of your job, and perhaps even the biggest, and most important part of it. 

Sadly, this is something that I still see many team leaders struggling to realise and focus on time and time again. Why? In my opinion, there are three mindsets that can result in team leaders failing to prioritise the management of their team:

1. You can’t let go of your technical or specialist expertise

The first is holding on too closely to an area of technical or specialist expertise. For example, I frequently meet specialists who have been promoted into team leadership roles and find the transition extremely difficult. Successfully managing a team in this new role usually means that you’ll need to stop doing some things that you are really good at, and which have been positively reinforced up until this point in your career.

If you have a technical specialist background, with a strong Technical / Functional (TF) career anchor (Schein, 1990), directly applying your specialist expertise much less than you have done in the past doesn’t come naturally.  Resolving this often requires finding a way to satisfy your pull towards your TF anchor through enabling technical or functional excellence from your team or those that report to you. This essentially means being able to let go and transform the way you operate by:

  • Accepting that you cannot continue to apply your technical/functional competence as directly as you have done in the past; that you need to become less hands-on.
  • Releasing control of activity that used to be totally within your control.
  • Developing a new way of leading that provides meaning which satisfies your need for technical/functional involvement and excellence.

2. You don’t see team leadership as the most important part of your role

The second barrier is seeing team leadership and management as a secondary role to your overall organisational one, by some distance.  For example, if you are Head of Sales or Finance you would tend to concentrate most of your efforts on the organisational or business impact your function has, rather than worrying about what your team are up to.  Clearly, there will be a balance to be struck here, but I would always argue that leading the team should receive at least the same amount of attention as positioning the function does.

3. You see your role as a necessary evil to get you where you want to be

The third mindset that can be a barrier here is when you see your role as a necessary evil on a path towards better or different things. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with having the ambition to be promoted further or take on a different role at the same level. However, if you just tolerate leading your team as part of your current role, or have a prime motivation of being seen from above as doing this effectively, you will almost certainly run into trouble. This kind of manipulation is obvious and damages credibility and trust.

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