DMA Portland: What Does A Team Leader Look Like?

What Does a Team Leader Look Like? Team leaders come in many different shapes and sizes—beyond their physical appearance. How so? Some leaders lead quietly but surely. Other leaders are a maelstrom of energy and passion. Some leaders are plodders. Other leaders are shooting stars. Some leaders are dictatorial. Others value gathering input on every team decision. No one personality trait or style is common among all leaders. Consider the diversity of these categories: • Introverts and extroverts • Individuals with strong self-image and those who lack self-image • Self-confident individuals and those who are not • “People persons” and solitary souls • Individuals who are conscientious and those who are not • Aggressive persons and those who tend to be passive • Those who display an emotional nature and those who give little weight to their feelings and are more logical • Big-picture persons and those who focus on the minute details • Concrete thinkers and those who are futuristic “what if?” thinkers • Servant leaders versus the CEO-type leader Team Leader Toolkit Diversity is the hallmark of human beings in general and leaders in particular! Effectiveness as a leader is not tied to any one category or characteristic. Beyond personality, the team leader possesses a toolkit of strengths and competencies. The toolkit often contains at least these basic, practical skill sets, and often many more. Think about each of these 10 “tools” in terms of how comfortable or competent you are as you use this skill. 1. Interpersonal skills: A team leader who excels in interpersonal skills can manage a variety of different personality types on her team. She respects her team members and values their input—even when it differs from her own opinions. Her body language as she engages in conversation with each team member projects “I’m interested in what you have to say.” She makes eye contact with those with whom she communicates. 2. Planning/organizing: If the team leader is weak in this skill, she wisely partners with a team member who is a “natural” planner and organizer. The successful team is one which envisions a plan to accomplish its goals, and then identifies the action steps which are required. 3. Conflict management: Unless team members are cookie-cutters of each other, conflict is inevitable. Conflict is a positive sign that members are thinking and care enough about the team mission to voice their best thinking—even if it differs from an opinion voiced by a co-worker. A savvy team leader has the challenge of diffusing any tension which may accompany opinions which are poles apart. Finding middle ground and assuring all members that their opinions are valued is the goal in this situation. 4. Presenting: Making a presentation is a basic communication skill which is best learned early in a team leader’s career. Writing down a plan for the presentation which focuses on what the listener needs to know is a first step. Adhering to whatever time frame has been assigned is always welcomed. Clarity of speech—and assurance that the whole audience can hear—is appreciated too. 5. Teamwork: Often we have been called upon to succeed as individuals, so there is a thinking shift required to succeed as a collective group of persons. A good team leader reiterates the team purpose or mission so that each member of the team grasps and buys into its implementation. Synergy is the term which describes a team which operates better collectively than any one member of the team could on his or her own. 6. Written communication: Crafting a message in words which can be distributed and understood by a wider audience is both an art and a science. I favor logic as an organizing principle (i.e., often putting information in a chronological format or a grid to enable those who have not been on our team to understand how we have arrived at our decision or recommendation). 7. Decision making: Guiding a team in decision making can be laborious, but ultimately has immense rewards, as the team members buy into the direction decided upon together. Decisions made by consensus—where everyone voices their opinions—ensures there will be lively debate. The facilitating team leader will need to pay close attention, listen wisely, and guide the process with diplomacy. 8. Goal orientation: Teams accomplish their work, quite simply, through establishing goals and working to make the goals a reality. The role of the team leader is crucial as she helps the team maintain its goal focus. 9. Leadership: A leader models familiarity and skill with each of the 10 tools which are the focus of this article—and more! A skill which I value is an optimistic spirit and conviction that our team can do what we have set out to do! 10. Flexibility: Strong teams are populated with people who are diverse in terms of their experiences, gender, education, preferred style of working, etc. It’s easy to see that the team leader will be best served by demonstrating flexibility. Team meetings may be chaotic at times, but the flexible team leader will ensure the success of the team! The wise team leader is on a learning path to develop skills with those tools which present the most challenge for her.

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