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Masooma Memon

The Best & Worst Parts of Being a Team Leader

Many people aspire to become a team leader in their career - but what highs and lows might the role bring? We asked experienced leaders for their thoughts.

Know what’s the difference between high-functioning teams that produce quality work and teams that trudge along, only producing subpar work? Strong leadership.

An effective team leader unlocks her team’s full potential — guiding, inspiring, and managing employees to produce their best work. 

A strong leader also creates a supportive work culture where all ideas, good or bad, are welcome and feedback is cherished as a gift. The result? More engaged employees who are committed to their team and organization’s success.

The problem though? Where 48% of leaders say their organization has good leadership, only 28% of HR think the same.

Meaning: there’s a gap in an understanding of what makes good leaders and what their responsibilities are. And this is exactly what we’ll cover in this guide. We’ll answer:

Why does a team need a leader?

Whatever organizational structure (flat hierarchy or self-governing teams) your company follows, you’ll always need a team leader to inspire others — if not manage and organize projects and resources.

Teams need leaders to inspire, manage, and drive results. In a nutshell, a team leader helps:

  • Provide focus and set clear objectives to drive the team forward. This is mandatory for organized project management, delivering better and faster results, and hitting company goals.
  • Bring about team cohesion, collaboration, and drive accountability. In doing so, team leaders foster a productive culture of feedback, honest communication, and support.
  • Encourage employee engagement and retention. Team leaders empower employees by providing them with the resources and feedback they need to get their job done. By investing in their professional goals, supporting them in all aspects, and creating a productive (not overworked) work culture, leaders bring out the full potential of employees.
  • Drive team and company culture. Teams need leaders to lead by example to create a culture of consistent growth and improvement 

What are the responsibilities of a team leader?

A team leader’s responsibilities go beyond assigning work to employees. In true essence, successful team leaders lead with the intent to bring out the best in people and drive exceptional results.

With that in mind, let’s look at the core responsibilities of a team leader:

1. Project planning and organizing work

One of the core responsibilities of an effective leader is setting project vision and goals and communicating them with her team. 

Robert Musil, the JavaScript Team Lead at STX Next says effective communication is crucial here as it helps set expectations and prevents things from falling through the cracks. 

Team leads have to communicate well, and provide clear instructions, which can be a real challenge on a daily basis.

At the same time, the leader is responsible for breaking projects down into milestones and small tasks so she can assign the work to employees and track project progress.

This comes with its challenges too considering project leaders need to assign tasks based on employees’ expertise. In turn, this is essential for nurturing employee engagement and creating a productive work environment.

2. Fostering a culture of feedback

Feedback is the key to creating a flexible work culture that’s focused on growth. 

Effective team leadership doesn’t focus on sharing feedback alone though. Instead, it emphasizes sharing constructive feedback that is actionable enough for employees to work on. 

As Robert notes:

Team leads should always ensure they are constructive in their feedback, taking time to explain why a problem has occurred, as opposed to simply fixing it.

Also important here is building a two-way feedback system where project leaders not only give feedback but also take it. Building an overall culture of feedback not only benefits the team but also the leaders and the workplace as a whole.

In fact, research confirms that organizations where leaders practice receiving feedback are 4.6 times more likely to have high-quality leaders.

One way to create such a culture of feedback is to lead by example so employees know you are open to feedback and how they can best communicate it to you. This is something Michael Chepurnyak, CEO and Founder of Ein-des-ein practices.

Being the CEO of an app and web dev company with 50+ employees is a great responsibility. The mood of the whole team often depends on the manager’s mood, so I always try to be the source of inspiration, and if there is a place for criticism, we talk about facts, not emotions.

3. Managing resources

Effective resource management helps engage employees, encourages their professional development, and contributes to retaining them better. 

It also makes sure employees produce high-quality deliverables, which, in turn, benefits the organization.

One way to allocate and manage resources the right way is to use intuitive project management tools such as Runn.

Using Runn, you can create an employee inventory that tracks each employee’s strengths, interests, availability, and hourly rate. Use this inventory to assign tasks based on employees’ skills and interests.

Since the inventory also shows employee availability, you can manage resources even better by not overloading already busy employees with work. Instead, you can better utilize resources by assigning work to under-utilized team members.

The best part? Taking such a thoughtful approach to managing resources helps successful leaders create a productive work environment that engages and retain employees (key responsibilities of good leaders) all while keeping burnout at bay.

4. Engage and retain employees

Only 36% of employees are engaged in their workplace according to a Gallup survey. 51% are disengaged, whereas, 13% are actively disengaged (they feel bad at work and spread negativity among their colleagues) according to the same source. 

This puts it on team leaders to engage employees.

One way to do so is by correctly managing resources and planning projects according to available capacity to prevent burnout. Similarly, creating a culture of feedback, transparency, and honesty also help engage employees. 

Another effective measure here is investing in employees’ professional development. A strong team leader takes the time to learn what his team members’ professional goals are and how he can help achieve them.

For example, if an employee shares they’re interested in building their strategy muscle, it’s on the team leader to provide them with opportunities that teach strategy.

In addition to being invested in employees’ professional development, leaders are also responsible for mentoring and coaching their teams and being a constant source of support for their managers and everyone else under them.

Creating such a supportive work culture where leaders are engaging with their teams is beneficial for not only employees but also for leaders themselves. The goal here is simple: instead of managing team members and doing their work, successful leaders should mentor teams to help them become better at their jobs.

Research supports this too as it reveals that leaders who spend more time managing rather than interacting are 1.5 times more likely to feel used up at the end of the day and 32% less engaged. 

5. Create a supportive and productive work environment

Lastly, project leaders are responsible for sharing the company vision with employees.

Instead of reading out a few statements though, it’s on a project leader to make the vision inspiring and motivating and tie it to individual employees’ goals.

Equally important here is listening to your team to understand where you can help and how you can support them. This one’s a proven tip from Runn’s COO, Nicole Tiefensee.

Having worked as a team leader previously, and now being part of the leadership team at Runn, I see my role not to manage people or to tell them what to do, but to listen and to create the right conditions around the team so they can do their best work, Nicole shares. This includes making sure everyone has the up-to-date and right information and resources and helping to remove roadblocks.

What are the best parts of being a team leader?

Project leaders have a lot on their plates including managing resources effectively and leading with empathy. 

With so many responsibilities on their plate, what makes leadership worth it? We asked successful leaders who are already in the trenches, and did a little research on the subject, — here’s what we gathered as the best parts of leading:

  • Seeing individual contributions come together to deliver meaningful results
  • Watching the team succeed, thrive, and grow 
  • Bringing out the best in people

Ein-des-ein’s CEO, Michael Chepurnyak talks about these wins.

For me, the best reward is to see team results when the guys join the efforts and create a perfect solution to share the joy of success! I feel like a proud dad during these moments!

Runn’s Nicole Tiefensee is of the same view:

I love developing and coaching people and seeing individual team members, and the team grow and succeed. The best part for me is when we all come together and accomplishes something as a team. It’s a really a great feeling!

Logan Mallory, the VP of Motivosity, also adds:

One of the best parts of being a team leader is watching your team succeed, thrive, and develop. As a leader, you get to make a positive impact on the up-and-coming generation of employees and help to shape their careers for years to come. It’s very rewarding to watch each employee on your team step up and grow both individually and as part of a team, and it feels good to know that you played a part in their professional development.

Glenn Llopis, the President and CEO of GLLG, explains that being a leader also lets you help people grow individually:

No matter how much potential an employee has, it can remain dormant if not managed rightly and properly nourished with the right ingredients. A great leader will never allow an employee’s potential to go unnoticed or to lose momentum.

What are the worst parts of being a team leader?

Practically speaking, nothing good ever comes at a cost. So we asked these leaders about the other side of the coin — the worst parts of being a leader.

All in all, we found that leaders have strong negative feelings around:

  • Make decisions around letting people go
  • Finding the balance between supporting the team and driving results
  • Managing team conflicts

Nicole recalls:

In one of my previous jobs, I’ve had to lead my team through a company restructure and, in the end, was forced to let people go. I had to decide who in the team stays and who goes, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a leader.

Michael has struggled with the same challenge as well.

At some point, my team becomes a second family for me, so the worst thing is sometimes to let people go, or when someone from the team goes through a personal crisis, family problems etc. But when this happens, I try to pull myself together and remind myself that life goes on and I have the task of leading the company, and if a person needs help, I will try to provide it no matter what. As we are not just colleagues, we are humans at first, Michael writes.

Marissa Brenton, the VP of BD at Galaxy Consulting Group brings another challenge to the table — that of balancing things.  

I’d say the worst parts about being a team leader is finding the balancing between driving performance and providing support to your team when they are facing challenges outside of work. You are leading a team of people who all have lives outside of work, and it is impossible to think that everyone can show up to work and turn those outside stressors off, explains Marissa. Finding the balance between making sure your team feels supported and is allowed the time they need while also maintaining metrics is extremely stressful.

In addition to that, let’s quote the words of Ronald Heifetz, The Founding Director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School, who underlined that leadership means dealing with interpersonal conflict:    

To practice leadership, you need to accept that you’re in the business of generating chaos, confusion, and conflict.

Which leadership skills are the most crucial?

From self-development to building your emotional intelligence, problem-solving, and organizational skills, there are lots of leadership skills to focus on.

To boil these skills down to a to-polish list of leadership skills though, we’ll highlight the top skills based on what makes great managers and leaders. 

So what makes great leaders, you ask? According to Gallup, successful managers are people who:

  • Build trust, transparency, and a culture of open communication
  • Make decisions based on what’s productive rather than office politics
  • Motivate and engage employees around a compelling vision and mission
  • Foster clear accountability (without micro-managing team members)
  • Drive outcomes by overcoming challenges, resistance, and other roadblocks

Based on these traits, here are 6 of the most crucial leadership skills:

1. Vision formulation and goal setting  

For a company to be successful, it must have a purpose, and this purpose should be more than simply making money. There must be an idea of what your company is about and what it strives to provide for customers. This idea is vision.

To formulate a company vision, a leader needs to build a hypothetical picture of the future, outlining the role the company will play in that future. It also includes deciding which values the company needs to have to reach the desired status.

Vision is not the same as goals – rather, goals are constituent parts of vision that translate it into actions. By setting goals and making plans to achieve them, leaders make dreams come true.

2. Organization

Strong organizational skills ensure you’re able to take projects to the finish line, make sure nothing falls through the cracks, manage resources well, and drive high-ROI results.

Organization is one of the basic management functions – and even though management is not the same as leadership, it’s impossible to lead the company without organizing resources like staff, time, equipment, and finances because you won’t be able to achieve efficiency and, as a result, your goals.

The core organizational competencies include the following:

  1. Planning – developing steps to reach short-term and long-term goals.
  2. Resource allocation – distribution of available resources.
  3. Time management – setting timeframes for the tasks that need to be accomplished.
  4. Prioritization – creating priority lists where the tasks are ranged by their importance.   
  5. Delegation – transferring some of your manager’s responsibilities to someone else who’s got knowledge and skills to do the task.

 As for delegation, Michael goes on to say:

I am convinced a good manager is not the one who does everything himself but correctly delegates responsibilities and directs people towards the goal.

3. Communication

Strong communication skills help leaders set the right expectations, share constructive feedback, motivate their team, and articulate their vision in an inspiring manner. They help build trust, foster the development of company culture, and ensure the smoothness of the work process. 

But what’s most important, good communication gets employees aligned with the organizational goals. A lack of communication, on the contrary, brings chaos into the company.

How can you improve communication within your company?

  1. Establish regular meetings, including one-on-ones, during which you can exchange information with your teams. For a meeting to be productive, create an agenda and timeframes, and think who must be present for this particular meeting, so that it doesn’t get overcrowded.
  2. Make it clear that everyone, even the employees of the lowest hierarchical level, has a right to voice. Very often, frontline workers can provide valuable information about your business. Be an approachable leader and take into account the feedback you get.
  3. Don’t be afraid to get vulnerable. Honesty makes you look more human and inspires others to talk about their own mistakes. 
  4. Make sure everyone knows their roles and responsibilities. This way, you will avoid misunderstandings and waste of effort.  

4. Team development

This is a critical skill for engaging employees and creating a supportive work culture. You can also drive better results for your organization as employees become better at their work and develop their skills further.

There are many things you can do to enforce team development, like establishing clear roles, providing coaching, and organizing team-building activities. However, first of all, you should build psychological safety in a team – an environment where everyone is free to express themselves and speak up without the fear of being ridiculed or punished.

Besides, it’s useful to understand the mechanics of how a team develops, to be able to control the process. According to psychologist Bruce Tuckman, there are five main stages of team development:

  1. The Forming stage, when team members get to know each other.
  2. The Storming stage, characterized by competition and conflicts.
  3. The Norming stage, during which the team starts to cooperate productively.
  4. The Performing stage, when the team works at the peak of its abilities.
  5. The Adjourning stage, when the team finishes the projects, and team members start to leave to join other projects.   

5. Empathy

Empathy is an uber-important skill for building a resilient, highly motivated, and invested team that drives progress and results despite the roadblocks it hits.

Simon Sinek, inspirational speaker, and author says empathy is the “most important instrument in a leader’s toolbox.”

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Empathetic leaders take the trouble to understand the context their employees live in, which directly affects their ability to work and bring value. People may have personal issues, misunderstandings with colleagues, and problems with new procedures or technologies. To get back into their normal workflow, they need support.

So how can a leader demonstrate empathy?

  1. Through active listening. To understand the situation from the viewpoint of another person, you’ll have to actually hear what is being said. Behind every action, there is a motive or a reason. Try to get to the root. Listen carefully, ask questions, and provide feedback. Let people know they’re heard.
  2. Through being flexible. Life is unpredictable, and the ability to adapt is truly valuable. When something goes not as planned, we tend to get anxious and panic, especially when things are out of our control. So let employees know you’re on their side. Adapt schedules when necessary and shift deadlines. Reconsider organizational models or resource allocation. After all, implement change management models if change concerns the whole company rather than one particular employee.
  3. Through being compassionate. Compassion lets you see a human being in every employee, encouraging you to be kind – at all times, but especially when people make mistakes.  

 6. Emotional intelligence (EI)

This skill focuses on aspects like self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-development. And it’s a key for managing your own emotions well. In turn, this allows you to better address challenges, inspire confidence, communicate more effectively, and build stronger relationships.

It’s no wonder that employees under emotionally intelligent leadership report 76% more engagement and 61% more creativity than those with less empathic leadership.

Unfortunately, not all of us are emotionally intelligent. According to Daniel Goleman, psychiatrist and the author of “Emotional Intelligence,” while all people are born with a natural ability to empathize, which is the basis of emotional intelligence, we lose this ability in the course of our life.

Society requires us to hide our true emotions so that we correspond to social norms. Consequently, we either try to minimize the show of emotions, or substitute them with socially acceptable behavioral patterns. This way, it’s hard for some of us to read the emotions of others. Even more, we cannot always name our own emotions.

This is why for a leader, developing emotional intelligence is very important - high EI means you’re likely to stay calm under pressure, respond to your team’s needs with empathy, deal with diversity, and successfully resolve conflicts. 

Become a better leader today

In short, good leaders are strategic thinkers who lead with empathy. They boast strong communication skills and know how to balance providing support to their team along with driving results.

In addition to working on your leadership skills though, two things are crucial. One, focus on yourself. Learn every day, take out time to replenish your mind, and invest in managing your emotions better.

And two, get all the support you need to lead better. Meaning: use the right tools to manage people and projects effectively. 

We recommend using Runn for this — a powerful, easy-to-use software that gives you both a big picture of the projects and resources as well as the nitty-gritty details such as capacity availability and employee skills.

Sign up for Runn today and unlock the benefits yourself to become a better team leader.

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