Leading your team is the most important part of your role


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 part of it. This is something that I still see many team leaders struggling to do. There are at least three role identities that can get in the way of this.

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

The second identity 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 concentrate most of your efforts on the organizational 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.

The third role identity 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 an ambition to be promoted further or take on a different role at the same level. However, if you just tolerate leading your team, 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 soon obvious and damages credibility and trust.

Reference

Schein, E.H., (1990). Career anchors: Discovering your real values. Pheiffer, San Diego.


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