Leading a Team for the First Time
Leading a team for the first time is exhilarating and stressful. If you aren’t nervous, you’re oblivious.
Real confidence is rooted in your ability to try, learn, persist, work hard, and deliver results. That’s what got you here. Believe it.
Fairy-tale confidence is saying its so, when it isn’t so, in order to make it so. “I’m confident, I can do this,” for example. You don’t need to pump yourself up. Others believe in you; believe in yourself.
The challenge of leading a team for the fist time is giving assignments, not taking them.
Taking on challenges got you here;
giving them takes you there.
I always asked new instructors if they planned to tell their first class it was their first time. It was my way of discussing helpful honesty.
Indulgent honesty focuses on what’s best for you. Helpful honesty focuses on what’s best for them.
Leaders ultimately focus on what’s best for others.
Say you’re nervous but explain your preparation and enthusiasm, as well. You make me nervous if all you say is you’re nervous.
Helpful honesty always ends with optimism.
Bonus tip: Laugh at mistakes and move forward. “Boy I really screwed up,” is better than pretending you didn’t. Everyone knows anyway.
First time performers often
judge themselves too harshly.
Offset tendencies toward harshness or leniency with feedback from others. Invite insightful teammates and experienced leaders to speak into your performance.
The path upward is working with and through others. Doing it yourself hobbles and eventually crushes. Working in isolation misses the point. Team leaders take jobs from the boss and give them to others. Master this and you’ll go far.
What are the essential skills for first time team leaders?
What did you learn the first time you led a team?
The most essential skill or trait for firts time leaders is humilty. Take advantage of you “newness” to continue to learn from everyone. The people you now lead will have more expertise in some areas than you do, seek them out.
The most important lesson I learned is probably tied to the first answer. Not everyone will be pleased at you advancement. Work to get buy-in, but never forget that you are the leader and that final decisions now rest with you. Accept that it will be difficult to lead those who do not accept your “authority.” However, you must find effective ways to deal with these people and situations to establish and maintain your authority and credibility as a leader.
Thank you Martina. I appreciate the opportunity to learn when you are new. If there is ever a time when it’s “ok” to not know, it’s when you are new.
Thanks for bringing the political dimension to the conversation. YOu got me wondering how much a new leaders success is tied to dealing effectively with detractors, footdraggers, and resistors.
Hi Martina, late to the party today and wanted to mention when I read your first essential trait or skill the little fairy inside my head said, “not so fast Mister”. He proceeded to tell me Honesty precedes Humilty.
Anyway just wanted to share with you what came about when I read your intriguing contribution.
10 stars to very nicely said quote “Indulgent honesty focuses on what’s best for you. Helpful honesty focuses on what’s best for them.”
Thanks for sharing…
Thanks! It’s always a pleasure to be useful.
The first time I led a class of adults on my own. I cried. Not kidding, and not in a closet. I was sharing the story of my sister-in-laws healing, and I broke down in tears.
The group was surprisingly supportive.
It was a great experience overall.
My advice to first time leaders is to be honest. Don’t try and BS your way. “I don’t know. Let me find the answer for you.” Is always classy.
Thanks for jumping in Todd.
I love the honest approach. Not only is it right, it works. Of course being honest in forward and outward looking ways is essential. Without the forward/outward component honesty spirals inward and, I fear downward.
As you can see, I’m freakishly interested in next steps.
I agree absolutely with the need to focus on the team. It is not about ME- it is about THEM is the hallmark of a leader versus a boss. Humility is the ability to be a servant leader- what does the team need to succeed? We have students evaluate the course (and instructor) at the end of each semester- but I ask for feedback along the way so that I can make adjustments before it is too late for this group to benefit. I also use powers of observation. Their failure to perform is my failure to teach- their poor attendance is my failure to deliver a class worth attending. How engaged are they? Are they achieving their goals? I have team projects in nearly every class- mostly out in the community where they must actually- not virtually perform.
Your contribution is scary true. Thanks!
Get feedback AS you go, not at the end!
Love the rhythm of “What does the team need to succeed.” Whenever asking how much to share, this principle applies. Maybe you were up all night or you just lost a client, does sharing that help the team?
I’m all for finding channels to share things but leaders choose them carefully.
love to hear more on this topic
me too… 🙂 … It’s funny but “first time” topics haven’t been a major focus here. Perhaps it’s time to include them?
Doing ANYTHING the first time generates a set of internal dialogs and biological reactions and all that. But those kinds of things are not death-defying or anything like that; they are simply things done the first time.
What is helpful is perspective and the reality that you are not expected to be perfect. As the post and comments say, it is about doing things honestly and openly and for understood benefits.
Doing things “more better” the second time is the key result of doing things the first time. As that old Paul Hornung beer commercial punchline said, “Practice, Practice, Practice.”
(Hey, I sat next to a young girl on my flight home on Monday who actually sang at Carnegie Hall!! Guessing all y’all know that old one-liner…)
Having FUN out there also helps.
New supervisor here…I read everyday and really feel that I get great insight to help me be a better manager to my team. Appreciate the great posts!
Being the noob, leader or otherwise, does have some perks that you can/should capitalize on as long as possible, because that window of opportunity closes quickly. A triple win in leadership is:
1)you will make mistakes which, unless massively deleterious, will be forgiven-so again you have the opportunity to model how you value failures and learning, By saying you are nervous, as Dan pointed out, you do get a virtual ‘get out of jail free’ card…temporarily,
2)you have the opportunity to bring your ‘fresh eyes’ and just watch and learn. (Save the questions for later) This is about respect for the work being doing and respect for those doing the work. The watch and learn time period for leaders can be brief, take advantage of it. While people may initially be on best behavior, the more you just sit and listen and watch, (and the more you re-enforce you are just there to learn how the work is done), the more people will slide into usual activities and responses, and
3)all eyes/eyes will be very attentive so you can display your values clearly, especially as they relate to VMV and a continuous improvement, continuous learning organization. As much as you are watching and learning, the crew are doing the same, perhaps more so.
A leader walks a fine line between greatness and ego, but once he/she can merge both to work in harmony as propellers to fulfill the purpose. The being becomes unstoppable
I learned how to make an employee cry: http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/oblivious-or-how-to-make-an-employee-cry/
As I have written, my first time leading was an unmitigated disaster. So much so, that I would never have done it knowing what I know now. Long story, but I needed to work on ME first.
My second time was better…just a plain disaster…no unmitigated this time. Improvement!
Three months into my second time there was a watershed moment. My boss doubted me. That was it. I was either going to become a good leader or I was going to give up on it altogether and become a recluse.
I chose the former and did become a good leader.
Thanks Dan for your thought provoking work. I very much appreciate the importance of understanding the difference between helpful and indulgent honesty. This can be a fine line though, as the team may need to see the leader as an empathic person, who has been there. However, they also need to have confidence in the leader’s competence to be professional, and not to be put in a position of being worried about the leader
So late to the party maybe no one will read this but no reason not to think out loud.
I look at people working for me replacing me, right from the start. If that happens I must be getting a different job with better perks! Horray me!
Then I also get the great feelings of knowing I helped another human being. Them being associated with me helped them learn some skills but more importantly some confidence for what will be coming next.
For me there is no other name for honesty. No precursor. I see a lot of colors in my interpretation of life. Blue, red, green, gray and quite frankly have a distain for black and white thinkers. Lots more going on than they could ever imagine but that is a topic for another blog.
My grandfather was the most respected man I ever met. Senator, business owner, everyone called him Mr John. 80th birthday got a signed picture of the four living Presidents at the time. Kindest man I ever met.
What he told me about honesty was simple. He wasn’t longwinded like me.
He taught me if it isn’t so, don’t say it, if it isn’t yours don’t take it and if it ain’t right, don’t do it.
Following the lead of John T Mckenzie I don’t have to try to do mental gymnastics with what to name situational honesty. Too complicated for an ole mountain boy like me.
Just each day, in everyway, simply treat others like you would like to be treated and live each day as if it is your last…cause it could be.
Great post Dan. Oh yeah my attitude with teaching others is practical. I completely understand they do not know squat. They wouldnt be with me if they did!! Lol When we start we are just finding out where they are, period, no judgement, just as assessment. Then it is up to me to make what I am teaching them easy enough for a monkey and we are on our way. If I see their success as my responsibility they will quit long before I will. I never quit, I adjust…my take on the shift Dan.
Depends on how peeps view blogs, as a one time read early in their morning or as a resource…know, expect that others will read Scott! 😉 I have also learned that you will never know how much impact one’s words will have, sometimes just a ripple, sometimes a wave, sometimes a tsunami…choose words wisely.
Your grandfather had it dialed in, wow! Thanks!
As a first-time leader, I feel that it’s important to put aside your own ego when interacting with your subordinates. Focus on what you can help them to achieve, not what you want to achieve for yourself. Establish trust first before going straight into resolving issues. It helps me tremendously!
This topic is an area of near sidedness for me. I am always so sure that everyone feels like I don’t have the ability to lead the team, and often I even question myself. Do I have what it takes? Because of this dynamic I have avoided taking official leadership positions when they were offered. What I do instead is become the “informal leader” of resource person on the team, the hands on person who guides other team members through with resources and contacts. As a leader I feel that I can identify problem areas & evaluate offered solutions, but assigning projects and activities has always been an area of weakness, especially if a team member balks at the assignment, I am quick to back down and reassign or take on the task myself. Not a good plan.
What are the essential skills for first time team leaders?
One of the most essential would be the ability to create a functional working team environment, often this can be done by owning up to the fact that this is your first crack at running things. I think that can take the wind out of the naysayers and take pressure off yourself if, its just out there.
Listening is an important skill, being able to take getting feedback from those on the team who may of lead before and those who differ on how to move forward.
Being willing to accept and integrate other team members ideas into the plan and making sure you acknowledge the source of the idea both to the team and to whom ever the team reports to.
Accepting your success as a member of the team not as an individual, if the team succeeds give the team the credit, if the team fails be able to accept the responsibility.
What did you learn the first time you led a team?
I learned that there are many facets to leading & many different roles you are expected to play from peacemaker to authoritarian, to teacher, evaluator, and “prodder”. Essentially ever skill it takes to be a good parent minus any condescension.