The management skills you need to lead your team

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Leading a team is every child’s dream. Who doesn’t want to be the hero who slays the enemy, gets the gold, and ultimately leads their people to success? But the reality of leadership isn’t like in the movies, it’s much more complicated.

Each team member has a different communication style and brings a unique skill set to the table. The business has tons of different goals, and it’s hard to prioritize what needs to be done and who needs to do it.

Being an effective leader takes more than a good attitude and a childhood dream. You need good management skills. Here is my complete list of skills you will need to thrive as a manager:

1. View

Where is your business going? And your team? How to align the team with the company’s objectives? Leaders often have the best intentions, but they get caught up in day-to-day management, putting out fires instead of working to unite their people around a common vision.

The lack of direction leaves team members confused about the goal. They know they’re working hard, but it’s hard for them to see their impact. They don’t know which initiatives to prioritize. As a leader, you not only need a clear vision, but you also need to communicate it well.

How to get it:

If you’re struggling to create and communicate your long-term vision, take a step back and think about what that vision is. If you are in middle management, meet with those above you to help you understand the overall goals. If you’re on top, step back and write a plan. Too many leaders fly by the seat of their pants without evaluating goals on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis.

2. Effective communication

Communication is a dirty word. It gets thrown around by people who aren’t sure what it really means. At its core, communication is about expressing yourself in such a way that the things you think and the things you say are closely aligned. Communication is the keystone of effective leadership. You must communicate:

  • Priorities
  • Long term goals
  • Acknowledgement
  • Strategy and Execution Information

How to get it:

If you feel like you’re not a good communicator, try putting things in writing. Plan what you are going to say before a meeting – don’t just improvise it.

3. Organization

When we think of being organized, we envision a clean workspace and color-coded post-it notes, but organization extends to things on the run like project deadlines. Organizing is easy for some, impossible for others. Fortunately, there are tools available to help us all – Gantt charts, Excel spreadsheets, project management software (such as Trello and Teamwork) are just a few options.

How to get it:

Having trouble keeping things together? Papers flying everywhere? Inbox overloaded? Sit down with someone who is organized and ask them to help you put systems in place. Once you have systems in place, you’ll be better able to stay organized and keep your team on the same page.

4. Functional skills

It’s hard to respect management who can’t get things done. Someone who can’t “do” is problematic – it’s like having a captain of a ship who has never learned to sail. If a leader doesn’t have the skills to understand the industry and the ability to make things happen, they’re probably not a great leader. That doesn’t mean leaders need to be knee-deep in every detail — rather, they need to delegate effectively and create timelines to ensure goals are met on time and with quality results.

How to get it:

Take a course in leadership and management, or other courses that focus on the functional skills you lack. Find a good in-person course in your area that focuses on skills like delegation, difficult conversation, and project deadlines. I commend the General Assembly.

5. Trust

You are the boss, so you cannot allow yourself to be used by your staff. Confidence is not just a trait, it is also a practiced skill. Confidence comes from knowing yourself well. If you understand your strengths, you can leverage them to succeed. You can be transparent with your team about your weaknesses, ask for help so you can move forward.

How to get it:

Take a personality test. I love the Myers-Briggs and DISC assessments. These will help you understand your strengths and weaknesses objectively. I also recommend doing things outside of your comfort zone. If you are a calm person, take an improv class. If you are loud, meditate.

6. Equity

Nothing frustrates employees more than blatant favoritism. Sure, there will be some members of your team that you like more than others, but expressing your true feelings is poison for a team that needs to come together. Favoritism is juvenile, and it can poison a team. It’s a dagger in camaraderie – so don’t pick favorites!

How to get it:

If you really favor some team members more than others, you need to create boundaries to put your professionalism in check. When you go out to lunch, invite everyone, not just the one whose jokes you like. As a manager, you need to make friends and business contacts, not best friends.

7. Respect

Being a good leader doesn’t mean everyone nods unanimously every time you open your mouth. Disagreements are inevitable, but a good leader can treat others with respect and kindness, no matter the situation. Ask your reports why they think what they think. Respect their opinions, even if you vehemently disagree. If they do something serious that needs to be addressed, talk to them like they’re adults instead of pinning them down and lecturing them.

How to get it:

This one is tough, because we can’t help but get hot-headed sometimes. If you feel angry in a meeting, take a deep breath, step outside, and take a break. Time will calm you down, so that when you discuss burning issues, you can do so with respect.

8. Adaptability

Change is the only constant in our lives, and teams look to their leaders when the seas get rough and the caves darken. As a leader, you have to adapt. You cannot be the one who acts like an ostrich, with your head in the ground, who does not want to accept changes. The best leader embraces change in stride, thrives on transition.

How to get it:

When changes occur, force yourself to be optimistic, even if you are worried. Connect with the right people, but be honest about your skepticism, and be prepared to change the way you do things. When someone suggests running meetings in a new way, don’t balk. Carefully examine why you feel the way you do and be open-minded to a new way of doing things.

9. Ability to think strategically

It’s frustrating to work in a place where leaders take on tiny little projects without much strategy. They talk to us off the cuff, not thinking about how they’re doing. We look to leaders for advice on everything, and when we sense they are not deliberate, we panic. Basically, people want to see that you can handle it. How are you going to do what you said you would do? You must be able to think and act strategically to succeed as a leader.

How to get it:

According to the Harvard Business Review, people lack strategy because they don’t take the time to think things through. Build strategic time into your workday. You need time to think through situations so you can connect ideas to show your team that you can make things happen.

10. Team orientation

Yes, you are a leader, but you are also a team member. You are not Michael Jordan, you are the leader of the Chicago Bulls. You must think like a member of the team and always put the team before your own needs. Sometimes that means taking responsibility for a team member’s mistakes or fighting back when a report calls for a promotion or additional compensation.

How to get it:

Consider yourself a member of the team before see yourself as a leader. Be prepared to do things you don’t like for the good of the team. Never act like you’re better than your team members just because you’re in a position of strength.

11. Navigating Difficult Conversations

Stressful conversations are inevitable. Firing someone, talking about a problem in the office, or criticizing poor performance all cause a lot of stress. Leaders are good at having these conversations. They can speak gracefully, ask for feedback, and make people feel safe even when the content is difficult.

How to get it:

Read Taking the Stress Out of Stressful Conversations by Harvard Business School’s Holly Weeks. Holly explains how to navigate the stormy territory of difficult discussions.

Being a manager is tough – there are so many skills you need to be successful. Fortunately, with a little elbow grease, you can work on these skills to become the best leader in your organization.


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