Subject Expert to Team Leader

Sunday, October 1 2023

You have done it; your expertise and hard work have paid off. You have been promoted to team leader, so now what? The technical skills and competencies that got you here may not serve you very well going forward. Lack of time and resources means most newly minted managers are ill equipped to make the transition from subject expert to team leader.

Rather then relying on chance or good luck, let’s instead look at some of the best practices that will help you to make the most of your new position as a leader.

Out With the Old, In With the New

Last week you were ‘the pro’ everyone relied to solve the tough problems. Many new leaders have a hard time letting go of their past roles as ‘Super Hero’ type contributors.

Subject Expert to Team Leader

The burnout rate among first time managers is shockingly high because often, very little emphasis is placed on formal training or coaching for leadership. The result is a lack of clarity for leaders in their new roles. Typically new leaders resort to using the skills and habits that got them the promotion in the first place. That’s right, they rely on their own hard work and technical skills.

If this situation sounds all too familiar to you, check out these well-established leadership techniques that will help you make a smooth transition to effective team leader.

Six Tips to Make the Move to Team Leader

A new purpose.

As a team leader, your new purpose is to get the best work out of your team. It’s not about you or your super hero skills anymore; it’s all about the team. Your prime goal is to find ways to put your team in the spotlight. Give them the confidence to expand their skills.

Build trust.

It’s time to turn your skills toward building trust in your team because no one likes a ‘know-it-all’. Constantly reminding your team that you know everything will derail trust. A better tactic would be to show sincere curiosity in your team’s ideas and initiatives. Use your technical skills to challenge them to come up with their own solutions.

Learn to teach.

Telling people what to do is not the same as teaching them how to find their own answers. Making a bunch of clones of yourself is not the answer, so resist the urge to take over or supply solutions. Use your talents to encourage the development of your team.

Use the magic question.

When approached by members of your team for advice, your first instinct might be to immediately provide an answer based on your technical skill and past performance. Leadership experts recommend trying a different approach; the magic question: “I’m not sure. What do you think you should do?”  Although the answer may be painfully obvious to you, it is important to resist the urge to offer it up. By asking the magic question, you are encouraging the team’s creativity and you will build confidence.

Create a culture of learning.

A common reason good people leave organizations is because they feel they are not growing where they are. Your mission as a leader is to encourage a culture of learning in your team whenever possible. Even if you cannot find a budget for outside training, you can organize “lunch & learn” events and take advantage of online learning platforms and industry webinars. Organize planned teaching events and incentivize team members to share what they learn with the group at these events.

The power of positive feedback.

Offering positive feedback to individuals or groups who show initiative and tackle the tough problems is a great way to establish your leadership credentials. Remember to be sincere and constructive; make your comments or praise in public whenever it makes sense. Recognizing outstanding results is good but don’t forget to acknowledge and reinforce positive behaviours. The good news is you can almost never over do this good habit.

Your success as a leader is not about your technical acumen as much as it is about your ability to create a team that excels. Put your old way of doing things away and focus on your team and its growth. Reach out to mentors and seek out professional coaching to help you develop the new skills and expertise that will support your growth as a manager and leader.

If being a leader is new to you or someone you know, contact TAC for tools that will help. You can also follow TAC on any of these platforms:


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