Team Leaders Skills + Team Leader Qualities + Team Leader Tasks = Getting Your Shot to Be a Team Leader
If you've been following this series, you may have determined that you have the right ingredients -- some of the qualities and some of the skills -- needed to be an effective lead for your team. So now what? How do you get others to recognize your potential so you'll get a shot at being named to a leadership role? How do you perform team leader tasks before you're officially a team leader?
I'd like to answer those questions by describing five people I've promoted or strongly recommended for promotion over the years. They illustrate exactly what it takes to earn your shot. Notice what these five individuals had in common at the time when they were front line contributors who wanted to move into a formal leadership role. While they each took a different approach to proving themselves, they all began performing team leader tasks before they were invited to do so and before they were endowed with any positional authority.
All five understood that their readiness needed to be proven. Their own awareness of it wasn't sufficient. Their own confidence, while admirable, wouldn't translate into others automatically feeling confident in them. Although each of them had skills and qualities to lead effectively, they needed to make sure others could see those skills and qualities in action.
Many highly capable emerging leaders make the mistake of expecting opportunities before demonstrating readiness for those opportunities. They unfairly expect others to recognize their potential before they have outwardly displayed that potential in concrete and measurable ways.
For some, this becomes a "chicken and egg" question. "How," they ask, "can I demonstrate my leadership skills and qualities unless I'm given a leadership role?"
The people who have those roles to give ask a different question. They say "How can I entrust an important role to someone who hasn't shown the skills and qualities needed to succeed in the role?"
In most workplaces, the burden of proof rests with the emerging leader. That's why these five stories can help you find the opportunities you need to shine a spotlight on your skills and qualities as a team leader. Before you receive the promotion, get the appointment, or even raise your hand to ask for those increased responsibilities, prove yourself using strategies like these.
How Marty Demonstrated Readiness by Taking on Team Leader Tasks as a Sales Rep
Out of college less than two years and eager to move into management, Marty was ambitious. He worked in a competitive environment, surrounded by talented people who were also high achievers. When next-level jobs opened, numerous internal applicants interviewed for the positions. There was a certain implication that you'd have to "keep working hard and wait your turn."
But Marty stood out. He leapfrogged people with more experience and tenure. He did it by wowing the management team across his entire division.
He did this by posting stellar sales numbers. But he knew that exceptional job performance was the equalizer, not the differentiator. In addition to delivering a solid performance, he set out to demonstrate that he could already do what sales managers and senior reps were doing.
Marty devised a sales forecasting and tracking system that set him apart. He created thorough plans and executed them over and over again. He began sharing his approach with other sales reps and, by doing so, he helped them become more organized and stronger in sales execution.
Without the title, without any incentive, without permission, Marty mentored and managed his peers. He didn't do it in a way that seemed superior or inappropriate. He did it with contagious enthusiasm for sharing what was working for him.
When a training manager and field coach role opened up, Marty was the obvious choice because he'd proven he had the qualities and the skills needed to do the job.
How Dave Proved Leadership Abilities by Assuming Team Leader Tasks in a Moment of Crisis
Dave worked for me when I was new to sales management. Frankly, at first, I was a terrible manager. I'd excelled as a salesperson and saw the sales manager role as one where I should get everyone to do things exactly the way I'd done them... Or, alternately, that I should take over and do their selling myself.
It was bad for awhile. Our numbers dipped, and I was frantic in trying to turn things back around. The more frantically I worked, the worse it got.
One day, Dave came into my office and closed the door. He took a deep breath and said "Look. I have to tell you something. You're freaking out all the time, and it's really making it hard for people to believe in you. It's like this. If a ship was caught in a bad storm, the crew would watch to see how the captain responded. The captain could calmly and confidently steer the ship. Or the captain could panic and run around the ship, leaving no one to navigate it through the storm. If you were on that boat, how would you respond to the second captain? Wouldn't you feel better and do better with a captain who kept his cool?"
I got it. And I realized something. Dave had been calmly and confidently steering the ship while I was running around the decks doing everything but my job as captain. He didn't have to. He didn't get paid to. He just did.
When future opportunities opened, I was always a huge advocate for promoting Dave. He demonstrated leadership qualities and skills in working with the rest of the team, and he had the courage to confront me in a way that was genuinely helpful.
In later years, I became a pretty good manager. Dave gets the credit for setting me on the right path.
How Judy Stepped Up Her Game by Tackling Team Leader Tasks that Were Downright Intimidating
In the midst of a major corporate downsizing initiative, I was retained to coach Judy as she was promoted into a role that would require her to completely overhaul a division plagued with problems.
She almost refused the role. I wouldn't blame her if she had. It was daunting, and there was a lot to be done without much hope it would succeed in time to retain top employees and get back on track before the new corporate parent swooped in with ideas of their own.
This became an ongoing exercise in "just do it" frog swallowing. Judy handled tough situations with aplomb and relentlessly championed for her team members and customers. She had to battle corporate, her boss, her peers (who'd held their senior-level jobs for decades more than she had!), support departments and contractors, the competition, the community and some of her direct reports.
Major change initiatives are never easy. But this one was massive and impacted every single aspect of the business. Judy had a lot at stake.
Her courage was matched only by her determination to do the right thing. She tackled team leader tasks that many a CEO would rather duck and dodge. She made the tough decisions, and she stood by them even when under fire. She earned the respect of everyone watching, including herself.
During the two years of this change initiative, Judy discovered strengths and resolve she never knew she had. It was there all along, but it had been masked by a lack of opportunity or, perhaps, a lack of permission. Once unleashed, Judy's leadership qualities and skills grew exponentially and rapidly.
With her newfound and rediscovered leadership prowess, Judy went on to found her own business. It got a strong start because she'd won over hearts and minds throughout her community and network. There's no doubt in anyone's mind (including her own) that Judy is a strong and capable leader. That happened because she jumped right in to those hairy, scary team leader tasks that many would have avoided.
How Kim Learned from Her Mentors and Earned Their Support in Doing More and More Team Leader Tasks
Over just a few years, Kim progressed through at least five job roles. I was a consultant, watching her amazing trajectory from the sidelines.
She started in an administrative role. She performed at high levels and always asked people (even me, the outside consultant!) "what can I be doing to help you?" She studied what other people were doing, and she took advantage of every opportunity she could find to attend training programs, conferences, certification courses and project team meetings. She raised her hand for stretch assignments.
If you were meeting Kim for the first time, you'd never guess she was so driven and so eager to learn. She seems, at first, to prefer working in the background. She seems, until you look closer, to be content doing what's been assigned. Here's what you'd see, though, if you paid attention to what's really going on with Kim.
Kim seeks mentoring. She identifies the people she can learn from, the people who will challenge her. She relies on them as resources when she gets stuck (which isn't very often!). For Kim, mentors come in the form of managers, peers and colleagues. When she sees someone doing something she'd like to learn about, she observes and learns and internalizes how she can do this in her own way, too.
As a result, Kim's capabilities have expanded rapidly and broadly. Additionally, she is an excellent coach and mentor. She asks the tough questions and gives the honest assessment to help people see their own stumbling blocks. She is viewed as a leader by all who work with her.
Her career opportunities are virtually unlimited. She is the classic "high potential" in every way. Doors open for her because she is always learning, always growing, always seeking new ways to develop herself. Kim epitomizes why leaders are learners, and learners are leaders.
How Saul Consistently Challenged Himself with Team Leader Tasks Even He Didn't Realize He Could Do
The job Saul had was what might be labeled a "dead end job." There was no natural career ladder, no next step he could easily make. Most people in his job stayed in it for a lifetime or took a lateral move inside or outside the company.
So when Saul decided he wanted to do something different, that he wanted to develop an entirely different skill set so he would be considered for a significant career advancement, he knew there would be plenty of challenges ahead of him.
At first, this quest involved learning functional job skills. Saul shadowed colleagues, asked tons of questions, took a few classes, and served on project teams that stretched him.
In the process, he discovered that other people often sought his opinion and advice. His credibility and dedication to the company's mission and values got people's attention. The more he reached out to learn from others, the more others started relying on him as an advisor.
Flash forward a few years. Saul did make a giant leap from one department into another. The person who hired him was extremely impressed with Saul, the individual. He knew that Saul lacked many of the technical skills required for this job. But he also knew that Saul was a fast learner (because Saul had demonstrated that over and over again). And he knew that Saul was committed to the company and the work to be done. Most importantly, he knew that others respected Saul and would respond to him and his leadership qualities.
It worked out exactly that way. As Saul learned the job skills, his leadership qualities earned him the support and grace he needed at first. He continues to challenge himself on a daily basis, and this -- above all else -- is what people admire and respect most about him.
What about You? What Team Leader Tasks Could You Assume Now to Earn the Opportunities You'd Like to Pursue?
Leadership happens at every level. You don't need a job title, a higher place on the org chart, seniority, innate abilities or permission to lead.
If you want to prove yourself as a leader, you have to step into your own leadership. You have to see yourself as a leader and believe in your own skills and qualities to lead. This is merely a choice you make. You'll find ways to demonstrate your abilities for performing team leader tasks even though you are not an official team leader.
To do this effectively, you'll display the leadership qualities and skills we've addressed throughout this series. It's all up to you.
This is the final post in a 4-part series about becoming a good team leader. To read the entire series, go to the home page for the CONNECT2Win Blog.
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Deb Calvert is President of People First Productivity Solutions, the company that helps you build organizational strength by putting people first. Book Deb today to speak at your leadership or team events, to conduct MBTI workshops to improve team effectiveness, or to work with you as your Executive Coach.