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Viewpoint: The First Big Career Transition

I asked Shiv, the impatient Management Trainee the question my manager had asked me many years back. ‘Why do you want to be a team leader?’ Shiv replied instinctively, ‘Because I am ready to lead a team. Three of my classmates from Business School are already managing teams. If they can do it, so can I.’

Managing others - the complexity of it

Being a team leader very often means transitioning from being an individual contributor to a people manager’s role. That often comes with a salary bump and a career path that gets more attention everywhere. Doing well as an individual contributor has no

It is the first taste of discretionary power one experiences very early in career. It is the first taste of responsibility for the success of others beyond one’s own self. It is the first opportunity to help and coach others to scale up and reach the desired goals. The leader’s role is to help the team achieve synergy not just remain the sum total of everyone’s results.

To do that, the person managing a team must juggle three perspectives:

(i) The organization’s goals:

The leader of the team must carve out the team’s contribution to the overall goals and ambition of the business. In a fluid business environment, the goals may change. The team leader has to build that same resilience and adaptability in the team’s capabilities and project plans. To do this the leader needs to manage the team’s interpersonal capabilities and portfolio of skills. Communicating the common vision helps the team feel a shared sense of purpose. While highly productive individuals can be relatively self-centered, leaders and managers must place the organization above themselves.

(ii) The team dynamics:

Being able to attract the right talent to the team is the first task of the leader. Based on the skills of the team members the leader has to divide the tasks. The tasks must seem like a ‘fair’ distribution and also help each member develop skills they will need for the future. The leader must build adequate psychological safety in the team where an individual can reach out to the leader for help when they are stuck or overwhelmed. Knowing that this will not be held against them builds trust. The most challenging task of the leader is to build trust and respect between the team members. The synergy and complementarity make an ordinary team achieve extraordinary results. The team leaders must balance competition and collaboration.

(iii) The individual team member

When a team hits a roadblock or a setback, the leader must build the resilience in the team to bounce back. Being able to leverage every team member’s strengths is as important as being able to coach the individual to grow beyond their current strengths. The leadership mettle is tested when a team member wants to leave the team to accept a bigger offer elsewhere. When promoting employees, the people managers must put the individual into challenging jobs where they potentially might fail?

Managing risks, helping each team member grow is the sign of a ‘Superboss’. A powerful people manager is that rare asset every organization dreams of having and it is well worth the effort to invest in developing them.


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