How New Team Leaders Position Themselves For Success (And You Can Do The Same)

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One thing that receives less attention from organisations is to prepare and support new team leaders to transition to the new accountability of leading others. These leaders are usually excellent individual contributors that are rewarded by expectation of leading a team. They are thrown into the deep end to either swim or sink on their own. This is a huge mistake that can be costly to an organisation. Moreover, is has the potential to demoralise the leader and ultimately the team if not approached with the care it deserves.

This is a critical transition phase that requires laser focus attention if the organisation is serious about setting new team leaders for success.

As a new team leader, your chances of success will be greatly enhanced if your follow these ideas:

1. Build a solid foundation

Unfortunately, most organisations wait for new team leaders to assume their new responsibilities and then rush to position them for success. This is counter-productive, focus your attention on building a solid foundation of understanding the business context and strategy imperative. Your future line manager is key to this part of the transition. Schedule ample time with the future line manager and probe about what is business critical so that you can make better decisions for the team.

2. Identify the circle of influence

As a new leader, you need to know who are your key stakeholders, their level of influence in your decision making and the nature of relationships you need to forge with them. According to Watkins the author of The First 90 days, this will help new leaders “learn how decision-making works in the organisation, who has influence over it, and where the centres of power reside”.

3. Assess the strengths and development areas of your team

In most cases new leaders rarely build their own teams, instead they inherit their teams except where there are vacancies. Use your initial interactions to assess team members performance and strengths against strategic imperatives. It is an opportunity to gauge the aspirations and needs of your team members. This is not a wholesale change of the team if necessary, but an effort to set up the team for success based on the strategy imperatives. “While each member has his or her own unique strengths, the most cohesive and successful teams should possess broader grouping of skills that include executing, influencing, relationship building and strategic thinking, advises the authors of Strengths based leadership, Tom Rath and Barry Conchie.

4. Clarify the ways of working

You need to assess how the team interacts, communicates and relate in general. This is an opportunity to entrench what is working and build on it. You do not want to be a person that fixes everything even if it’s not broken. At the same time, establish clarity on what acceptable behaviour looks like. “The executive must walk a fine line between working within the culture and seeking to change it”, cautions Byford, Watkins and Triantogiannis in their article, on boarding is not enough.

5. Reconfirm the strategic direction

At this stage, you should have a clear sense based on input from your leader and the circle of influence about what is key for the strategic direction. Understanding the strategic direction “enables you to sort through the clutter and find the best route, say Tom Rath the author of Strengths Finder. With this clearer understanding, it is an opportunity for you to work with your team, set clear achievable goals and performance expectations.

6. Claim the low hanging fruits

Winning should not be for individual members in the team. It should be a collective effort that encourages unity. This is very important especially at the early stages to build cohesion and trust among team members. You can build this cohesion by identifying projects that “require the new executive to engage others for input and guidance and that allow the new executive to learn more about the team, says Van Buren and Safferstone in their book The quick wins paradox.

As a new leader, this is a critical phase that you cannot take for granted. Make every effort to engage in a succinct plan that will set you up for success.

Tex Hlalele
Think Big, Dream Wild & Prosper

Tex Hlalele is a life and business coach and inspirational speaker. Book coaching and speaking engagements at  If you liked this piece, please sign up to receive email correspondence that will come to you once a week.

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