You are not leading a team; you are managing a group of individuals


Building awareness of your team is essential to lead well. It’s a learnable skill.
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They don’t tell you that different skills are required when you start managing a team.

You may believe that you have the required skills to move from a ‘doing’ role to a ‘managing’ role. You will ‘pick up’ how to lead as you go along. However, leading a team requires new skills that are difficult to just ‘pick up’.

Getting to know how to tap into each team member’s strengths and capabilities is one of the skills you need to develop.

How much do you know about each of your team members?

Do you know their career aspirations, previous roles, achievements they are proud of, and so on?

It’s like being a sports coach. You need to know each player’s strengths, the best position for their style of play and how to leverage what they can do with each other member of the team. A great sports coach differentiates each player. They know they aren’t coaching a team; they are coaching a group of individuals.

The relationships with your team will change

If you have been promoted within your team, your relationships with them will change. Some individuals may start behaving differently and prove challenging to manage. Bad behaviour can become prevalent, and the team culture changes. In their eyes, you are not their peer, you are the boss, so their perspective of you will change.

Technical versus people skills

Even though you are now leading a team, you may still be doing the transactional stuff, the technical work you used to do. Technical work is what you know how to do, and you are very good at it. But this means you are neglecting your team and not focusing on the work required at your new level of seniority. As a result, the people stuff is piling up, and you are drowning in busyness.

Technical skills are the skills that have got you to where you are. These skills are what you need to perform specific tasks. Sometimes called ‘hard’ skills, they are the abilities and knowledge you have acquired in your area of expertise. Examples of technical skills are programming, project management, or managing a balance sheet.

In management roles, these technical skills are not required to the same extent because a team is in place to do this work. Instead, people skills, also called ‘soft’ or ‘behavioural skills, are needed as you start to lead people. Behavioural skills include communication and listening, dealing with challenging people, giving and receiving feedback, building rapport, delegating, and managing conflict.

Know your team checklist

Here are some questions to help you understand your team members better. They can be used in one-on-one conversations or as prompts to think about each person.

  • For this team member, what are their key strengths and capabilities? Again, these may be things that you have observed or what they have identified.

    Some examples: being assertive, running a meeting with ease, being analytical, making complex ideas easy to understand, preparing presentations, building relationships with stakeholders, and using advanced Excel spreadsheeting.
  • What are their career aspirations?
    Do you know what they want to do in their next role or later in their career?
  • What is their hidden (untapped) potential?
    What can you uncover that neither you nor they may be aware of?
  • How do they like to operate?

    For example: do they need lots of time to prepare and focus on a task? Are they someone who loves detail, or are they a big-picture thinker? Do they like working with people or prefer to work alone? Do they like to operate autonomously or need lots of guidance?
  • When do they feel appreciated at work?

    In their book, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organisations by Encouraging People, Gary Chapman and Paul White identify five ways that people feel appreciated or valued in the workplace.

    For example: Do they prefer being told they are doing a good job (words of affirmation), having things done for them (acts of service), being given gifts as a thank you (gifts of appreciation), one-on-one time with you to learn as much as they can (quality time), or a tap on the shoulder (physical touch)?

Stop being a perfectionist

If you are a perfectionist and believe that only you can do the work in the right way, then everything will be more challenging as you become busier. However, knowing what each team member is capable of will allow you to loosen your hold on doing the work your way.

If you are trying to do everything and not trusting your team to take on the work, you are operating at a level (or two) below where you should be. Doing everything is ineffective, overwhelming for you, and pushes the team down, so each person is also operating at a lower level. Understanding your team’s capabilities will help to mitigate this.

Being a leader

Now your role requires high-value thinking, where you focus on future aspirations and goals for the team and how that might fit with the organisation’s overall strategy and purpose. Building your awareness of yourself and others is leading, so be prepared to become a learner again.

Maree Burgess is a trainer, coach, facilitator, author and public speaker. Find out more at