in Leadership, Leading People, Leading Projects, Team Building

Taking Charge of a Team? Avoid These 4 Mistakes

Managers often end up in a situation when they are hired to take charge of a team/department that already exists and performs to a certain level. New leaders often find it difficult to generate acceptance because a team/organization is a complex network of emotions, relationships and issues. The history comes along, but is invisible to this new manager.

Two things add to this complexity. One is the time new leaders have to perform. They are often under pressure to perform and demonstrate some “early wins”. On the other hand, they cannot make any progress unless they have won the support of the team members. Second is that experience of leaders make it difficult for them to “unlearn”. They start operating within the confines of what they have experienced so far.

Here are a few mistakes new leaders make:

They fail to listen (this is #1 mistake). Joining a team in leadership position is an opportunity to gain team’s respect and support. Don’t squander this opportunity by hurrying into rapid action, dishing out directives, talking too much about your great past and giving elevator speeches. This is a sure way to alienate the team members. A new leader needs to seize this opportunity by listening. People want to explain the context provided they have an opportunity to talk. Give them that and you will know what drives them, their struggles and their ideas to grow. Missing this opportunity can be costly for your further journey with the team.

Worst, they criticize and/or threaten. Yes, there are issues in this team, processes are not optimized and there is some resistance. Try beating these issues with criticism and threatening that you will commit the second biggest mistake. Be appreciative of what team has achieved so far. Share the responsibility of driving improvements rather than keeping it to yourself. But more important than anything else: watch your words and impact they have on the team members. Keep them positive. Use “we” more often than “I”.

Or, they ignore resistance. Resistance is negative energy, but energy nevertheless. Two things you should never do: ignore the resistance and overpower it. Both will boost levels of resistance. Try directing this energy instead into constructive initiatives that leave people feel more valued. Once they see results of their efforts, resistance will slowly give way to acceptance.

They lose momentum. Sometimes, situation can be overwhelming establishment can take up months. Let it not affect your results. One of the simplest strategies to generate buy-in is to generate results. Establish goals, keep setting expectations, define milestones and let your team members stretch to achieve those. Handhold and facilitate when needed. Once results are visible, team fabric gets stronger. Results are the value statement for a new leader.

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So, what do we do? Get over with “taking over the team” mindset to be a facilitator for better results. Be positive, seek to understand first and focus on results. It all takes time, but it is all worth it.

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Bonus: Check out some excellent posts on Leadership Development at “The July 2012 Carnival of Leadership Development” by Dan McCarthy which includes my post Leading Projects: Balancing Rational with Emotion.

  1. Very much the similar situation for a new coach of team with combination of good and average players.
    Watch and digest can be a thumb rule in initial stage. Understand team, team mates individually, weakness, strengths, situations, projects – rahter than getting under pressure of showing quick results, which could lead to being more forceful and commanding very early in assignments.
    For organizations as well, it’s important to give some time and space for a new Leader to settle and mingle with the existing team.
    Most of the time it’s all about getting in tune with team’s mindset and getting the team rolling with your thought process. Once this is done, it’s just like repeating past achivements with new team and new places and new projects.

    Jay Chhaya

    • Thanks Jay! Yes, organizations have to (and do) give space for Sr. leaders to settle. A lot depends on how a new leader drives the whole thing to understand first and act later.

  2. You have identified important issues in why the transition to a new team leader is often so difficult and offered excellent advice. The term “taking over” leadership sets up the mindset that the new leader is supposed to come in and take charge, assuming they already know what what’s needed. It’s counter-intuitive, but taking the time to observe, listen and understand the team, and actually join the team can produce “early wins” much faster.

  3. Leaders , or for that matter any human being, certainly is increasingly called upon to hasten up in formulating judgments of, and about, the people and the circumstances, without having had the opportunity to be reasonably acquainted with the underlying process of whatever has been happening around.
    Now, here comes the real catch – the leader does not have the luxury of delaying decisions till such times!
    That brings the agility of the leader to be tested on additional scale of flexibility – of changing or reversing the decisions, as appropriate- as well.
    This, indeed, takes time and is, no doubt, well-worth the efforts and costs. But that does not take away ever shortening of the learning ( and / or de-learning) curve as THE fact of the modern life.
    Whilst finding the dichotomy of available time and the need for being The Worthy Leader in the new environment, the leader has additional set of challenges in the area of putting the stamp of his/her style on the functioning and thought-process of the team, while providing enough and adequate space for the team members.
    THE Right answers do not exist even in the fantasies of the fiction – that is why the Practice of effective Leadership remains eternally interesting.

  4. As leaders, our focus should be more on good ideas and results rather than mistakes. What’s more, the more motivated our team, the more we’ll start to see loyalty and trust in them. Stay positive, seek first to understand, and openly communicate with your team…all these things take time, but they are so worth the effort.

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