7 ways to be a more effective team leader
By Liz Murphy

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"Leadership creates performance in people because it impacts willingness; it's a matter of modeling, inspiring and reinforcing." — Stan Slap

What makes a team successful? If we're talking about the bottom line, a successful team meets and/or exceeds key performance metrics that further short- and long-term organizational goals.


What is the most important trait of an effective team leader?
  • 1. Exceptional communication skills
  • 2. Having a clearly articulated vision
  • 3. Relevant professional background and experience

But getting your team to perform on paper has less to do with numbers than you might think, and more to do with being an emotionally intelligent and intuitive leader. The external success of a team comes from within, and while it's a lot of work, it can also be very rewarding.

So to be an effective team leader, the question you should be asking yourself instead is: "How do I build a team of consistent, high performers?"

1. Communicate clear expectations
Outline what you expect from your team as individuals and as a group — everything from punctuality to job performance. Give your team the structure it needs right off the bat. Review your expectations as soon as you onboard new team members. Reinforce these expectations at team meetings and in one-on-one conversations. Your team can be successful, but you need to clearly define the path by which that success can be achieved.

2. Lead by example
In a position of leadership, you should embody the expectations you preach. For example, if you always talk about being on time, but you are relaxed about your own punctuality, your team will not take you or your expectations seriously. Employing a "do as I say, not as I do" approach may even breed resentment, because you are holding your team to higher standards. As leaders, consider everything you say and do as being on the record. With every word and action, you enable positive and negative behaviors in those who follow you; you set the tone for what is acceptable within your team.

3. Promote consistent, open dialogue
Don't wait for mandatory quarterly or annual reviews to sit down with your people. Say hello when you come in each morning, and take the time to get to know people. Have weekly team meetings and regular one-on-ones. Most importantly, be approachable. Embrace and solicit questions. Show your team that your proverbial door (or cube) is always open. Creating an environment where your employees feel they can reach out to you will enable you to maximize coaching opportunities and proactively address performance challenges. Open communication also promotes ideation and innovation.

4. Identify and engage 'out groups'
An "out group" is an individual or set of individuals who do not consider themselves a part of the larger team or organization. Out groups can form for a variety reasons such as not identifying with the norms of a team or general performance anxiety. Whatever the case may be, it is critical to identify when this happens on your team and be there for those who feel isolated. Listen to them and empathize. Highlight unique contributions they bring to the team. Empower out groups to shine and perform by showing them they are valued and giving them a voice.

5. Avoid 'gotcha' moments
Promote an ongoing conversation on your team around performance. How well a team member is or is not performing should not be a surprise reserved for official reviews or meetings that are required because a problem can no longer be ignored. Share with your team on a regular basis how the team is performing. In one-on-one meetings, have team members start the conversation by talking over how they think they're doing. If you work in a metrics-driven environment, have them bring in their own numbers. Not only will your team learn to hold themselves more accountable for their performance, this practice builds a trust-filled environment. Individuals will feel more confident, because they know you aren't waiting in the wings to surprise them.

6. Be their champion
Shine a spotlight on the accomplishments of individuals, as well as the team as a whole. As a leader, recognizing your team's successes is just as important as setting clear expectations and having open conversations about performance. And if the group sees you as their cheerleader who truly wants them to succeed, you will boost their confidence and motivate them to work harder.

7. Let your team take the wheel
Give individual contributors an opportunity to be stakeholders in the success of the team as a whole. Do you have someone who is great with numbers and statistics? Have them present performance metrics at your team meetings. Is there an individual who is a natural mentor and coach to new team members? Have them lead a team discussion or activity on a relevant topic. As a leader, you build the foundation for your team to succeed, but the group will ultimately define the team's identity. When appropriate, hop in the backseat and watch your team create and innovate.

Liz Murphy is a content editor at MultiBriefs specializing in the law enforcement and security industries.