You are new to leading a team (or this team) and want to get off to a good start in your new role. Maybe the team is also new or perhaps one that has been together for a while. There are many factors to take into account including capabilities, morale, and delivery pressures. Here are three steps to help you strike the right tone where the sum is greater than the parts.

What is important to you?

From my coaching experience, new leaders and new managers often get sucked into the ‘what’ of their job at the outset and pay insufficient attention to the ‘how’. The result can be misunderstandings and wrong assumptions about the leader’s intentions. The team members see the behaviours and take their cue based on their interpretation in the absence of an explanation. Sometimes, they base it on their past experience of leaders or how they would lead. For example, I’ve met people leading a team that assumes the capability of their team members is to a certain standard “because they wouldn’t have been recruited otherwise”. Then they get an unwelcome surprise when deadlines aren’t met or attitudes towards professionalism differ from the leader’s expectations.

Depending on your situation and context, you might choose to be in listening, observing, and discovering modes in the early weeks. Once you have a sense of how people are, what’s working and what’s not, it’s time to set out your stall. Share some of yourself with the team in a way that makes clear what is really important to you. These are the two or three principles and values that drive how you like to operate as a leader. Here are some questions to prompt your thinking:

  • What do leading and being a team mean to you?
  • What are your core principles and values and why do they matter to you?
  • How do they fit with the organisation’s values?
  • What stories can you tell to show what shapes your way of working?

What can the team expect from you?

If you state clearly what you stand for, it helps to articulate what the team can expect from you. For example, if playing to strengths is important to you, the team can expect that you will be intentional about it. You might say that resourcing and task allocation will reflect that where ever possible. Also, ask them what they would like from you. Take this into account by adjusting accordingly and asserting where things are non-negotiable (including why).

Talk about your everyday leadership work style, strengths, current limitations, personal standards, and team ethos. Give an insight into what you will recognise and reward, as well as your approach to poor performance. Above all, be clear about the work priorities. Help people to join the dots up between their contribution, the organisation’s reason for existence, and its current goals.

What do you expect from the team?

Set the standards and boundaries of what is acceptable and unacceptable, what you encourage and discourage. For example, if customer or client service is particularly important to you, it might translate as hitting agreed deadlines every time for delivery of a product, project or programme. In broad terms, outline the consequences of repeat offending.

At the same time, show humility by articulating where and when you need their support and how they can offer it. When and how they can step up to be good followers (like raising concerns and ideas). Leading a team is about reassurance as well as growing people’s confidence and skills. It’s about shaping attitudes to create a common team ethos where pride in the work, mutual support, and a sense of purpose can flourish. People need to know their team environment is psychologically safe in your hands.

Being a leader of a team requires self-assurance, clear thinking, assertiveness, humility, and enthusiasm. Take your eye off the ball at the start and your intentions run the risk of being misunderstood that can soon undermine credibility and trust. Paying attention to how you want to lead early on in your role will help to strike the right tone for you and your team.

What do you struggle with when leading a team? What helps from your experience?