Leading and managing a team — the skills you need

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

Recently I started thinking about the most effective way to manage a team, especially in my industry of digital technology, as well as what it takes to be a strong leader.

This article is a mixture of my own experience and inspiration from a recent interview I watched between 2 managers who oversee the best sports teams in the world.

If you’ve got any tips or experience you want to share, leave a comment below and I’ll add it to the article for other people to pick up!

The single most important ingredient in managing a team

In short, it comes down to empathy — empathising with the people around you, understanding their situations, personalities and traits.

As well as being empathetic it’s also about being authentic. I’ve experienced this in previous jobs where I thought “I don’t like you, but I don’t know why”. Now on reflection I see that I was feeling that way because I could sense they weren’t being authentic.

Just be yourself and don’t completely copy another manager. Instead, set your own direction, as everyone has their own personality and what they feel is right.

That mixture of empathy and authenticity is the most important ingredient.

Managing hard people

People aren’t hard to manage, it’s just about finding an area to motivate them.

You also have to build an environment which encourages people to take calculated risks and get them talking about the mistakes and successes, so everything is out in the open.

If you don’t have these conversations then you’ll never learn and develop as a team.

Your employees want to work in an environment where they feel safe taking risks and where there’s open conversation about the bad, as well as the good.

If this isn’t the case then they won’t want to take responsibility for their work or meet the objectives set. This open culture is one which can’t be delivered through motivational speeches, but through time and actions.

Office politics

Let’s start by saying there should be no politics allowed — no favorites or hidden agendas.

It’s not conductive to an open culture and instead it becomes a toxic work environment. This leaves your employees feeling unsettled and demotivated, as they’ll sense nothing they do will impact the way things are.

As a leader, it’s about having honest conversations with everyone in your team. You’re mainly supporting and encouraging them to reach their own goals.

Conflict with employees

As well as supporting each employee individually, it’s important to set the boundaries as a team for how you operate and work together.

Conflict can be OK if you’re all working towards a shared objective and have differing opinions on how to achieve that objective, but there comes a point where you need to move on and get the task done.

In the interview I mentioned in the beginning, this was described as “tough love”. It’s good to have conversation and it’s good to have differing opinions as long as it doesn’t take away from the main objective — usually it’s best to agree to disagree and move on.

Providing an environment that they want to work in

One of the worst mistakes you can make as a manager is getting in the way of people doing their jobs.

For the employee it’s a little soul-destroying, not to mention demotivating, if their manager is stepping in where they’re not needed.

As a manager you want to make sure objectives are met, but your team can’t feel there are shortcuts being made and that they aren’t trusted to do what they’re experts at.

Sometimes you’ve got to take a step back and let things pan out, allowing your team to take responsibility for their own work.

Building a sense of trust within the team

Trust is an interesting word. What does it take to trust someone and then how far does that trust extend?

For me trust is something that takes time to build. If someone says “trust me, this will work” I might not be convinced if I don’t know them that well or if they don’t have the knowledge to back up their reasoning.

If what you say is consistent with your actions, trust will naturally follow. This approach of following through on your word will naturally build that sense of trust and reliability within the team.

Empowering a team

“Leadership is not about you, it’s about them”

As a manager you need to accept that you can’t do everyone’s job.

It’s good to provide guidance on what they can do and how they can reach their objectives, but you have to trust the people around you to do their jobs and let them develop.

Leading by intent is a great way to do this — just set or communicate the objective and then let your people deliver it their way, offering help when necessary. You should also encourage your team to make their own project and objective suggestions, as this shows that you value their skills and opinions.

You have your own skill set and know what you’re good at — the same applies to every member of your team, and it’s why they have the jobs they do.

If it helps, think of your team as you would if you have children; if you make all of their decisions for them then how can they learn and grow?

Dealing with criticism

Criticism can come from all angles, but remember to only take on board criticism that is relevant and meaningful.

Often people throw out judgement and put across their criticisms without understanding the full context. In this case, your team are usually the best source to find genuine constructive criticism as they should know the full situation and how you can improve.

The question to ask is “why are they are seeing it differently to me?”

However, your team will need to feel comfortable and willing to share that criticism — if they don’t feel that way then you’ll be blind when unexpected things crop up that you originally thought you had under control.

Your team need to know it’s OK to have strong opinions, even if they’re on the opposite side of the fence to you. Constructive criticism can be invaluable, especially when it comes to developing your leadership skills.

Summary

I hope this post gave you some useful insight and tips on my thoughts on leadership and managing a design team. There isn’t a clear right way to do this but the main take away is to be yourself.

Have an empathetic approach and lead by actions rather than words. If you can do this then you’ll be a good leader to your team.

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Michael Gearon

Michael Gearon

Senior Interaction Designer. Living in Cardiff, South Wales, interested in human psychology and behaviours. Writing all sorts of stories that interest me.