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How to be a Team Leader in the Workplace

How to be a team leader in the workplace

Maybe you were just promoted. Perhaps you hope to be a supervisor. No matter what your career ambitions, learning to lead others is a valuable skill. Just remember, great leaders aren’t born. They’re trained. Your office probably doesn’t have a leadership training program. Maybe you’re not currently in a leadership role. That’s okay. Because the abilities you’ll hone while learning how to be a team leader in the workplace will serve you well throughout your career. Here’s what to focus on.

Set an Example


You might be the newest staffer on the roster but you can still practice leadership. The way to do that is by setting a good example.  As basketball coach John Wooden once put it, the true test of someone’s character is what they do when no one is watching. If you’re a newbie, you might feel invisible. You aren’t. 


So start by doing your job to the best of your ability. Ask questions when you don’t understand something. Volunteer for difficult assignments and take the lead on unpleasant tasks. That often means doing things that aren’t in your job description –– even if you’re a supervisor, you should still be willing to set up the coffee in the conference room or tidy up after a meeting. You lead by example through your behavior. You might even inspire others  –– regardless of how long you’ve worked at your job.


Take the time to discover your boss’s pain points and work to ease them rather than add to the burden. Even if you’re a new hire, doing these things will shift the spotlight in your direction. Be ready for it.



It’s easy to assume the leader is the one with the loudest voice. That’s how leaders are often portrayed in movies. Reality is more nuanced. Good leaders make it a point to learn about their team and the best way to do that is by listening. When coworkers express a concern, practice active listening. This means you don’t interrupt and when the speaker is finished, you repeat back what they said. You should also be aware of body language –– being able to translate this will give you a leg up. Remember, most of the time when someone expresses a concern they don’t need you to solve the problem for them. Instead, help them come up with a solution. Being a facilitator is an important part of how to be a team leader in the workplace


Leaders are true observers who have succeeded at quieting their own voice. Practice perception checking. This therapy tool and cornerstone of clear communication means creating a message that forces you to check your understanding of what someone else says or does.



Don’t be apathetic about empathy. One study suggested that “managers who practice empathetic leadership toward direct reports are viewed as better performers in their job by their bosses.” Knowing your team means knowing their challenges and putting yourself in their shoes. Instead of assuming someone is lazy and irresponsible when they miss a deadline, see what you can do to help. They may be overwhelmed with assignments. They could be struggling with a personal issue. Only by recognizing the battles they are waging will you be able to join their cause.


Stay Positive


No one wants to work alongside a grumpy Gus. Many of us have a tough time reining in our emotions –– especially at the office. If you’ve made snap decisions when you’re under duress, you recognize how damaging that can be. It might help to understand a bit about the process. Stress triggers our amygdala. This tiny area deep within the center of our brain can actually overrule the frontal cortex –- the more evolved portion in charge of planning and reasoning. If you’re being attacked by a wild animal, having your flight or fight response take over is extremely helpful. It’s less beneficial when you’re dealing with a missed deadline.


The key is to wait it out. That’s because in just a minute and a half, you can identify the emotion and let it dissipate –– this according to Harvard scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. When people do this and label the emotion ––“I’m getting upset,” for example ––– MRI studies reveal that activity in the amygdala slows down. By waiting, you regain control.


Before an unexpected setback sends you speeding along on an emotional rollercoaster, learn more about mindful meditation. There are tons of resources online and apps that can guide you. The key is living in the present. This lets you deal with a challenge rather than obsessing over what could go wrong if you make a poor decision. 


Remember, that racing heart and accelerated pulse are signs of stress. Mindfulness meditation has been proven effective as a treatment. Presenting a calm face while strategically working through a challenge will not go unnoticed. 


If you aren’t in a leadership role now, modeling the above traits will improve your chances for landing one soon. And if you are leading a team, improving these qualities will help everyone succeed.


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