This article is for anyone contemplating a move from a professional role into a people management role, such as a teacher who wants to become a head of department, or a project manager who wishes to be a team leader. It sets out the principle differences between a management and non-management role, the duties and responsibilities involved (based on John Adair's ‘action centred leadership' model*) and some common pitfalls.
What's the difference?
Moving from a role where you are responsible for your own work, however much there is of it, to one where you're responsible for an entire team requires a substantial shift in attitude and focus. It's not just more of the same work with more money. For some people, it's not necessarily more difficult. It's just different.
The main differences are to do with focus, loyalty and responsibility:
- your focus will be on the task, the team's performance and the performance and well-being of individuals within the team. You'll need to pay attention to these three areas and balance your time and effort between them - as well as your own work.
- your loyalty is to the organisation, to the team and to the individuals in it. A large part of your job is to implement decisions from the top, whether you have been involved in making the decisions or not, whether you agree with them or not and even if it means asking your team to do things you don't like. You have to be clear about where your loyalties lie and be decisive, firm and fair in your handling of any conflict of loyalty.
- your responsibility is for the welfare of individuals in the team, the work your team does and for the team's performance. You're also accountable for your team's performance. The buck stops with you, so you have to be sure that everyone works together to your own high standards.
Your duties and responsibilities
Your responsibilities as a manager, head of department or team leader fall into three interconnecting areas of responsibility. The duties are likely to include:
Getting the job done
- Be clear about the team's work, its purpose, and communicate these clearly
- plan the work and agree who does what - involve the team and communicate the plan
- set and maintain work standards and communicate them
- keep track of progress against the plan and communicate it
- review and adjust the plan if necessary - involve the team and communicate the adjustments.
Leading the team
- Know what is going on - listen to your team members
- keep the momentum going - involve the team and motivate them
- set performance and behaviour standards and exemplify them
- identify the needs of the team and meet them
- encourage cooperation between team members
- resolve conflict within the team - listen and be fair
- give feedback to the team on progress and performance - all together, regularly and often.
- Know your team members - communicate one-to-one, face-to-face and often
- identify individual responsibilities and objectives and agree on them
- review performance and develop capability as a two-way process
- be aware of plans, problems and challenges and support them
- acknowledge effort and good work - notice and tell them
- discipline team members - be clear, be firm and be fair.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
You'll have noticed a common theme in the points outlined above - communication! Failures of cohesion, teamwork and performance are almost always the result of poor communication, so communication is your best friend. Remember that it's a two-way process. It's as important to listen, involve, discuss and agree as it is to inform. You have to be open-minded and flexible because the team's achievements depend on co-operation, agreement and negotiation. The days of the ‘I tell you, you do it' management style are gone.
- ‘Us and them'
And you'll be one of ‘them', with your loyalty divided between your team and the organisation. Though it's not always a problem, there will be times when you'll have to toe the party line, deliver bad news and make difficult decisions, all of which are made harder if you see yourself as one of the gang, a ‘mate' and liked by everyone. You're a manager - you can't be both ‘us‘ and ‘them‘.
- Drawing a line between you and your team members
This can be particularly difficult if you're leading the team you were recruited from. Start as you mean to go on by clearly communicating your position and what you understand your role to be, face to face with your team. Set out your boundaries and stick to them.
- Problems with discipline
Here's a six-step plan for ‘having a word' with a team member.
- Address the situation calmly, as soon as possible
- Always address it one to one and in private
- Be clear about what is happening/his or her behaviour (backed up with specific evidence), what the standard is and how the behaviour falls short
- Listen to his or her side of the story and find out what is really going on
- Discuss ways to deal with it with him/her
- Agree a realistic plan of action and review it together.
Asking for help
Make sure you have support, not from your team members who can't help you with any of the common problems listed above, but from your boss, someone else higher up in the organisation and other team leaders. If you ‘recruit' your sources of support at the outset, you will know where to go for help and advice when you need it - and you will need it. You're not expected to go it alone and re-invent the wheel at every stumbling block. You're human, and on a steep learning curve. Others will have been there before you - use their experience.
* This article is based on John Adair’s ‘Three Circles’ model of leadership, which is used with his kind permission. To find out more, visit www.johnadair.co.uk and www.adairleadershipdevelopment.co.uk.