Leading a Team: Practicalities and Soft Skills

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As you move through your academic career, you will be increasingly required to take charge of particular projects or teams and lead other colleagues. Here’s how to be a good leader.

Hands on or hands off?

Most leaders fall into two broad categories. They either work in a ‘hands on’ way, leading by example, mucking in and getting their hands dirty alongside their staff. Or they are ‘hands off’: leaving their staff to get on with their jobs in peace. There are advantages to both ways of working, but they can both also go wrong too. The ‘hands on’ boss can become too involved in the day to day running of a team and can have a tendency to ‘micro-manage’ and a reluctancy to delegate tasks. The ‘hands off’ boss can appear aloof and unavailable, and can also appear as though he or she is ‘above’ doing menial tasks.

Management styles

A leader needs to combine reactive with proactive policies. They need to be able to respond to changes, to demands from customers, clients or service providers and to be able to communicate quickly to their team what is required of them. They need to be able to assign particular tasks to the most appropriate member of the team.  However, strategic planning is also important for a leader. They need to be able to take themselves outside the realm of day to day tasks and be able to construct a vision that is both aspirational and realistic for their team, department or faculty.

Time management

To be a good leader you need to manage your own time effectively. You might have some amazing strategies for future development, be respected by your team and be liked by your superiors, but if you can’t manage your time effectively you will not make a good leader. You can then develop this by helping your team to better manage their time. Avoid time wasting behaviours such as pointless meetings and refusal to delegate. Also you must ensure that each member of staff is not overloaded with work and is able to maintain a reasonable work-life balance. If you do this yourself then you will find it easier to help others to do this.

Commanding respect not fear

Good leaders, like good educators, are tough but fair. They can be flexible and adaptive and can acknowledge others’ ideas and contributions. However, they are clear in their vision and plans for the future. They also are able to control their own stress and inspire calm, considered working in others.  They are open and honest with their staff but do not allow personal preferences to colour their relationships.

Dealing with conflict

Teams do not always work perfectly and a good leader has to be able to sort out differences of opinion within his group of staff. He or she will also have to deal with situations where staff members are not happy with the organisation. Developing good mediation skills is essential for a leader. To do this, your colleagues must trust you and you must be able to facilitate their negotiations while staying in the background. Allow them to work through problems while only gently suggesting new ways of viewing tensions and hostilities. Taking sides, or telling both people what they want to hear just to gain their approval, are the hallmarks of a bad leader.

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