Practical Tips for First-Time Leaders – Part 1

Posted in : HR Updates on 7 June 2017
Craig Thompson
Vibrant Talent Development
Issues covered:

This video is separated into two parts. So in the first part of the video, we'll be providing some practical and relevant tips for new first time leaders to help them succeed in their role. What we'll discuss are:

  • What are the big challenges for first-time leaders?
  • What can a new leader do to help with the transition, and what can we do as a business to help new leaders succeed?


What are the big challenges for first-time leaders?

So, first of all, what are the big challenges? I think new leaders find themselves in a difficult position because they now have a responsibility both above and below, and they feel the pressure to impress their new bosses and the people who made the decision to hire them for the role, but then they're also answerable to their team as well. So that's a new experience for them.

Another challenge that they face is earning the trust of new team members. So there will be people who were sceptical and didn't necessarily think they were the right choice for the position. But there will also be people who maybe applied for that position as well and didn't get it and they feel burned by the experience.

Another challenge: moving from being one of the team to suddenly being an outsider. So maybe somebody has worked in a role and part of a team for two or three years and they've made lots of great friends and suddenly they find themselves no longer being invited for drinks on a Friday after work, and that can feel quite personal and be quite difficult for them as well.

The actual measure of this person's success is a real challenge as well. Previously, what this person did in the company, whether they were successful or not, was assessed based on their own performance. But as a team leader the measure of your success is now the performance of your entire team. So it's really easy to fall into a position where you keep doing things for people now because you've already done their job - you know how to do their job, you want them to succeed so that you succeed, so you do their job for them. But then you become stressed out. You become overworked. And also people never learn how to perform themselves if you do it for them all the time!

What can a new leader do to overcome these challenges?

So what can a new leader do to overcome some of these challenges? Well, the first thing is to start well. The first few weeks in your new role sets the tone for the relationships that you will have with everybody on your team. It's really easy to take that position and think: “The hard work is done now - I got the job!”  But actually, you should almost work more, work harder for the next few weeks to set that tone and to embed yourself in the position. You almost have to prove yourself again.

The next thing that you can do - and this is really important - is get to know your team. It's so easy to think that you've got that pressure to impress the people who hired you and to impress your manager now. It's so easy to step into a team and just identify the people who aren't performing and set targets for them and performance manage them now. Actually, you need to take a step back from that, because if people aren't performing, there's usually a reason why they're not performing.

So what you need to do is find out who's performing and who's not performing in your team and how you can help them and ask questions about why maybe they're not performing or what support you could give them. But it's also really good to have conversations with people and understand what they like, what they dislike, how they like to be managed or led, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are. And you can use that information to actually build the team as well, because we all say we work in teams, but what really makes it a team? 

Becoming an effective team leader

A team should be a group of people, with a shared goal, all working together, everybody with a role to help the team achieve that goal. So if you know the strengths and the weaknesses and who the key players are for each area of the type of work your team does, then you can appoint subject matter experts and specialists to help other people in different areas. Give everybody a role within the team.

The next thing to do is communicate expectations. So yes, we want to be on good terms with everybody in our team, but we also need to be firm. What is it that the team is trying to achieve? And as a result of the team goal, what are the goals for each individual? What do you expect from them? What are their targets? Set objectives for people.

We need to build a team culture. So that's something I had already touched on, which is giving everybody within the team a role. So if someone's really good at one thing, appoint them as a specialist in that area so that when other people are struggling, they know who to go to and vice versa. People like to have responsibility and they like to do work that matters. So if you build a team and everybody has a role within that team, they'll feel valued and they'll thank you for the trust you put in them.

The next thing is to recognise that you're the team leader, but you don't have to do everything yourself. It's really difficult to ask for help when you're the team leader. I always say that whether you're a team leader or whether you're a coach, you don't need to be the expert in absolutely everything.

Sometimes you might manage a team of software developers, and these guys could be absolutely fantastic at building pieces of software and maybe you've been appointed to your role as a team leader because of your leadership skills, but maybe you know absolutely nothing about designing software. That's fine. If you're coaching those people and you're managing those people, what you need to be able to do is have close relationships with everybody in your team so that they feel that they can approach you and they find value in approaching you when they have a problem. And you need to know then who you can go to or where you can go to or what you can arrange or organise that's going to help this person with the problem that they're facing.

You don't always need to have the solution. So sometimes it's useful to be able to delegate, to be able to go to other people within the team who you have appointed as specialists and use them, use their experience and their knowledge and their wisdom.

Another thing that you should do is remember your own experiences. So when you've been managed in the past, what did you like about the managers that you've had? What did you not like about them? What would you have done differently? And now that you're the manager, do it differently. Learn from the experiences that you had.

‘Face time’ is also really important and that's not the app on your phone! It's actually taking the time regularly to sit down with everybody on a one-to-one basis in your team just to find out how they're getting on.

Coaching and leadership

Taking that one step further is actually coaching them as well. Coaching is really important, even when people are performing well, because we always think coaching is something that we do for people who are making mistakes or they're not performing. But actually if people are performing, we need to take the time to sit down with them as well and give them real, specific feedback as well as about what we like, about what they're doing, in order to encourage them to keep doing it.

So there's a leadership style called laissez-faire, which is a real hands-off style of leadership in which we know that we've got a really competent, really experienced team, and maybe out of insecurity we take a backseat and we just let them get on with things. But the problem with that is eventually there comes a point where at the start people appreciate being allowed to just get on with their work all the time, but eventually there comes a point where they think:  What does it actually matter? Nobody ever cares about what I do when I come to work every day. Nobody cares if I work hard. I never hear anything from anybody.

So we need to coach people who are performing and people who aren't performing. We need to have that one-to-one time with them.

Another thing is forgive. People make mistakes. It's really easy to just crack the whip all the time and tell people off and get frustrated when people make mistakes, and usually that comes from we've told people how to do something time and time and time again and there's the problem. We instruct people, we tell them what to do. That's not coaching. People need to understand the reasons why doing something a certain way matters in order for them to do it.

So if someone's experiencing a problem, there's no point in just going to them and telling them how to do something again because they don't understand it. You've told them before. You need to have a conversation about why they think they're experiencing the problem, what do they think that they could do differently to get a better result, and actually work with them to support them so that they can try new ways of working for a better outcome, a better result.

Believe in yourself

The last thing is believe in yourself. Often we can become insecure when we take on a new role. We know that members of this team are sceptical about our appointment. We know other people applied for the role potentially and they've been burned by not getting the position, and then we become insecure because we know that all eyes are on us. But you were appointed to this position for a reason. The recruiters, the hiring managers that chose you, believed you were the right person for the role. You've succeeded in your previous role and you've got the potential to succeed in this role, or you wouldn't have been appointed, so believe in yourself.

This article is correct at 07/06/2017

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Craig Thompson
Vibrant Talent Development

The main content of this article was provided by Craig Thompson. Contact telephone number is +44 (0)7982 7282 10 or email

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