What Seasoned Leaders Know About Leading Teams

You'll never reach your full potential as a leader if you don't surround yourself with a great team. Rarely, if ever, will you experience any significant breakthrough on your own. You're going to need a team, and how you build, develop, and invest in that team over time will determine your velocity and trajectory.

It’s fair to say that I’ve made just about every mistake in the book when it comes to leading teams. I’ve picked the wrong people, not empowered them, withheld information at times, not been clear on my expectations, and failed to incent them to push themselves beyond what they believe they can do. That has led to conflict, departures, and limited success to varying degrees over time.

I didn’t make mistakes because I was reckless. I simply didn’t have a lot of good examples early in my life of what being part of a healthy team looked like. In fact, I find that most people don’t have a favorable view of working in teams because they’ve had a series of bad experiences. The same is true for those who lead teams.

The most common reasons I hear as to why a leader doesn’t like working in teams are:

·      “I end up doing all the work anyway.”

·      “I can’t trust my team to do the work to match my expectations.”

·      “I can’t find the right people.”

·      “It takes too long to build a team, and most of them will move on soon enough anyway.”

·      “I end up spending most of my time with my team rather than getting real work done.”

The truth is your team is your most valuable asset. You can’t get to where you want to go on your own. You’re going to have to learn to be a great leader of teams, and that may mean you need to make some adjustments in your thinking to get there. However, I’m convinced that every leader can and should be effective at leading teams.


That hardest part of leading teams is also the most rewarding. Teams represent people, and human beings are complex creatures. Each team member comes with a different set of expectations based on their experience. This can powerfully influence how they relate to you and the rest of the team.

It’s important for you to personally invest in the people around you, especially those that sit on the team you most regularly interact with. Spend time with them. Get to know their families, hobbies, and interests. This may not seem like the most important work you could do. In fact, it can feel like wasted time at first. But I promise you it will pay dividends.

People buy from whom they know, like, and trust. The same is true about great teams. Individual team members will work hard if they know you believe in them, possess a mutual respect, and trust that you’re looking out for their best interest.

Even though I’ve made a ton of mistakes along the way, I’ve learned from every one of them. I’m a better leader of teams today than I ever have been. And I believe you can become more proficient and effective at building and leading teams if you implement some very practical ideas.


1.     Build a team that compliments your weaknesses. Don’t pick people who think, act, and talk like you. Pick people that are strong in the areas where you are weak.

2.     Pick individual high performers who can learn to work within a team environment. This is a key counterbalance. Not all high performers make great team members. You need both high achievers and those humble enough to work in a team environment. It’s harder to find than you might first think.

3.     Clarify individual and team expectations. Don’t expect people to read your mind. Set the ground rules and determine how you’ll operate as a team. Then stick to it, so you can avoid the incessant guessing game that comes from unclear and unmet expectations.

4.     Demonstrate transparency and trust. This is huge! If you’re not someone who can be honest and consistent, it will be very difficult for you to build trust. You need your team members to be able to fight battles on your behalf and lead others across your organization. They will have a hard time putting themselves on the line for someone they aren’t sure about.

5.     Back them up. Fight behind closed doors. Be completely united in public. When push comes to shove, even if they were wrong, stand up for your team. They’ll never forget it, and they’ll fight even harder for you because of it.

6.     Reward them in ways that fit each team member. Every person has a currency. Sometimes it’s a bonus. Other people enjoy a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant or airline miles to use toward a vacation.

7.     Take a stand for their success. Make sure you look out for team members who are pushing themselves too hard. Help them adjust before they burn out. Look for ways to continue to help them grow whether that is through mentorship, additional certifications, or course work toward an advanced degree. And when one of them comes to you with an unbelievable offer that represents career advancement, celebrate with them.

If you take time to improve your skills in leading teams, you'll discover your life will become a lot easier and your experiences will become a lot richer. It will take some time. And you'll make some mistakes. But never underestimate what even an average leader can accomplish with a great team.

Your greatest opportunity as a leader is to help each team member grow and develop personally and professionally. Be the team leader that most people only dream about. If you can do that, I promise you’ll do things together others will want to talk about. Great leaders of teams are rare, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have the power to do what it takes to make it true.

REFLECT: What is your best memory of being part of a team? What happened to make it stand out to you? Now, what is your worst team member or leader experience? What happened? How can you learn from both experience to become a great leader of teams? If you did that, how would it change you and your organization?