5 Things No One Told You About Leading a Team - Toggl Blog
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5 Things No One Told You About Leading a Team

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Maybe you just got promoted, or maybe you’ve been a manager for a while now. Either way, you probably have your own personal approach to leading a team. And you’re most likely learning new things about what it means to be a great leader every day. You might even find that being a leader isn’t exactly what you thought it would be. 

What have been your biggest learnings? 

What’s the most surprising thing about team management? 

How has the role been different from what you expected? 

These are the questions that real managers and leaders answered for this article, and their insights might give you a new perspective. Because no matter how long you’ve been in the role, you’ve always got something to learn from your peers.

5 things you probably didn’t know about leading a team 

1. It’s not just about being better in your field 

2. You have to listen so people feel heard 

3. Having difficult conversations shows that you care 

4. Not everyone’s going to get along 

5. Getting honest feedback can be tough 

What real managers have learned from leading a team 

1. It’s not just about being better in your field 

You likely got promoted because you were a star performer in your role, and you’ve absolutely earned it. But being a leader is about more than being the best at what you do—it’s about becoming great at managing people, and this is a whole new area of expertise. This insight came from Myles Carter, the Manager of Content Marketing at ShareGate, a company specializing in Microsoft 365 management software. 

“You move up and into a management position because you have skills. And once you’re in a management role, it feels like you need to flex those well-developed muscles even more by leading projects, offering advice, and taking charge. 

But management requires a whole new set of skills, and it’s really important to realize that you’re at the ground floor of a whole new skill-stack. Now is the time to get back into curiosity mode, to learn about the people you work with, and to spend time learning about yourself and how you can lead others.”

Tips for new managers to excel in their role 

● Connect with other managers at your organization to discuss best practices, challenges, and your common goals. Make workplace friends to build up your peer support network, and create more cross-team alignment at the same time. 

● Do a self-assessment of your management skills and set goals for yourself in the areas you’d like to improve. Employees want development opportunities, and that includes you. Seek those opportunities out and set yourself up for success. 

2. You have to listen so people feel heard 

Leadership involves a lot more about listening to people, and less about directing them than you might think. Jessica Miller-Merrell, Founder of Workology, shared with us the importance of active listening, and then taking action on what you’ve heard. 

“People, in general, want to be heard. Your team members and employees want to know that you’re listening to their thoughts and ideas, and if you simply take in the information without action, it doesn’t feel sincere or thoughtful. 

Active listening is a skill that can be learned. It’s also directly related to empathy and, if we’ve learned anything from the crises of the past year, we could all use more empathy in the workplace.” 

3 Steps to show employees you’re listening 

1. Make space to get feedback from employees regularly, whether it’s by asking questions in one-on-ones or sending out a survey. 

2. Beyond merely responding to feedback by letting someone know you received their message, see how you can incorporate their ideas or address their concerns. 

3. Involve your team in the process, and brainstorm solutions together when you see recurring themes cropping up.

Did you know? You can get simple, digestible data on how your team feels on an ongoing basis with Officevibe. The software sends employees weekly surveys to measure 10 metrics of engagement, so you can keep a pulse on how people feel, and track trends over time. 

3. Having difficult conversations shows that you care 

Having tough discussions with team members is a part of the job, but the more you have them, the more you start to see their value. Guillaume Chalifoux, who leads a team of 12 at employee onboarding software SoftStart, told us about his mindset shift in this area. 

“I’ve stopped seeing tough conversations around poor performance or undesired behaviors as a punishment, and instead as a form of respect and consideration to a team member. It always remains sensitive, but approached with candor and good faith, having tough conversations is always beneficial to the entire team.”

Tips for discussing poor performance with employees 

● Be empathetic and avoid making assumptions or passing judgments. They may not be clear on their responsibilities, or personal issues could be at play

● Focus on the facts, like measurable outcomes from their work. If they’re below their targets, this is something tangible to center the discussion around. 

● Establish next steps together with your employee. Make sure you’re both a part of the solution, so they feel supported but not micromanaged

4. Not everyone’s going to get along 

An unfortunate but inevitable part of leading a team is managing conflict on your team. Nick Patterson, Co-Founder of production house Storm & Shelter, says that one of his greatest learnings has been to act on these interpersonal issues right away, and find a solution. 

“Not everyone’s going to get along. If you hear of something or notice something’s not going right, jump in on that as soon as possible. Being able to say ‘okay, what’s going on here, what can we sort out?’ and figuring out a route forward with it.” 

How to manage conflict on your team 

Speak with your team members individually in one-on-one meetings to understand what’s happening. Find something that you can align everyone around, like a team value or shared objective, and bring your discussions back to this point. 

This might be enough to get people to see each other’s perspectives, and get them back on the same page. But if you’re still sensing tension, encourage your employees to have a tough conversation, and offer to be there if they’d like. 

5. Getting honest feedback can be tough 

Candid, honest feedback is essential to being a better leader, building a better business, and outperforming the competition. But getting that honesty from employees can be tough when you’re the boss. As Rob Powell, a Director at Spike Digital, puts it: 

“One of the biggest learnings I’ve had over the years is irrespective of how approachable you try and be, and how much you encourage open communication, people’s natural tendency is to tell you what they think you want to hear, as opposed to the truth or what they really believe. It’s getting to the honest feedback and ideas that can really help make a business better.” 

Tips to encourage openness and honesty 

● Thank employees when they share their ideas, perspectives, opinions, and feedback. Even if it challenges the status quo or the plan in place, it’s important that people know their input is valued and it’s a safe space to share.

● Use software like Officevibe where employees are prompted to share feedback with you, with an option for anonymity. Respond to their feedback directly in the app and turn it into a chat to dig deeper, while employees stay anonymous (or not). 

The best leaders are learners 

No matter how advanced you are in your career, there is always room to learn. Being a leader is a dynamic role, and you’ll have to shift your approach to fit the needs of your team and the direction of the business. 

Being adaptive, curious, and open-minded is a great way to make sure you’re heading in the right direction—and that your team is coming along with you.

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