So now you’re the group leader

A look at the trials and tribulations facing team leaders
By Patrick J. McKenna and David H. Maister
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/17/2002

As a group leader, you might lead a geographic unit, or one based around a specific project, client, industry or discipline. You don’t manage the whole firm, but head up, co-ordinate, manage, lead or facilitate a part of the firm. You’re not a boss, but even if you are, you don’t want to act that way. You have limited, if any, powers to issue instructions, commands or orders, and if you have such authority, you rarely use it. To be effective, you must act as primus inter pares, the first among equals.

Since you are managing a group, and not your whole firm, you probably still have client or other work to do. You must be (simultaneously) a player and a coach. Prior to becoming a group leader, you were probably expected to focus on your own performance alone. Now it is also your responsibility to worry about (and influence) the performance of others, many of whom were, until recently, your peers (and certainly still consider themselves so). You must also forge a cohesive team out of a group of autonomous individuals.

Succeeding in the role requires a willingness to get most of your fulfillment from the success of others. You will also need a special set of skills: the ability to influence other people’s emotions, feelings, attitudes and their determination. Unfortunately, in many firms, these are not the criteria usually applied in selecting group leaders. All too often the most senior, the best business-getter, intellectual luminary or financially savvy person is chosen.