All Articles Leadership Management Do you have the skills to be an effective team leader?

Do you have the skills to be an effective team leader?

An effective team leader focuses on being both effective and efficient while building relationships, writes Paul B. Thornton.

4 min read


team leader

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Teams dominate the business landscape. (I was on five different teams simultaneously in my last job.) There are senior leadership teams, cross-functional teams, virtual teams, project teams and work teams.  

Who is the most essential member of every team? 

The team leader! 

Do you agree? 

Task skills and people skills

The best team leaders have the right combination of task and people skills.  

Task skills — They can clearly articulate the teams’ mission and critical goals. Some of the other things they do include: 

  • Clarify tasks
  • Provide a feasible road map
  • Assign roles and responsibilities
  • Establish goals and priorities
  • Allocate resources, monitor progress and solve problems
  • Hold people accountable

People skills — They connect with people positively. They get to know each person’s strengths, weaknesses, needs and goals. Here are some of the things they do:  

  • Ask questions
  • Listen to ideas
  • Provide coaching, encouragement, and feedback
  • Use the appropriate carrots and sticks to motivate people
  • Recognize improvement and key accomplishments
  • Solve people problems
  • Celebrate success

The challenge for you is having the “right balance” between the task and the people.  Some team leaders operate like they are running a country club (all fun and games). Others act like they are running a prison (all tasks and no fun).     

Having the right balance doesn’t mean 50-50. You need to be flexible and spend the required time in each area. There are times to be tender-hearted and times to be unwavering on goals and standards.  

Values and norms

Team leaders must establish a small set of values that all team members agree to follow.  

  • Values—Some values on top teams include excellence, continuous improvement, curiosity, respect and trust. 

The first two values — excellence and continuous improvement — support doing great work. The last three values — curiosity, respect and trust — support ongoing learning and a professional work environment.  

The best team leaders make the team values real and meaningful. They discuss and model them regularly and applaud people for adhering to them.   

  • Norms — Accepted behaviors that should align with the team’s values. For example, the behavior of “being open to feedback” aligns with the team value of “continuous improvement.”   

Your first challenge is establishing the appropriate values for your team. Your second challenge is ensuring the team’s norms support the team’s values. If they don’t, action is required. The longer an inappropriate criterion goes unaddressed, the harder it is to change.    

Effective and efficient

Team leaders focus on both being effective and efficient. 

  • Effective means you focus on the right things. The best team leaders focus on the right goals and problems. They have the critical issues on the agenda.  

To address specific problems and opportunities, they get the right people (team members, experts, customers, suppliers, etc.) in the room to collaborate and brainstorm.  

  • Efficient means “no waste.” All team processes (communicating, planning, problem-solving and decision-making) are done most productively. It helps to establish a few rules or guiding principles that all team members agree to follow.

Here are two examples: 


  • One person speaks at a time
  • Speak up. Say what’s on your mind
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Listen and ask questions until you fully understand the idea
  • No side conversations

Solving problems and making decisions:   

  • Separate symptoms from the underlying problem
  • Fully consider all options
  • Strive to reach a consensus
  • Make timely decisions 
  • Disagree and commit

The challenge here is to stay focused on being efficient, but not at the expense of being effective. Job one is to focus on the right things. Job two is to operate most efficiently. The best team leaders excel at building relationships and framing the task. They are focused on the right things and use all resources most constructively.  Outstanding performance doesn’t happen overnight. The top team leaders teach their teams how to work together and what it takes to excel.    

Are you leading teams that are both effective and efficient?  


Paul B. Thornton conducts seminars and workshops on alignment, leadership and implementing change. He is the author of several books on leadership, including “Leadership Styles, The Leadership Process, and Performance Management.”

Special Offer: Paul is giving away 20 free copies of his book, “Leadership Styles.” Contact him at [email protected].

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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