From Team Expert to Team Leader

How to transition from star employee to becoming an effective leader.

You have done it; your expertise and hard work have paid off. You have been promoted to team leader. Now what? The technical skills and competencies that got you here may not serve you very well going forward. Lack of time and resources means most newly minted managers are ill equipped to make the transition from subject expert to team leader.

Rather then relying on chance or good luck, let’s instead look at some of the best practices that will help you to make the most of your new position as a leader.

Out With the Old, in with the New

Last week you were ‘the Pro’ everyone relied to solve the tough problems. Going from that role to team lead can take a lot of getting used to. Many new leaders have a hard time letting go of their past roles as ‘Super Hero’ type contributors.

NEWS FLASH:  The rules of business survival and success have changed. We now place more value on the ability to leverage teams to come up with innovative ideas that generate results than we do on individuals with specialized knowledge.  New team leaders who fail to recognize this new reality and to implement plans to adapt can be setting themselves up for burn out and failure.

Signs that you are not adapting well

Here are some of the signs that you have not begun to transition from expert to leader.

Some of the most common include:

  • The team believes you don’t think they can cut it. You spend most of your time pointing out errors and telling them how to do their jobs.
  • You pick members of the team who are the most like you and favor them for assignments rather than build consensus.
  • You start to see evidence of people not being team players as they start to resent being sidelined because their input is not being recognised.
  • Your team starts to become a group of ‘yes men’ as they learn not to speak up with their own ideas.
  • You can’t keep up with all the work; bottlenecks and poor results occur, and team morale suffers.

Time to Flex your leadership muscles

The burnout rate among first time managers is shockingly high. It is obvious that the transition from subject expert to team leader is a daunting one for most. A big reason for that phenomenon is that, in most organizations, very little emphasis is placed on, or budget set aside for, formal training or coaching for leadership. The result is a lack of clarity for leaders in their new roles. In that situation what typically happens is that new leaders resort to using the skills and habits that got them the promotion in the first place. That’s right: they rely on their own hard work and technical skills.

If this situation sounds all too familiar to you, check out these well-established leadership techniques that will help you make a smooth transition to effective team leader.

Six tips to makE the move to team leader


A new purpose. As a team leader, your new purpose is to get the best work out of your team. It’s not about you or your super hero skills anymore; it’s all about the team. Your prime goal is to find ways to put your team in the spotlight and give them the confidence to expand their skills.

Build trust skillfully. It’s time to turn your skills toward building trust in your team. No one likes a ‘know-it-all’, and constantly reminding your team that you know everything will derail trust. A better tactic would be to show sincere curiosity in your team’s ideas and initiatives, and to use your technical skill to challenge them to come up with their own solutions. Be prepared for, and encourage learning from, failure. You will be surprised by the amount and variety of new ideas that come from showing your support for your team.

Learn to teach. Telling people what to do is not the same as teaching them how to find their own answers. Making a bunch of clones of yourself is not the answer. Resist the urge to take over or supply solutions. Use your talents to encourage the development those of your team.

Use the ‘magic’ question. When approached by members of your team for advice, your first instinct might be to immediately provide an answer based on your technical skill and past performance. Leadership experts recommend trying a different approach, the ‘magic’ question: “I’m not sure. What do you think you should do?” Although the answer may be painfully obvious to you, it is important to resist the urge to offer it up. By asking the ‘magic’ question, you are encouraging the team’s creativity and you will build confidence.

Create a culture of learning. One big reason good people leave organizations is because they feel they are not growing where they are. Your mission as a leader is to encourage a culture of learning in your team whenever possible. Even if you cannot find a budget for outside training, you can organise ‘lunch & learn’ events and take advantage of online learning platforms and industry webinars. Organize planned teaching events and incentivise team members to share what they learn with the group at these events.

The power of positive feedback. Offering positive feedback to individuals or groups who show initiative and tackle the tough problems is a great way to establish your leadership credentials. Remember to be sincere and constructive; make your comments or praise in public whenever it makes sense. Recognising outstanding results is good but don’t forget to acknowledge and reinforce positive behaviours. The good news is you can almost never over do this good habit.

To sum up

Your success as a leader is not about your technical acumen as much as it is about your ability to create a team that excels. Put your old way of doing things away and focus on your team and its growth. Reach out to mentors and seek out professional coaching to help you develop the new skills and expertise that will support your growth as a manager and leader.