7 Roles of an Exceptional Team Leader

team leader many hats

Your strategy is only as strong as the ability to execute at the frontline. You can have all the great plans, six sigma workouts, and brilliant competitive positioning in the universe, but if the human beings doing the real work lack the competence, confidence, and creativity to pull it off, you’re back to muddling through.

The team leader role is a tough gig. Team leaders are uniquely squashed between supporting the folks doing the heavy lifting (e.g. producing the product or serving customers) and the leaders above rolling out their strategy and vision. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helplessMany team leaders feel they have limited power to change the system or culture (an issue we address in BYOO: Build Your Own Oasis). To make matters worse, many team leaders are promoted into the role based on their exceptional technical skills and general good spirits, without much scaffolding or support.

In all the frontline teams I’ve worked with over the years, I see 7 vital roles to exceptional execution.

7 Vital Roles of an Exceptional Team Leader

Team leaders wear many hats, not always all at the same time. Concentrating on these 7 roles in your leadership development efforts will go a long way to exceptional frontline execution.

#1 The Translator:  Don’t Motivate Until You Translate

  • Key Question:  What’s most IMPORTANT?
  • Key Behaviors: Stays on top of industry and competitive trends; Helps his or her team understand how their work fits into the bigger picture; Works to ensure other departments know what we do and why it’s important.

#2 The Builder: To See More, Be More

  • Key Question: How do we IMPROVE?
  • Key Behaviors: Challenges each team member to continuously improve their skills; Addresses performance issues head on; Provides consistent, candid feedback.

#3 The Connector: Trust Them to Trust You

  • Key Question:  How can we best work TOGETHER?
  • Key Behaviors:  Communicates frequently through multiple channels; Provides opportunities for cross training; Helps the team surface and discuss their conflicts productively.

#4 The Galvanizer: Help Them Taste the Win

  • Key Question:  How do WE make a difference?
  • Key Behaviors: Rallies his or her team toward a compelling vision of the future; Asks great questions that inspire employees to do more; People on his/her team are excited about what they are up to.

#5 Accelerator: Burn the Script

  • Key Question: How can I HELP?
  • Key Behaviors: Finds ways to eliminate wasteful and redundant work; Runs efficient and effective meetings; Includes the right people in decisions so projects move along efficiently.

#6 Backer: Detect, Then Protect

  • Key Question:  How do we accomplish MORE?
  • Key Behaviors: Proactively removes roadblocks for his or her team; Helps team members recover from setbacks or disappointments; Will “take a bullet” for the team.

#7 The Ambassador: Polish the Boundaries

  • Key Question:  How do we SHARE our success?
  • Key Behaviors:  Provides the team with opportunities to communicate their results to key stakeholders; Advocates for team members and their careers; Helps employees build a strong network of position relations with other departments.

Roles Of An Exceptional Team LeaderThanks so much to Larry Coppenrath for this great pic illustrating these roles.

Your turn. Which are the most important roles? What additional roles would you add? What would you take away?
Filed Under:   Career & Learning, Energy & Engagement
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

Join The Conversation

What People Are Saying

Steve Borek   |   18 June 2014   |   Reply

Not sure what you’d call this one.

It’s the leader who puts their people in position to win and lets them run with it.

They stay out of the way.

They keep the spotlight on the team, not themselves.

Karin Hurt   |   18 June 2014   |   Reply

Steve, The Scaffolder?

Jeannie Sullivan   |   18 June 2014   |   Reply

Hi Karin,

GREAT STUFF!!! This is one of the most useful articles on leadership that I have ever read. Thank you for always sending such useful and practical information. I can’t wait to share it, and PRACTICE it.

Ka   |   18 June 2014   |   Reply

Jeannie, thanks so much. That means a great deal. I’m so glad you found it helpful.

LaRae Quy   |   19 June 2014   |   Reply

Great post, Karin.

I would add the Visionary…leaders must have a vision of the future and of where they are going before they can expect others to follow!

Karin Hurt   |   19 June 2014   |   Reply

LaRae, oh yes… leaders at every level need vision, even at the frontline.

Woody Till   |   19 June 2014   |   Reply

Great article. I have aready shared it with the team leaders on our new press project.

Karin Hurt   |   19 June 2014   |   Reply

Woody, thanks so much. That’s great to hear.

Terri Klass   |   19 June 2014   |   Reply

Loved the 7 categories of a team leader!

What about “The Fixer” when the team is really broken and becomes dysfunctional? I have seen exceptional leaders repair what needs to be attended to with care and great insights.

Thanks for sharing, Karin!

Karin Hurt   |   19 June 2014   |   Reply

Terri, Oh yeah, the “fixer” is a great one too! Thank you

Sridhar Laxman   |   20 June 2014   |   Reply

How about someone who practices a conversation style that usually leads to flashes of insights, Aha moments and brain boosts?
: )

Elizabeth   |   14 August 2016   |   Reply

Most importantly, the team leader needs to recognize and develop those skills and abilities in their team members. Be A Developer