Karin’s Leadership Articles

Shooting Freethrows: 7 Basic Competencies Every Team Leader Must Master

by | Feb 25, 2015 | By Karin Hurt, Career & Learning |

You need your team to get to the next level. Tomorrow. Actually, you’d prefer if some of them could get there this afternoon. After all, the stack ranks don’t lie, and you need traction. Fast. No time for theory, you need execution.

You’ve talked to your A players and have a good understanding of their Harlem Globe Trotter stunts. I hope your team is there, and the roll-out of a few fancy moves will save your game.

But first, be sure they’ve mastered the free throw.

7 Basic Leadership Competencies Every Team Leader Must Master

The biggest request I get for leadership development is not:  “How do I get my A players to the next level?” Instead it’s “How do I get all my leaders grounded in the fundamentals so they are ALL inspiring exceptional results?” I find before we can get to more complex issues like  building trust, leading with confident humility, or communicating strategy, we need to get them out of the frenetic feeling of being completely overwhelmed.

If you’ve got frontline leaders struggling, don’t assume they’ve been exposed to some of the tools that have become second nature to us. Check to ensure they’ve got this list nailed before moving on to deeper development.

1. Planning their Day

Do they begin each day with a plan and a strategy to work on what matters most? Do they run from one urgent priority to another, but miss big deadlines? Have they been exposed to Covey’s urgent/importance matrix  and know how to use it?

2. Connecting with their Team

I’m not talking about the alphabet soup of personality indicators and other rich ways to improve team performance. Start with basic human courtesy. Are they casually checking in with each team member to say “Good morning?” Do they say “please” and “thank you”? Do they know a bit about who their team members are as human beings (e.g. what they do for fun, their children’s names)?

3. Giving Effective Feedback

This one will require more than asking “How comfortable are you coaching and giving feedback?” When I ask this, I find most folks feel they’ve got the basics down. A role play or two later, I often uncover there’s significant opportunity to improve.

4. Working with their Peers

If you’ve got several team teams working toward similar objectives, there’s real opportunity for saving time by sharing best practices and supporting one another. Stack ranked environments and busy days often mean that team leaders focus on their own team, and are reluctant to spend time to support their peers and the greater good. This may take some careful questioning to find out what’s really going on. Everyone wants to be considered a team player, so you’re likely to hear “It’s all good.” Probing deeper, I often find that a little work here can have a dramatic and immediate improvement in results.

5. Modeling the Needed Behaviors

When team leaders are really struggling, it’s often a confidence issue. They’re not really sure they know how to teach and develop their team, because they’re lacking some needed expertise and they’re trying to fake it. When “faking it” doesn’t work, they start to withdraw (or the words I often hear are “hide.”) Be sure your team leaders have the competence they need to model the way. If they’re leading a customer-facing team, be absolutely certain they’re not afraid to talk to customers.

6. Welcoming New Team Members

Do they have an organized way of bringing new members onto the team? Do they set them up for success by having the tools needed on day 1, a place to sit, and a peer buddy? Do they know what to do and how they’re measured? An overwhelmed team leader may feel they don’t have time to do this well, and push it off– losing trust and confidence during the time the new employee is building first impressions of “what it feels like to work here.”

7. Your Turn

What have you found are the most frequently underdeveloped leadership basics?

For My LGL Call Center Peeps

call_center_week_250x250I know many of you work in a call center world. I’ve been doing a good bit of work and writing recently for call centers that I thought would be useful to share.

5 Ways to Build Service Rep Competence

5 Myths Hurting Your Call Center Strategy

What Every Great Call Center Needs

Also, if you’re interested in attending Call Center Week in Las Vegas this June, please let me know. I’ll be there doing a book signing and making a social media ruckus. I have a discount code you can use to get 15% off your registration. 16CCW_LETSGROWLEADERS


Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Steve Borek

    So many. Here’s a few. The ability to let their people fail. The art of asking empowering questions. Willingness to ask for help when you don’t have the answers. Transparency. Do what you said you would do. The leader is always being watched.

    • Karin Hurt

      Steve Excellent adds as always. Thank you!

  2. Bonnie Mann

    I think this is a fantastic list especially for first time team leaders. Very often new team leaders are given the position because they are great team contributors but were never really in a formal leadership positions before. I sometimes just ask those new leaders what the best leaders they have worked with did to support them. That can get them started to realizing some of things that they might want to do to help those they are supporting.

    • Karin Hurt

      Bonnie, Thanks so much! That’s my favorite question too.

  3. Terri Klass

    Great list of underutilized leadership fundamentals Karin!

    I would add the ability to be an assertive communicator. Often leaders aren’t able to ask for what they need and as a result end up becoming passive-aggressive communicators. Learning how to be clear and concise while respectful of their teammates can empower leaders to be more confident and influential.

    Thanks Karin!

    • Karin Hurt

      Terri, YES! Up, down and sideways. Amen.

  4. vikram.rao

    Great Article – yes, for sure value add for first time leaders and of course for other leaders who at times forget the basics and then have a hard fall! Karin Thank you – you inspire me!

    • Karin Hurt

      Vikram, ahhh, indeed. Not just for rookies 😉

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