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How to Transition From Team Member to Leader: 3 People-Centric Actions

Several years ago, I joined KPMG Consulting as a senior consultant. On day one, the firm assigned me to a financial analysis project. My teammates and I were asked to help a large institution streamline and improve its financial processes. Our job was to identify, document, and analyze the steps of a complex system. In the end, we were to provide process recommendations to our client.

The effort was daunting as it involved multiple computer systems, hundreds – if not thousands – of finance employees, and layers of policies and procedures. Moreover, the tasks were spread out in offices around the world.

In hindsight, I was in over my head. (Actually, I knew it at the time, too.)

Nonetheless, I threw myself headlong into the effort, practically living on the client’s site for the better part of a year. I was eager and there was plenty to learn. Over time, I gained a grasp on the system and my influence grew. People saw me as knowledgeable. I liked that, so I doubled-down and learned more.

Our client began to implement our recommendations and the project team tripled in size nearly over night. I was asked to lead the growing team and was promoted to project leader.

Having held platoon leader and company commander positions in the army, I had experience successfully leading a team; however, I was surprised by how much my day-to-day mindset had shifted since leaving the military. I had become very task-centric, knowledge-centric, and process-centric. That focus helped my effort to learn, allowed me to standout as a strong team member, and received notice from my leadership team; but it wasn’t going to serve me well in the project leader role.

I had to move from being task-centric as a team member to being people-centric as a team leader.

Regardless of your industry, function, or any other aspect of your role, if you want to be a great leader, you must be people-centric. I offer three people-centric actions to help you make the transition.

1. Recognize people as individuals

The people you lead aren’t just warm bodies in a cubicle maze or interchangeable parts in a machine. They are individuals, each with unique capabilities, hopes, dreams, and a wide range of other characteristics that make up the human experience. Your people want to be recognized as individuals. You should know what matters to each of your team members. You should understand what motivates each person. Don’t assume you know; ask. You might be surprised by their answers.

2. Invite people to participate in something bigger than themselves

The best leaders invite their people to participate. They ask them for their feedback on goals, they solicit how best to accomplish work, and they encourage team members to openly track and talk about work progress. Along the way, the team members build something together that they could not do on their own.

3. Create positive-memorable experiences

Think about a great team you have been part of – you likely worked hard, accomplished things that truly mattered, forged enduring relationships, and created a few memories along the way. Ten years from now, your people won’t remember the specific goal your team is working on today. They won’t recall how many items sold, how much revenue generated, what costs were cut, etc. However, they will remember what it feels like to work for you. They will remember what it was like to be on your team. Make their efforts a positive-memorable experience.

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Being a leader is rewarding and fulfilling. It can also be challenging and exhausting. If I can help you along the way, let me know.

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

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