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Transitioning into a team lead role

Spill's qualified therapists answer real questions from employees dealing with imposter synrome.

I'm transitioning from individual contributor into a team lead role, and I'm struggling to be taken seriously and to gain the respect of my team. I'm also working predominantly with men in the senior roles, and in my head it feels like it's a contributing factor that I am a woman. How can I feel more confident and be taken more seriously by my team?

Our first therapist suggests...

Start with a firm hand

It’s appalling and inexcusable that it should be harder for a woman in the workplace to garner the respect of colleagues than it is for a man but unfortunately it is still sometimes the case.

Remember that this inequality is in no way a reflection on your ability to thrive in your new role and instead says everything about how immature men can be when slave to their age old prejudices.

The answer here is for you to make sure you start with a firm hand. Even if you don’t feel super confident you may need to act with confidence until your emotional self catches up.

Make clear decisions and be prepared to back them up, don’t be an apologist for anything that you decide, and always resist the urge to over explain.

If people show you disrespect call it out, because that sort of behaviour in the workplace is essentially bullying and the only way to deal with it is to show that it won’t be tolerated.

When you move from contributor to leader it is inevitably a hard transition, especially if you find yourself leading some of the people who used to be peers. One of the ways we tend to try and smooth this transition is by trying to be too collaborative.

When you are cautious about your decisions or invite too much discussion around a topic on which you have already made a decision you are showing a lack of self-confidence that will often be exploited making you less confident still in the process.

It is best to lead with clarity and firmness so that your team realise who is in charge. Once those ground rules, the boundaries if you like, are established you can work more flexibly within them and soften your approach.

It may sound counterintuitive but you often need to be harder to begin with if people are not showing you respect and then ease up once they recognise that you are not going to be undermined and messed around with.

It might feel uncomfortable at first but you will save yourself a lot of trouble further down the line.

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Our second therapist suggests...

Get feedback

That sounds like a challenging place to be, both in terms of your new transition and the possible new dynamic you are experiencing. For me, the first thing to question and explore is the doubt around whether you are being taken seriously or not. Is there a safe way for you to check this out?

This may mean chatting more generally to the team as a whole and acknowledging the changes in role, using this conversation as a baseline to explore what other people in the team need and let them know what you need from them, including what respectful behaviour looks like.

You are not the only one going through this change, your team is too and some of them may be more resistant to change than others thus behaving in ways that appear rude or dismissive.  This behaviour is not OK but it may be unconscious so needs bringing into their awareness giving them a choice to change it. This could be a gentle and private conversation with an individual team member to let them know how you experience their behaviour.

Your confidence needs to come from you. If you feel confident, others will pick up on this (both consciously and unconsciously) and this will feed their responses to you and in turn your self-narrative about how it’s going. If you are feeling insecure or low in confidence, the same will happen but in the opposite direction. Your team may well just be picking up on your current self-doubt. If this is the case, what do you need to feel more confident right now? You may well feel out your depth at the moment, this is a new challenge for you. Could you get feedback and review how you’re doing so that you can get a sense of what’s going well, what you need to attend to and what you can let go of? An interim performance review or check-in sounds like it may be useful. You can chat to a line manager and/or the person who promoted you, and get some feedback on your work and reassure yourself you’re doing a good enough job. Also remind yourself of what has gone well and your achievements to date. If it’s really getting in the way, it may be a good idea to explore this area with a therapist or coach, and find a way to navigate it.

Sadly, sexism is a real experience for some people so it needs calling out when it happens. Our brain can also leap to unhelpful narratives when there is something much more straightforward going on, so get factual and then get what you need in order to feel more confident in your role, such as training, support, or open communications.

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Our third therapist suggests...

Set boundaries

I hear that you are transitioning into a leadership role at a level in the company which is male dominated. You feel you are not being taken seriously and it sounds like you are not completely sure if gender is a contributing factor. The following tips will hopefully help you to move forwards:

  • Ask yourself why you feel you are not being taken seriously or struggling to gain the respect of your team. What are you basing these thoughts on? If you can think of specific examples, ask yourself how seriously you were taking yourself in those situations. Has anybody clearly done anything to undermine you? Is it possible that you are making any assumptions about the behaviour or motives of others? It can be challenging at times to separate out what is ours and what is related to the behaviour of others. You may also have elevated expectations of what you can achieve at this stage of your transition. What would having respect from your team look like? You might need to sit with this issue for some time and explore it from different angles.
  • Get feedback from your team on how things are going and what they think needs to be different/ is going well.
  • Set boundaries. Where you see behaviours that you find unacceptable let people know. You can do this in a non-confrontational manner by focusing on the behaviour you want to see instead. Let’s say for example you have an employee who criticises your work to you and others and makes it clear he could do things better. You could say to him; ‘It’s great that you have ideas about changes. What would be helpful for me is if you talk to me directly about anything you are finding difficult and let me know why it is a problem for you by giving clear examples.’
  • Sexism is an everyday phenomenon unfortunately and if you feel that there is evidence that sexism is a problem you may wish to access more support. This could be through mentoring, networking with women in similar roles, speaking to your manager or HR and/or speaking to a therapist.
  • If you find that your own self-doubts are an obstacle again you may find that mentoring, networking with women in similar roles, coaching, or therapy are useful aids.
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