To Improve Your Team, First Work on Yourself – 7 Tips to Upgrade Your Skills

As a manager or leader, you always want to put the success of your team first. You want to inspire them to grow, become increasingly productive, exceptionally creative, and as focused as they can reasonably be on a given day.

However, what we often forget is that in order to get the best out of our people, we need to work on our own skills first. Only by becoming the best possible versions of ourselves can we hope to spark greatness in others.

Let’s take a look at seven ways to upgrade your own skills:

1. Find a mentor

Often, the best way to learn is from someone who has been there before you and is very adept at sharing the knowledge they’ve accumulated.

First of all, know that you can look for a business mentor or a management mentor – someone who will teach you how to do your job better, or someone who can help you become better at managing others. Depending on your skill levels and interests (and potentially the interests of your company and team), you can choose to focus on either.

You don’t have to limit your search for a mentor within the company or within your area. You can find a mentor online, and there are even services and communities that will help you find someone to work with on your skills.

2. Look at how others are doing it

Observing other managers is often a great way to discover what works well, and more importantly, what doesn’t. Take some time to notice how other teams are handling their issues, how managers react to different situations, how team members feel about different reactions, and so on.

Ask to read someone else’s emails just to get a feel for the way they run things, take a look at their meeting minutes to see how they jot down what’s important, and try to adopt any practice you find might work for your management style.

3. Ask for feedback

Genuine feedback is an incredible way to work on your skills. However, getting it might be tricky.

When faced with the chance to provide feedback to their managers, most employees decide to hold something back. Either they are afraid they’ll be treated differently if they speak up about an issue, they’re looking to mesh well with their manager, or they simply don’t wish to disclose their full and honest opinions – so they’re not completely straightforward in their feedback.

You can work your way around this issue over time. Work on establishing and maintaining an honest and open communication avenue at all times with all of the members of your team. This is a skill in itself that you can work on and hone if you feel you’re not the best communicator.

A great starting point is always an anonymous evaluation of your skills. While it may not be absolutely truthful and there may be other things you can uncover down the line, it will help you identify the areas you should focus on first.

4. Rest

Rest, sleep, and relaxation are an incredibly underrated element of good management and leadership. Only a supervisor who is well-rested can hope to be at the top of their game and able to tackle all the situations that come with the job.

When we are tired and sleep-deprived, our mood suffers and we become increasingly more irritable. Our focus, productivity, and attention span are compromised, and we are simply not as ready to lead as we would normally be. Not to mention that lack of sleep can lead to all kinds of health problems that can only further exacerbate the issue.

To become better at what you do, make sure you’re getting enough sleep and work on your work-life balance. Do the things you want to be doing in your free time. Socialize and find a way to unplug from work at the end of every shift. That way, you can come back to the office refreshed and rested.

5. Do something uncomfortable

Comfort is the enemy of progress, and to become better at what you do and how you lead, you will need to face some discomfort.

This discomfort can be anything. If you’re not comfortable with delivering negative feedback, make sure you do it when necessary, in person, as opposed to doing it over email or forgoing it altogether. If you’re afraid of delivering long speeches in front of a large group of people, place yourself in a situation that requires it.

You will certainly make a fair few mistakes and not perform your best while going through these uncomfortable situations, and that’s fine. Their aim is to help you overcome your discomfort, learn from them, and get better and better at it. Perseverance is key, so don’t give up after the initial setback.

6. Learn how to disengage

The trouble with humans is that sometimes we can’t help but take things personally, or let our emotions get the better of us when we find ourselves in negative and uncomfortable situations. By learning how to step away from yourself when this happens, and learning how to be objective and rational, you will become a much better leader.

Work on remembering that any situation that arises is not about you as a person, and often not even about you as a manager. You don’t have to be right, and you don’t even need to be wrong – you need to be able to judge what the best solution is in a given situation for the parties involved.

While it will certainly take some practice, you will become a better decision maker by mastering this skill.

7. Learn how to read people better

All managers need to be at least a bit well-versed in human resources and psychology. After all, you’re at the head of a team of people who need to work together, and who might like, dislike, or outright hate each other. And they will have all sorts of different opinions, thoughts, and feelings about every single thing that happens at work.

To do your job well, you will need to teach yourself how to read your team members better, and how to understand where they’re coming from and what they mean to say when they say something.

A lot of our communication is non-verbal. So, learning how to better gauge body language and facial expressions and to focus on them as much as on the words being said is a good place to start. Remember, however, that each individual is different, and that you need to get to know actual humans, rather than patterns and generalized behaviors. You want to know what makes each person tick and how to best use their skills, way of thinking, and background to achieve the best possible results.

Final thoughts

Of course, there are the obvious ways to become a better leader: read, watch, and generally expand your knowledge on any topic. However, as these methods are fairly obvious, you’ll likely have undertaken them already.

Remember that working on yourself is never a waste of time or a bad way to spend an hour or two. The better you get at what you do, the better your team will be able to perform. It works the other way around, as well: if your own skills are mediocre, you won’t be able to hone your team to become the best they can possibly be.