Calibrating the mind to lead teams. Five tips for being an effective team leader.

Guest blog by John Hicks, 26th July 2016

Five tips for being an effective team leader

Editorial note from Elisabeth Goodman:

Many of the managers that we work with are transitioning from a scientist to a manager role.  John Hicks has joined our RiverRhee team to support us with our training, and also to provide coaching for scientists making this transition.  So I’m pleased to share some of his perspectives on how to be an effective team leader.


Having been a scientist and a senior manager, I have come to learn some important lessons about managing people.

Use the following five tips to help you to be a more effective team leader.

Tip 1 – Be motivated to be a manager more than a scientist

To make the transition into management effectively, we must understand what being a manager is.

A popular definition of being a manager is someone who is responsible for administering or controlling an organisation or group of staff.

As a manager you create a larger positive (or negative) impact on an organisation because you are empowering a group of individuals within a team to work more effectively rather than simply empowering yourself.

If you want to be a manager, I challenge you to explore your motives for that move.  If you want to make a positive impact through orchestrating a team of people then you will have a positive management career moving forward.

If you recognise this then you are well on the way to exploring Tip 2.

Click here for information on RiverRhee's training courses for managers
Click here for information on RiverRhee’s training courses for managers

Tip 2 – Get to know yourself more

Working with people often causes us to react in certain ways that are positive and negative emotionally.

Someone can easily say something that will trigger a memory of one of your previous experiences. This in turn might ‘colour’ the way you view, hear or feel about their comment and lead to an inappropriate reaction.

Allow yourself to create a distance between how you feel in the moment and what you need to do next to move the team forward.  Are there triggers that make you feel strongly enough to warp your thinking about what is important?  Then you need to understand what they are before you make the wrong decision based on strong emotions.

Being prepared in this way is important because you HAVE to listen to your team, otherwise you will fail at being a manager.

Tip 3 – listen to your team

There are three levels of listening to your team that will help you to make sound decisions on your way forward.

1) Listen to what your team members are telling you.

What words are you physically hearing and how useful are they to you for the decisions you need to make?  Don’t dismiss them out of hand as your team are your eyes and ears on processes currently taking place in the laboratory or the office.

2) Listen to and think about what is behind what your team members are telling you.

So you have been given some good information but something doesn’t feel right.  You need to dig deeper and understand what is behind what is being said to you.  Is someone struggling in their role and is their information to you compromised by a stressed perspective? What’s that stress about?

3) Listen to and observe what your team is feeling.

Have you ever walked into a room full of people and felt the excitement in the room?  No one is particularly doing anything ‘excitable’ but all the same, you can feel it.  Have you ever walked into a work place and felt that there is a grey cloud looming above it?  You can’t put your finger on what is wrong but you know that something is off?

This is an important skill for leading your team.  Being aware of those around you and how they feel enables you to come alongside your team and nurture them with what they need to be more successful. 

Tip 4 – Don’t get sabotaged by self-defeating beliefs

This is related to Tip 2, but deserves a mention on its own.

Have you ever given a presentation where you have felt nervous? Perhaps you are focusing on what could go wrong more than how positive your impact could be?

This is normal and is what is called a self-defeating belief or what I like to refer to as a saboteur thought.

They tend to happen when dealing with change or opportunity.

As a manager you need to spot these self-defeating beliefs and determine what is rational or not rational because you might be holding back your team.

Tip 5 – Be kind to yourself

This tip is easy to remember. 

Your next mistake might well be your next greatest discovery.  Don’t berate yourself for mistakes, this will mess up your thinking ability. Give yourself the chance to seize the next opportunity from your learning.


John Hicks is an Associate of RiverRhee Consulting.  He spent the first ten years of his career in science within academic, contract research and environmental laboratories specialising in Chemistry. John then worked with two of the leading scientific instrumentation companies providing technical sales support to large Pharmaceuticals and Biotech companies across the UK before moving into a senior leadership position within a Cambridge based technology company.  John now runs his own training and coaching company delivering performance coaching to scientists that are new to or working towards a career in management.

about the editor

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus, a quality assured training provider with Cogent Skills and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads the Internal Collaboration theme of the Enabling Change SIG committee.

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