Employee Motivation and Engagement – 3 Powerful Tips in Making an Effective Transition from Employee to Leader

Powerful Tips in Making a Transition from Employee to Successful Leader

This is the 1st Q&A of a 6 part series on employee motivation and engagement. You might prefer to start with reading the introduction here.

Marcelo asks:

I have just been promoted from employee to team leader. I start my new role in two weeks and will be leading a frontline team of employees. I have so many new ideas, how can I earn employees respect and engagement?

Let me start by saying, CONGRATULATIONS Marcelo! Wish you all the best in your new role.

I know how making the transition from being part of a team to leading a team can be both exciting and a little scary. You are embarking on a wonderful journey. Your display of passion and enthusiasm means you are heading in the right direction in building effective qualities of a team leader.

The early stages of your transition to front line leadership are extremely important. Employees will have a certain resistance and will observe everything you say and do. Your actions will have a direct impact on the level of trust they will have in your leadership.

While every company is different and new team leaders don’t all face the same circumstances, there are a couple of basic things any new leader should consider before making changes.

Here are a few “tough love” tips to help you plan for them:

Tip No 1: Learning Curve

You will discover that there is so much more you need to learn about the role of a Team Leader. You are no longer doing the technical part of the job, you are guiding and helping others to do it. Having said that, remember this. You don’t need to have it all figured out, be perfect and in control of everything straight from the start. Anyone who has achieved success, all had “messy” beginnings. Have a clear vision of yourself. Who you are, what you stand for and the type of leader you want to become. This will help you map out a plan to get you to where you want to be.

Because the beginning is crucial, here are three types of leadership styles and approaches that will pretty much make it or break it in building their trust and respect:

Being a Friend Approach

It is important to establish and build a healthy relationship with your employees from the beginning. This one is tricky especially since you have been promoted from within. The relationship will change; you are no longer “one of the gang”. While being friendly and having a strong personal relationship with your employees is vital to bringing out the best in them, this does not mean to become everyone’s personal “confidant” so that they will all like you. It is the best way to get overwhelmed and dig your own grave.

Authoritative Approach

Then, there’s the other extreme where leaders need to prove and show they are the “boss” on a daily basis. These people are basically hiding behind their insecurities by using their “power”. Leaders who use their authority to dictate procedures, telling people what to do and control objectives and goals without any meaningful input from their team, only end up losing power. The proof is in the motivation level of their employees. These types of leaders will make decisions based on how they can shine and will point fingers to blame their team member when something fails to cover their “buts”. I just wanted to flag that this approach does exist in hopes of making you realize to stay away from it. There’s a quote I read that best defines a true a leader.

“Leadership is action, not a position.” — Donald H. McGannon

It serves as great reminder that people are leaders by virtue of what they do, not by the position they hold.

Friendly Approach

Being friendly (not at all the same as being a friend approach) and building a personal relationship through constant communication has proven to be the most effective approach.

  • Take a stroll every morning and go see them with a smile and a “good morning”. People are living things and maintaining a healthy relationship requires that you constantly feed it and give it water. Don’t take them for granted. If you end up getting so focused on your tasks that your presence is no longer a priority, not only will you lose touch with your employees, they will no longer be engaged. To maintain a high performance and motivated team over a long period of time, you need to be present.
  • Have an open door policy. Supporting them if they are having a difficult time means you need to be available for them. Hang a board outside your office; write your coming and goings on it. If you make employees feel comfortable coming to you with new ideas, concerns or help working on a project, then it is easier to build trust and get them engaged.
  • Schedule monthly one-on-one’s religiously! It is so important to spend quality time and build a direct relationship with your employees. It is an opportunity to continually set goals and staying tuned in on the support and guidance they need from you to progress. Discover their strengths and helping them to excel and grow by letting them take on responsibilities, not just give them tasks. Also, it allows for constantly being in the loop on any issues that need to be addressed and maintain a healthy communication with them.  Email is to clarify or give basic information, scheduling meetings, ask a quick question, etc. It should not be used to coach or tell someone anything of importance or give instructions that can arise an emotion in them. This is poor, lazy communication. When you meet with them, close your emails, send all your calls to voicemail. There is nothing more disrespectful than interrupting an employee to answer an email or the phone, NOTHING!

Yes, in certain circumstances, you may have to come off as the “bad guy”, accept that sometimes it is necessary and may be what the person needs to get them to realize their full potential. The great news is that it is part of being a great leader and you will have an even greater positive impact on people’s lives, both personally and professionally. If your intentions come from having their best interest at heart, they might be bitter at first, but you will gain all their respect and credibility in the long run. They will thank you for it. That’s “tough love”.

Tip No 2: Get to Know Your Boss and Colleagues

Have a discussion with your new boss on his expectations of you. Find out what happens when something goes wrong. How are issues handled and ideas presented? Meet with your new colleagues, ask them questions about specific aspects of their role (how they communicate with the boss, challenges they are facing, extra responsibilities they may have, etc).

Tip No 3: Get to Know Your Team

If the announcement of your new role has come out, take a couple minutes and go see them. Tell them a few genuine words on looking forward to start working with them.

When you officially take on the role, during the first week or so (depending on the size of your team), there are two very important meetings you should schedule: A team meeting with all your employees and individual one-on-one’s with each of them.

Team Meeting

Let the team meeting be an introduction of yourself both personally and professionally and ask each one to do the same. Communicate openly and honestly with them, don’t pretend to have it all figured out. Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness; they will respect you for being human and will trust that they can be open with you. Allow time for an open discussion about anything that is on their mind. Ask open ended questions that will give you a sense of the team spirit, team strengths, the gaps and what their needs are. Their answers will accelerate your learning process in defining priorities and setting expectations. Here is the most important thing you MUST do during this meeting.


This is a very precious and valuable time to really get to know the team. If they raise concerns, listen, observe and have an open minded attitude. The most important factor is to not have a judgmental approach. They need to feel comfortable about sharing this stuff with you. Take notes and refer back to them from time to time. You might not see it at first, but as you go along, you will notice that there is valuable information that will give you insight on specific changes that could be implemented that will contribute to the success of the team and the company. I will share a “dirty little secret” with you. If you start with small changes that result in a positive impact or success of team, you will take a major leap in the team’s loyalty towards your leadership. The difference between imposing your idea and listening to them is that now the change came from them and you demonstrated that you value their input. Involve them in the process and planning from the beginning, especially if it has a direct impact on their work. Always remember to give them credit for it!


As a new leader, the most important part of your learning curve is to invest time in getting to know each individual on your team. This step is what will provide you with everything you need to really make a difference. No one can do it alone, they are the best people who will be able to tell you exactly what you need to know to help them and push them forward.

One of the biggest challenges facing today’s leaders is motivation and engagement of their employees. I found that there is a common mindset among leaders facing this challenge, blocking them from creating such an environment: Believing that they can actually motivate someone and believing that what motivates them will motivate everyone else on their team. WRONG!

No one can motivate another human being, it needs to come from them and they have to want it. Also, you must understand that what motivates one person will not necessarily work for another person. As a leader, your actions, your character and the example you set can influence and encourage employees to become the best they can be by discovering what internal factors motivate them.

How do you do this?

During the one-on-ones, dig in a little deeper. Keep in mind that not everyone will be able to tell you directly what motivates them. Help them to discover and put into words what they feel through a series of quality questions. Their answers will reveal the source of their inner motivational energy, their individual strengths and challenges they are facing.

Questions like:

  • What do they like and hate most about their job. Why?
  • Ask them to tell you about a time when they really enjoyed what they were doing.
  • What was motivating about it?
  • What hobbies to have outside of work?

Again, your main focus should be listening and gathering information. Accept everything they say without judging them and more importantly, do not use this information against them at a later time as negative feedback. Each one of these discussions is an opportunity for you to learn from them and engage them in creating opportunities to incorporate their personal motivations with objectives of the company. I’ll tell you something else, this is so much easier than just sitting behind a computer trying to come up with ideas and re invent the wheel. You see, if you don’t take the time to really understand their needs, all your efforts of creating and imposing projects or events will never get them on board and engaged. They are handing it to you on a silver platter!

I will leave you with this thought: Great leaders include everyone in their circle of influence by recognizing each individual’s greatest and unique value.

Please, share any suggestions that I have not mentioned that has had a positive outcome in your role as a leader. Even if your role is not within the workplace, we can all learn and grow from you.

The full Q&A series are:

  1. Introduction
  2. Transition From Employee to Team Leader
  3. Getting Employees to Listen to You
  4. Managing Different Personalities in a Team
  5. Telling an Employee They’re not Ready for a Promotion
  6. Keeping Employees Motivated During Downsizing
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This entry was posted in Cleansing Your Beliefs, Curiosity For Knowledge and tagged , , .

11 Responses to Employee Motivation and Engagement – 3 Powerful Tips in Making an Effective Transition from Employee to Leader

  1. Maria Garcia says:

    interesting post. I began my experience in leadership position since I was 18 years of age. It all started with a small local bakery. I very young and inexperienced, but I don’t know exactly why, people always saw something in me, that lead them to trust in my abilities. I learned many things easy, and others the hard way. I wish too I had read this long time ago;-).
    Through out my career, I have always been viewed as being a charismatic person, however there has been time when I had felt the need to use the more ugly type of leadership (authoritarian) but as you mention, it did not worked well in the long run.
    To me being pacient is the most difficult part of being a leader. Since I’m big on execution, and time management, I like to see progress right away.
    But the greater lesson learned thought out my experience is, that peoe will work for you, bend their back and go all the way, if you value them, and make them feel they are worthy and capable.

    • Antonia says:

      Hi Maria,

      Thanks for sharing your personal experience. So true, patience is difficult when leading individuals. Through your lesson learned, you’ve given all of us a lesson learned as well! The result from making them valued is astounding!

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  5. Augustin says:

    Hi Marcelo


    I agree with Antonia’s point on involving employees on the process and planning before making a change.

    The best way to inspire others is by allowing the ideas, suggestions of your employees help form a vision, goal or make a positive change. From years of experience, I can tell you that no one is ever really 100% supportive of something that they had no part of. People love to feel they contributed to making something happen or putting something in place. They love to see that their ideas had a value or at least understand why they were rejected.
    Make your ideas come from them and they will follow you to where ever you want them to go. You might even be surprised, they might end up bringing to the table something you didn’t see that will flourish your ideas further!!! Just make sure you give them the credit!

    • Antonia says:

      Hi Augustin,

      You mentioned a very important point, people love to feel that they are a part os something, feel valued! Another important point you mention is that if someone’s idea has been rejected, they need to understand why. Leaders sometimes will dismiss an employee’s idea with a simple, “no, that won’t work.” If an employee understands the reason, they will not feel rejected. Actually, in understanding the “why” they might come up with a winning solution.

      Thanks for your insight!

  6. Alexandra says:

    I would like add a very important one

    BE HUMBLE!! Show your vulnerability. Being able to say, “I don’t know,” “what do you think” and “I need help” will build trust with employees. It will NOT show you are weak, you will show that you are human!

    • Antonia says:

      I am CHEERING and clapping my hands on this one!!

      Thanks for this one, Alexandra.

      Vulnerability is NOT a sign of weakness, it’s a STRENGTH!!!

  7. Joe says:

    I wish I had read this when I first became a team leader!!!!

    I thought that because I had been “one of them” (a frontline employee), I knew exactly what they needed and expected from me. I got so caught up in making changes which I believed would make me the office “hero”. That, of course, didn’t go really well. After reading this post, I can see why:) Instead, my employees thought that now because I had a “title” I knew it all. I am ashamed to say, that after 1 month, I didn’t know the names of 3 people on my team

    Marcelo, really get to know your team and listen, show you care. If I may add, depending on how well your new employees know you, some will try to score “brownie” points by coming to see you and telling you all the weaknesses of their colleagues. Find out for yourself, do not treat anyone based on what someone else has told you

    Good luck to you!

    • Antonia says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Joe!

      I agree, it is not a title that will make employees trust and get on board with you, it is your actions and above all, showing you care.

      Love your point on not treating someone based on someone else’s opinion. Find out for yourself. Anyone who feels the need to down play another person to be “boss’s pet” is displaying their own insecurities.