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How to Transition into a Team Lead Role

Last year I had the opportunity to interview for a team lead role at Zoe Financial. I was performing well as an SDR but I knew I needed some guidance on how to prepare to be a team lead. Since I didn’t know a lot of people in the startup sales world, my manager connected me to his former boss at Fundera, Tommy McNulty. Here’s what I learned from Tommy, how I prepared, and my advice to help you transition into a team lead.

To be a team lead, act like one

This opportunity came up, like so many, due to good timing. My Austin, TX based SDR team was growing fast but, since all of our sales leaders were in New York, the company needed someone who could be physically present in Austin to set the right tone for the team. As a more senior rep, I was tapped to interview for the role.

At Zoe Financial, our company culture is all about showing that you deserve the role before you get the title. Applying for a team lead role is kind of a “working interview” of sorts. I had already demonstrated reliability and confidence but I needed to show that I could be a leader.

Setting the tone for the SDR team  

A team leader is not a manager. My job isn’t to be responsible for what people do, it’s to set expectations around team behavior. A team lead needs to be reliable, on top of their work, and get things done. You need to come in early and stay late.

In short, being a team leader is about doing rather than telling. Managers are there to tell you what to do. Reps don’t need one more cook in the kitchen giving them instructions. Instead, be a good example, help teammates when they need it, and proactively answer questions.

Team leads behave the way the company wants SDRs to behave. If your team has daily standups, come prepared and be mindful of how your actions and your attitude impacts others. Pay attention to the energy in the room. Ask yourself, how can I get everyone pumped up today?

Note the non-verbal cues around you and when you see that someone is having a bad day, turn up the music and get them excited to hit the phones. You need to have emotional intelligence as a team leader in order to get people bought into the company culture and working together towards the team’s success.  

You’ll likely have a job description attached to the team lead role, but come up with your own proposal as well. Be intentional and thoughtful about what this role could look like and how you can help your teammates. Don’t just wing it.

Find opportunities to learn how to:  

  • Handle conflicts between reps
  • Structure 1:1 meetings
  • Write a job description for hiring new SDRs
  • Show up every day for your team

Finally, understand your company’s long-term objectives and growth plans. Make sure your actions always uphold your company brand, communication style, and language when speaking with customers. When your individual growth is very much in line with the company’s growth, you’re setting yourself up for success.

The best thing about being a team lead

Aside from the career progression opportunity, the best part about being a team lead is receiving feedback that my work has helped others succeed and that I’m creating positive ripples in the business. It’s so rewarding to see my teammates grow and become successful in their roles.

Most SDRs are entry-level, super green, and it's their first job out of college. They’re learning how to overcome challenges, counter objections, and deal with a difficult day on the phones. I love the moment when the company’s mission clicks for them, and you see them having great conversations with prospects and hitting their number for the month.

The most difficult thing about being a team lead

One of the hardest things about being a team lead is checking my emotions at the door. We all have bad days and it’s easy to shut down and disengage from the team when that happens. But as a leader, I need to stay mindful of others. I need to display good energy and show my team how to deal with tough days. I’m not just an individual contributor anymore, I have to look at the big picture, no matter what kind of day I'm having personally.

5 tips for aspiring team leads

Don’t wait until a team lead role opens up to start preparing ahead. Start acting like a leader today so that when an opportunity presents itself, you’ll have examples of your leadership and ownership ready to go. Here are my top 5 tips for any aspiring team lead:

  1. Be on time, always
  2. Have your materials ready for every meeting
  3. Prepare for what MAY be asked of you
  4. Know how to communicate with your manager
  5. Understand how to make your manager’s life easier

Being an SDR team lead means that I get to be a part of each rep's success and growth. It’s also a great way to find out if being a manager is right for you. My final piece of advice is – don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues, manager, and network for help and guidance!

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