Because of the specific nature of their education, PhD’s in science, engineers or economics are often directly bombarded into a leadership position even at the start of their careers.

So there you are, in the second half of your twenties, enthusiastic and with a “tiny heart” and no leadership experience whatsoever. During my coaching sessions, I hear their doubts. That’s why, going from my personal 20 years of leadership experience, I want to tackle their 6 most prominent doubts.

Doubt #1 – My team members have more knowledge than me. How can I lead them?

Probably your team members are indeed older than you and they might have been in the company already for years. They know their job and the company extremely well. You weren’t hired to do their job: you have other knowledge and competences. Give your team members the respect and admiration they deserve. Involve them in your decisions and make your expectations clear. Do it together.

Doubt #2 – How can I give corrective feedback to a team member?

This is the part of leadership nobody really likes. And still it’s necessary: take action as soon as possible when things are simply not acceptable. It won’t just blow over. Try the BEEB: describe the perceived Behaviour, clarify the Effects for the organisation (the reason why you’re addressing it), the Emotion it evokes to you and articulate the desired Behavior. Give compliments whenever you catch them performing desired behaviour, especially after a touchy conversation like his.

Doubt #3 – How can I motivate my team to fix problems themselves?

O, how nice it can be to give ‘the monkey’ to your team leader! But then your team members won’t learn to fix problems themselves. On top of that it’s not your job as leader to fix everything yourself. First figure out who’s ‘monkey’ it is and then talk about how you, as leader, can help your team members take care of ‘the monkey’ themselves. Even if you know the answer, don’t be seduced to immediately lay it out on the table, unless your team member can’t (yet) do it his/herself. The point is to develop their problem solving skills. Ask for suggestions, alternatives and react enthusiastically. It is their learning process and people are more motivated to work on a solution they found themselves.

Doubt #4 – How can I remain friends with my team members?

Not always. Especially if before you were a peer, a colleague in the same team. Which often happens. Reality check: as leader you are no longer ‘one of them’. You now have a different role and that takes some getting used to. Even if you don’t feel any different, they will see you differently. You will make decisions they won’t like, or know things that they don’t know (yet). Trying to always remain ‘best friends’, can make you a hypocrit. Explain the reasons for your decisions and show empathy for the consequences. Ask how you can support them. An open and honest attitude will gain you most trust and respect in the end.

Doubt #5 – How do I keep my team’s trust when we’re facing an impossible assignment?

As a team leader you get assignments from internal or external clients and it’s your job to organise everything to get the job done. What if the assignment turns out to be impossible? Keep pushing your team or push back your client? Wanting to deliver everything will guarantee you an unhappy customer and an unhappy team. Create a step by step plan, a clear milestone plan with a well defined scope and deliverables. Involve your team and your client in a realistic planning, with alternatives. Be clear about what can and can’t be done. That way you’re client continues to learn and you’ll keep your team motivated. Nobody wants impossible challenges (it’s in the word, right?).

Doubt #6 – How can I keep working in a (scientifically) correct and thorough way while under time pressure?

As a scientist/engineer you learned how to do everything thoroughly. But is your client willing to pay for confirmation research or for absolute perfectionism? Strive for the Pareto principle: the 80/20 rule. Is 80% of the question answered? Is the client satisfied? The last 20% will cost exponentially more time and energy and will exhaust you and your team. Feel free to mention which tests you can additionally do to offer more confirmation or information. It is then up to the client to decide if he wants them and if he is willing to pay for them.


Recognize these doubts? I can imagine, been there, done that. And you are not alone! That’s why careercheques exist.
Our team of career coaches will give you the support you need. Together we will sharpen your skills and make you feel more confident in your new role.

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