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How to Successfully Transition from Team Member to Team Leader

’Tis the season for annual performance review!

As a former people leader, I always had trouble reducing people’s work to Likert Scale ratings and had difficulty defining what, exactly, “exceeds expectations.” However, the whole cumbersome process always afforded me the opportunity to reward hard work and give much deserved praise. So, in the spirit of sharing good news, play along with me here…

You’ve just finished an amazing performance review and are about to leave the room—beaming with pride—BUT your supervisor says to hold on a second, she’s not quite finished! She wants to promote you to Director of Donor Relations! What do you do now?

The transition to team leader from team member can be tricky, so I’d like to give you a few tips to make that change as smooth as possible for you and your new teammates.

Put yourself back in that mythical corner office, and before you leave the room:

  • Share gratitude. This may seem like an obvious one, but let your first response be joyful! Savor the feeling of a job well done and a new step in your career, even for a few moments. Smile, take a deep breath, and say THANK YOU.

  • Ask about timing. If it’s not clear, make sure you know when you’ll be starting in this new capacity.

  • Learn about the details. Give your supervisor grace if she hasn’t figured it all out, but things like reporting lines are important for the people that you’re about to lead. It will make the change smoother if you have as much information as possible.

  • Talk about how this news will be shared. Recognize that your good news may mean that somebody else on your team was passed over for a promotion. Make sure that your leader sends a brief, courteous message about your new role and shares as much information as possible. If you both haven’t sorted out all the details yet, ensure that her email shares when more information will be made available. Nobody reads an organizational update announcement for fun, but transparency will be much appreciated and sets you up for success down the line.

This is such an important topic and I’d love to share more with you as part of our DRG Rising Stars Program! Our NEW 10-month, cohort learning program will feature interactive sessions on how to transition from team member to team leader, as well as topics like data-driven decision making, donor relations strategy, inclusive leadership, and much more. This intensive program is designed for donor relations professionals with at least three years of experience in the field who are looking to take on their first leadership role. If that sounds like you, applications are being accepted now through May 31. More information is available on our website. If you have any remaining questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly.

I hope this spring (and this round of performance reviews) brings you good news, a chance to reflect on accomplishments, and the energy to focus on improving your work for next year. Thank you for your continued hard work and dedication to our profession!


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