A Lack of Clarity

In recent years there has been a great deal written on the importance of effective leadership at every level of the organization, for the ultimate success of the organization. Leaders who are growing in their practice are frequently urged to “serve” and “remove the barriers” from the workplace so that the team can function more efficiently. Yet, such encouragement for leaders is often given without specifics which will allow a leader to successfully deliver for the team.

On the wall at the University of Denver is the quote

“Today I will do what others won’t… so tomorrow WE can do what others can’t”.

The application of this to the practice of effective leadership is resonant on many levels. In this context, it allows the opportunity to examine specific steps the individual leader can take to support and empower the team they lead.

Leading Your Teams

Great work, particularly by a team, is never an accident.

Step 1 – Preparing the Environment

It does not happen by the alignment of moon and stars, nor by serendipity or chance. Great work, performed consistently well over time, happens first in an environment that has been well-prepared by the leader. A positive team culture supported by norms and shared working agreements is a must. A place where team members feel safe to share and help one another complete the project at hand will be the result.

Step 2 – Removing Barriers

As the leader, removing the pieces from a working climate that may engender rivalry, or worse division and self-interested behavior, is also a critical step. Expectations of the leader must be modeled by the leader. If “WE” is to be more important than “ME”, then the leader must make certain that factors which create angst amongst the team are addressed and removed.

The leader must also make certain that recognition and compensation for individuals is planned for and looked after. If not addressed, this becomes the first worry and focus of team members and will immediately begin to undermine the collective resolve of the team.

Step 3 – Aligning Resources

The alignment of resources, the mindful allotment and scheduling of time, and the securing of proper tools that will allow the team to function at the highest level are the next steps. As a leader, understanding and being willing to provide an environment where a team can flourish as they work together is a cornerstone for success.

We have all heard about teams that were great while playing on a field full of rocks, but that is simply not the norm. The team with the best field, best weight room, best locker room, and best stadium are most often on the top standings.

As a leader, the overt act of improving the environment and the tools that your team utilizes will engender trust and appreciation in you. It will also directly increase the capacity for positive performance. It may take a while, but these consistent improvements will send a message of your commitment as a leader to the team.

Step 4 – Setting Expectations

Examining and aligning the systems and schedules to which the team must adhere comes next. We have all been “in the flow” only to have an unscheduled interruption or a repeated delay remove the chemistry and synergy that great teams working together experience. While small unforeseen issues will pop up and the adjustments needed will be made, when the interruptions and delays are systemic, they will eventually destroy morale and confidence in the leader.

Ensuring that the systems and schedules in place serve the work of the team is the leader’s role. When things are working well, such factors are often unnoticed, but like the proverbial “burr under the saddle” if not fixed they cause an irritation that will greatly reduce the ability of the team to perform.

Doing What Others Won’t – Investing in Your People

Successful leaders are investing in the capacity of their teams regularly. Taking time to mentor your team members and framing the task at hand so that it is clearly understood, is an investment in your success as well. When success, through clear preparation and support of the team is the assured outcome, it shows in great contrast to the environment where orders are given to unprepared minions and unfulfilled expectations are met with admonishment and harsh words.

A few hours of the leader’s time building the capacity and confidence of the team will save hundreds of hours of consternation and reworking a project with a poor outcome. Understand that the service a leader gives to the team is properly preparing all of the aspects of the culture, systems, and the working environment. This work will allow the outstanding culture and teamwork to shine in their performance.

When the team is successful and goals have been met, it is the wise and thoughtful leader that makes time for appreciation and celebration. If it is clear to the team that the leader is all about the “WE” rather than the “ME”, and one is invested in the success of the team, they will work exceptionally hard to make the leader successful as well.

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