When I became a team leader for the first time in my career, I wasn’t ready to lead. I knew what it meant to be part of a team-making a contribution, showing up, and giving my best efforts to help a group of people win together. I was pretty clear on my role and became pretty comfortable with that. I stayed in my “box”. As I progressed, I developed better leadership skills and attitudes toward becoming a team leader.
Even though I felt unprepared to take the helm, I learned “on the job” through setbacks and wins, how to become an effective manager. If you are looking for a formula, there isn’t one. But there are several principles I learned that can serve anyone leading a team. In fact, they are still applicable in any type of group leadership.
When you become a leader of a team, you have more responsibility to set direction and guidance to help people become the part of completing the whole. Building a solid team also takes time. Mike Krzyzewski, who led his team to five NCAA Championships and coach of the United States men’s national basketball team, talks about the journey of a team:
“When you are given responsibility of building a team, you must make time for certain things: time to form relationships, time to establish standards, and time to get motivated.”
So, let’s look into this journey of building a team. I say a journey, because as a leader we don’t arrive. We continue to learn and become better leaders.
Having a goal with a purpose
Every team needs to have an ultimate goal. The goal must be the purpose of why you are together. Why are we working together? What are we trying to accomplish together? What’s our objective? The goal should be inspiring and motivating for people to put their skin in the game. If they can’t relate to the goal emotional and rationally, most likely they will be disengaged.
Teams either quit or disconnect based on the leader’s sense of direction and inspiration to achieve the ultimate goal. Imagine how much better your team would engage their minds and hearts even more if your level of passion and vision is motivating them to action?
Ask your team members to visualize how winning will look and feel like for them personally. Have them think through how great it would be to win the big prize.
What really makes great teams is selfless sacrifice of service. Putting the needs of someone else before yourself. It’s about being part of a cause greater than yourself. What does that mean for leadership? It means you are putting your titles and position aside for the greater good of the team. People don’t care about your title and position when you are not part of that team. Yes, you have to get your hands dirty and be on the front lines along with them.
The single most important factor in leading a team, is building relationships. Taking the time to get to know the people on your team and communicate with them builds trust. When teams first get together, there are a lot of assumptions and lack of genuine dialogue. Now, let me be clear-meetings are not relationships. As a leader, you need to really know someone in order to bring the best in them.
What are their strengths? How can I coach and develop them? What drives them? What do they want to learn? How can this person add value to the team?
The best team leaders are always walking a mile in their team member’s shoes. They try to see, feel and experience the team perspectives as a way to connect on a deeper level. Most importantly, empathy creates understanding and trust. When you care enough to see things from your team’s perspective, you are creating a safe environment for people to approach you and share their thoughts.
A fun exercise is to ask each person on your team to put up the three most important goals in their life on a white board. Talk about how you can help one another achieve their goals.
Surrender the “I” for the “WE”
The best teams surrender their individual egos and work toward a whole united front. You will hear the words WE often-“We struggled on this project.” “We lost the account.” On high performance teams, the leaders work on ensuring that everyone accepts responsibility for the group successes and failures. The best leaders always think of ways to make their teams as whole and move forward quickly and efficiently with the collective strengths of each person on the team.
The bottom line is, all problems are our problems, and all success is our success together. “That’s not my job” does not exist in the best teams.
I am sure there are other factors in becoming a better team leader, I would love to hear from you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org