May 23, 2020
What Does It Really Mean to be an Effective Team Leader?

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On planet Earth, there are millions of teams. They are everywhere -- in schools, businesses, communities, sports, organizations, armies, religions, and jails. If you are reading this, it is very likely that you are either a member of a team or a leader of a team.

Some of the teams you belong to are achieving their goals. Some are not. In either case, there is a 95% chance that somebody is playing the role of leader, captain, coach, coordinator, or director. You know, the person where the buck supposedly stops.

While there are thousands of books on the subject, very few people have the time or desire to read even one of these books. And, even if they did, reading a book doesn't guarantee success. Because, in the end, the reader of even the best book on team leadership will need to translate what they read into action.

The reality is this: very few team leaders understand what it really means to be a team leader and how to be a team leader -- especially those who have been drafted into the position by someone further up the food chain.

And so, to save you a ridiculous amount of time and the illusion that there is some kind of formula or roadmap to ensure team success (there isn't), I'm offering you 12 simple principles, insights, and best practices to noodle on. Ingredients, if you will, in the big soup of teamwork.

What follows is not theory. Nor is it fairy dust, pep talks, hype, or consultant-speak. Nope. None of that stuff. Instead, it's the distillation of what I've learned (and am learning) from the past 33 years of consulting with these organizations in 11 different countries. Street smarts. In the trenches stuff. Practical takeaways you can use, starting right now. Take what you can. Leave the rest. And don't forget to wash your hands.

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1. Clarify, Communicate, and Reinforce Your Team's Mission: Unless team members understand the purpose/goal of the team, they will never become a team. A group? Maybe. A club? Possible. A loose affiliation of people being paid by the same employer? Perhaps. But not a team. A team without a clearly defined purpose is like a bathtub without water. It might look good from the outside, but it never really delivers the goods.

2. Elicit Intrinsic Motivation: Lots of team leaders think their role is to motivate people. Well, sort of... but motivating people only goes so far. The real goal of a team leader is to awaken intrinsic motivation in team members -- so motivation comes from within and doesn't depend on the team leader always having to pump people up. That gets old, fast. And it's not sustainable.

3. Foster a Climate of Collaboration: Every team has its own culture, vibe, or feeling to it. When this culture, vibe, or feeling is a positive one and conducive to people bringing their "A" game, your team has a good chance of succeeding. When the culture, vibe, or feeling is negative, stressful, or inhuman, your team does not have a good chance of succeeding. Make sense?

4. Establish and Uphold Standards of Excellence: You, as a team leader, are the standard bearer. You set the tone. You raise the bar and help people understand where that bar is. In other words, your expectations matter. Towards that end, you will need to be very clear with team members about what your standards of excellence are. If you haven't articulated them yet, you have a bit of work to do.

5. Establish and Uphold Team Agreements: These are very much related to Standards of Excellence, but are more specific and behavioral -- the measurable norms of your team, the agreements team members hold sacred. Here is your starter kit.

6. Give and Receive Feedback: Face it. Very few people like getting feedback. Why not? Because they equate it with criticism or judgment of their performance, rather than a way to learn, improve, and grow. As a team leader, one of your roles is to provide humane feedback -- to your team as a whole and to individual contributors. It is also important for you to receive feedback from team members. How to do this well, of course, is another matter.

7. Facilitate Productive Meetings:
Most team meetings are a waste of time. Boring, meandering, and ineffective -- with little meaningful follow-up. But they don't have to be that way. As a team leader, you will need to raise your meeting facilitation game. Will it take some time? Yes, it will, but it will be time well-spent because effective team meetings have a huge, positive impact on morale, collaboration, communication, problem solving, ideation, alignment, fun, decision making, and results. HINT: It all begins with your state of mind.

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8. Express Appreciation and Celebrate Success: This just in. The cup is not half empty. It is half full. No matter how far your team may be from succeeding, the fact of the matter is that progress is being made. Unfortunately, most team leaders infrequently acknowledge that progress, focusing instead on problems, inefficiencies, gaps, disappointments, data, and firefighting. Not a good idea. If you want your team to become more high performing, start looking for ways to regularly acknowledge and appreciate team members.

9. Listen, Coach and Mentor: Sometimes, the only thing team members need is for you to listen to them -- as in giving them a chance to vent, be heard, and make suggestions without the fear of being judged. If you listen more deeply than you currently do, you will soon understand what kind of coaching or mentoring team members need. And if YOU don't have the time or skill to coach and mentor team members, maybe you can find someone who can.

10. Mediate Conflicts: Every team, like every marriage, family, or friendship hits some speed bumps along the way. Feathers get ruffled. Feelings get hurt. Misalignment happens. Welcome to real life. As a team leader, it is your responsibility to notice these conflicts and intercede as necessary. If the conflict needing remediation feels too difficult for you to address, look for someone in your organization better suited to play that role.

11. Secure Resources and Support: One of a team leader's roles is to make sure his/her team has everything it needs to succeed. And that includes equipment, technology, suitable work space, coffee, tea, water, and refreshments. It might also include more support (or recognition) from Senior Leadership.

12. Empower Team Members to Solve Their Own Problems: One of the biggest challenges for any team leader is the "monkey on the back syndrome" -- the phenomenon of team members dumping their complaints and problems at the leader's feet. While, of course, there are times when team leaders need to enter into problem solving mode, most of the time all they really need to do is listen, help team members frame the right questions, and empower them to solve their own problems.

WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD:
Let's assume for the moment that the above makes sense to you. Let's also assume that you are inspired to enact at least one of the above principles. OK. Good start. That being said, none of the above is worth a hill of beans unless you can say YES to the following questions. If you can't (or won't), nothing much will change for the better. Ready?

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-- "I am all-in -- completely committed to being a team leader."

-- "I am willing and able to go beyond the call of duty."

-- "I am looking forward to learning and applying new approaches to helping my team become more high performing."

-- "I am willing to assume the best in others."

-- "As a team leader, I understand what my roles and responsibilities are (and, if I don't, I will find out within the next few days.)"

-- "I fully support the goal/mission of my team (and if I'm not 100% clear on what is is, I will find out soon)."

-- "I am willing to trust and empower the people on my team, even if their abilities and styles are different than mine."

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Photo #1: Adi Droid, Unsplash
Photo #2: Toa Heftiba, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at May 23, 2020 01:58 AM

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