Between the years, 1983-1987, there was a popular television show called the “A Team.” Four Vietnam War veterans were charged with robbing the Bank of Hanoi during the War, and were tried, convicted, and sent to a military prison. They actually did rob the bank, but they do so under secret orders from their commander. Angry and skilled, they were able to make their escape and then spent their time “on the run” becoming heroes to others in trouble all over the world. At the end of the series, they are apprehended, but a General comes to their aid, and the audience is left believing that they will all get pardons.
Business owners and CEO’s can learn a lot from the dynamics of this team. There was a clear leader (Hannibal) and as they set out upon each project, there was a process in place for achieving their goals, along with contingency plans in place when things went awry. Sometimes, even the contingency plans did not work, and then quick decisions had to be made. Overall, however, they operated like a “well-oiled machine” and were ultimately successful.
Great Leadership = Great Team Building
Hannibal was a great leader.
- He was not afraid to devise plans, delegate, make tough decisions and “course correct” when necessary.
- He knew his people, could establish standards of performance for each of them, based upon their strengths, and could excite them about the tasks ahead.
- He managed their egos and provided feedback and recognition when warranted.
Hannibal’s team was small, but the same principles apply, whether it is a sports team, a small startup, a mid-sized business or a huge corporation. Here are six principles that will serve any leader well. They take introspection, willingness to learn, a healthy dose of psychological expertise, and a commitment to extracting the very best out of each team member.
1. Know Thyself
This is more than a Shakespearian phrase. Actually, it originated with the ancient Greeks who wrote the timeless quote on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Through the ages, it continues to be universal truth, especially for those who lead. It has come to mean introspection and self-awareness. In the world of business, it is just as applicable, for it means:
- You have taken the time to know how you work, how you operate, what triggers your emotions, and in what areas you need to improve as a leader.
- You have evaluated your leadership style, using accepted and research-based criteria.
- If your team is not functioning at the “A” level, you are willing to analyze your leadership behaviors and make modifications/changes based upon that analysis and feedback that you solicit from those you lead
- You hold yourself accountable when those you lead do not perform. This means you make personnel changes, task delegation changes, and that you are not afraid to do so. Leadership requires both strength and responsibility.
2. Know Thy Team
Probably the most important character trait that a leader must have or develop is “emotional intelligence.” What this means is that you can:
- Practice self-control. You can control impulsivity of both feelings and behaviors and manage your emotions when they bubble up. It means that you can follow through on commitments you make and adapt when circumstances demand it.
- Be socially aware. Seek to understand the emotions of others, as well as their anxieties, needs, and concerns. Practice being attuned to the emotional cues that others give you. Work to make your team members feel socially comfortable and emotionally safe.
- Manage relationships. This comes from effective communication, influencing and inspiring others, and solid conflict resolution skills.
When leaders have emotional intelligence, they will be able to know their teams well. They will be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses and where they will be the best fit within the team. Team members will feel comfortable expressing their opinions, their emotions, and making you aware of when things are not going well. It’s very much a matter of trusting their leaders to exhibit empathy and take positive action to change/improve things. Knowing thy team takes time, for relationships and trust are not built quickly.
3. Roles and Responsibilities are Clear and Defined
Once you know your team, you are able to complete this aspect of leadership successfully and thus improve morale, motivation, and productivity. Further, the information you have allows you to place team members in roles that are best suited to their strengths and skills. They are happier and more motivated because they are in positions in which they can meet with success. And success begets more success. When team members are “misplaced,” the goals and objectives are not met, and there is a lack of balance.
The Inter-Connectedness of Roles and Tasks
With the right leadership, all members of a team also understand how their roles and responsibilities are inter-connected. What they accomplish (or fail to) impacts the entire team. And if there is a team member who is clearly not a fit for the “culture” of that team, then s/he must go. Nothing is more frustrating for an individual to assume his/her responsibilities and roles only to discover that another has not upheld his “end of the bargain.” Now others have to “pick up the slack,” and that destroys morale.
A great comparison for this leadership and team camaraderie is with sports teams. Each player is assigned a role based upon his individual skills and talents. Some may have more “visible” roles, such as that NBA player who is just an amazing shot. But behind that player are the “system” players – those who work together so that those shots can be set up and made successfully and the game can be won.
Commitment to Resources
Leadership also involves a commitment to see that all team members have the resources they need to be successful in their roles. If they need additional training, they get it; if they need new hardware or software, they get it; if they require that the leader rolls up his/her sleeves and pitches in to meet a tight deadline, they get that too.
4. Frequent and Authentic Feedback
People need to know how they are doing, and they want to be told by their leader, not just their peers. Effective leaders who develop “A” teams, understand the following:
- Feedback is wholly connected to communication skills. Leaders who can communicate positive messages that team members are on track will see improvement in commitment and productively.
- When things are “off track,” then leaders must also provide that feedback too. And it must be done in such a way that staff is not demoralized. Separating the person from the errors or issues is the first step. Having open discussions about how to get back on track is the second. The goal is to problem-solve not lay heaps of blame.
- When a team member “screws up,” leaders do not ignore the situation. They address it by being honest and then ask the member to participate in fixing whatever went wrong.
- Feedback is both formal and informal. Over time, however, it is the informal feedback that occurs often and regularly that will bring about improvement with measurable results. Formal performance reviews should be the accumulation of all of the informal feedback along the way. There are then no surprises for anyone.
- Successful Leaders ask for feedback too. When team members have emotional comfort, they will provide it willingly.
- Good leaders remember always that feedback is a two-way street of communication.
5. Acknowledge Thy Teams
Good leaders understand the balance. They do not ignore performance with the attitude that the paycheck is enough. They acknowledge good work, both privately and publicly, and they provide rewards for jobs well done. Those rewards need not be huge, but the psychological benefit is.
In a study conducted by Gallup, which included an analysis of more than 10,000 team units from companies of all sizes and types (30 in all), it was determined that employees who received regular recognition exhibited more commitment to their teams, loyalty to the organization as a whole, were more productive, and were far more engaged with their peers. Good leaders provide praise and recognition with the following in mind:
- They are clear. When the goals, roles, and tasks are clearly identified and delegated, then recognition and reward should be based upon staff meeting those respective goals and task responsibilities. It is then clear to everyone exactly what the recognition is for.
- Recognition should be timed as closely as possible to the behavior that merits the acknowledgement. An “annual awards” celebration is not good enough. Individual recognition must come when the behavior occurs. And it can be as simple as a letter or verbal statement.
- Do not ever mix anything else with the recognition moment. The employee needs to savor that singular moment for what it is.
- Recognition that occurs too often to too many loses its effectiveness. Find what you can praise sincerely, and stick with those details.
- Public recognition, if only in front of other team members, is highly effective. Programs such as employee of the month are just one example of what leaders can do to provide recognition that is known
Whole team recognition and praise is highly effective as well. When members have stayed late and gone “beyond” the daily requirements of their jobs, effective leaders stay, bring in dinner, and ensure that the team understands it is acknowledged for its commitment.
6. Celebration – It’s a Bonding thing
Teams that celebrate together are far more cohesive over time. This is more than recognition and acknowledgement – it is a time to remember and savor what has been accomplished – a project in under budget and on time; a tough deadline met, etc. Poor leaders take the credit; good leaders pass that credit to their teams.
Learn to Fish
In 2000, a book was published called Fish. It was based upon the story of Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, WA, but superimposed upon that non-fictional background was a fictional story of Mary Jane, a widow in need of money – so much so, in fact, that she agreed to take over the operations department of a finance company. The department was known as the most toxic of the organization, having had a bully for a leader. Morale was terrible, productivity was negligible, and members of the team were negative to customers and to one another. Mary Jane did not seem to be able to turn things around. Ultimately, she visited the fish market on her lunch hour and was enthralled how people in such a dirty, smelly environment could be so happy, productive, and collaborative. She found the answers under the mentoring of the fish market manager, and began to implement the principles he taught. Success. This book is a short read, and it encapsulates the traits and behaviors of leaders who have long-term successful teams. Perhaps you might want to pick it up.