How many of you have been on that team that we have fought or would have fought tooth and nail to stay in? You know, the team that you just cannot live without. The one that you look forward to going to work with every morning, where things just smooth seamlessly and everyone gets along. I have been in several teams over the years and have had some less than desirable teams and some really great teams. What are those key differences that made one team sync up better than the other?
Strength, ability, training, leadership, or simply personality? While all of these are key factors there is always one area that can make a team miserable to show up for every day: The Team Leader. We use to have a saying that a “Team Leader is responsible for everything the team does or fails to do” This sucks! Total zero defect mentality!
Let’s go to quick flashback. So there I was, a young Recon Team Leader in Al Anbar Province, Iraq in the middle of the surge. Here I find my self with a less than staller Marine in my team during a time of combat where lives are at stake. One thing leads to another and here I am getting counseled by my Plt Sgt that he was a leadership challenge and I failed as a Team Leader to train him. A year later that same Plt Sgt gave that kid an Article 15 for being “less than stellar”…. Then a decade later we are talking about this exact subject and he drops this knowledge on me, “the success of a team leader is perceived by others when the team can accomplish tasks together as a team by pure devotion and respect they have for each other, the success of a team is never determined by one man.” Priceless! Just shows you age, experience, and wisdom is nothing to snuff at!
Even if you have a strong team, if the team leader is less than stellar it will be a weight on the team's production and morale. It will be a constant wall, one they will have to climb over to accomplish what could be done seamlessly.
Find a good team & treat them well
When you are starting from scratch you have to find your team. Whether it’s from recruitment or interviewing you are searching for the right candidates. Does this mean you need an all-star staff to have an all-star team? No. They just need to be able to work together for the common mission goals. Work ethic, aptitude, heart, honor, loyalty, and commitment to the mission are important traits. Treat them well! If they do work, give them credit. If the team succeeds then you succeed so there is no need to take credit for your teams work, this will go along way. Promote your team, not just in rank but also in their abilities. One day people in your team should grow and move on to do better and bigger things. This will and should be a testament to team leader. Understand there is a human factor to your team. Might sound weird to say but they are humans with lives, families, and feelings. This is a key factor that is overlooked a lot. Knowing this will help you lead your team and understand their actions.
Have a vision:
Know where you are going and have a map to where you are going. If you don’t know where you going then how can you share with your team? It is more than just sharing with them, you need to get them to believe in the direction that you are taking them and have the ability to get them to lead the way as well. How did Dr. Martin Luther King get a quarter of a million people to march on Washington D.C. to listen to him speak? In a day of no social media, no mass market news media, an era of very limited communications, yet people of all colors and backgrounds came from half a country to away to listen to him speak on a hot summer day. Why do people wait in lines at Apple for the new iPhone or Ipad? Are the developers and engineers better at Apple than Dell or Microsoft? No, they come from the same colleges and technical schools. So how did Apple and Dr. King make such an impact? They both were able to impart a vision and the WHY of what they were doing. When we as humans are given the WHY we are motivated to follow.
Believe in yourself:
It’s the old school saying, if you don’t believe in yourself how can you get others to believe in you? We need to spend time strategically planning our moves. We have to have our plan and believe in it. Do not underestimate the power of self-confidence. Two men walk in a room, One who knows everything yet acts timid and not confident then there is another who knows about 25 percent of the situation but walks in with his chest high looking everyone in the eye and acting confident in his abilities. Who does better and who gets further in a room? Is it right? Maybe not, but it does not matter, it’s about the end result. The timid guy that does not believe in his own abilities will not be able to pass on that confidence in the people that need to believe in him. So believe in yourself, roll your shoulders back, and be confident in your abilities.
Release your fears of failure:
“The only thing to fear is fear itself.” I think President Roosevelt had it right. If you allow your fears of moving forward to affect your planning you will never succeed in your mission. Sometimes there is risk and danger in your operation but if we allow the fear of that to stop us then we will never move forward. Fear will keep you in check but you cannot allow it to control you. It’s there as an azimuth check to help focus you. If you have that fear then you are probably on the right track. Fear of failure, bankruptcy, or even death cannot and does not control your output. It may be a factor that you take note of but it is not the deciding factor in your decision as a leader for your team.
Strengths & Weaknesses:
In the military, I always heard that you should push people in their weaknesses so their weaknesses would become strengths and they would be better rounded. This seemed so foreign to me and flat out stupid. Why would I take a guy who is not good at public speaking and make him be our team's spokesperson, meanwhile take the person who is great at public speaking and make him our technical representative? As a leader, I want to put people in their strengths and allow them to blossom in that area. Why fight the areas people are strong at the most for the benefit of the team? If they are a technically strong, then put them in that position, they will blossom and succeed. They will not only benefit your team more they will also feel better about themselves which will have positive second and third order effects for your team. The fact that your team members are flourishing and making positive strides in growth will pay dividends in the future. Not just for the team but for them following you as a team leader. People want to work or associate with people that allow them to be themselves and allow them to flourish in the direction that their brain is already taking them. By doing this you are building your team up on all fronts and playing to each individual's strengths.
So find a good team, treat them well, have a vision, and be able to impart that on your team. Believe in yourself; release your fears of failure. Play to your team member’s strengths and do not play on their weaknesses. Is this a 100% recipe for success? Absolutely not, but for those of us that have been on bad teams and good teams I know that we can all relate that these five things that will make a huge difference!
To read what NOT to do check out Operators Guide to Leadership Part 1.