How many of us have worked for a horrible boss or had a leader that was less than stellar? Why is it that we’ve worked in groups that seemed great even when the chips were down, while other times, even when conditions could not be better, we would rather claw out our own eyes than go to work? Why are some teams more cohesive than others? Is it the talent and abilities of the team, or does the burden of a successful team lay solely on the shoulders of that team’s leader?
During my years in Special Operations and special units, working in small teams, I have seen a pattern that seems to repeat itself. There were always bad teams and good teams, and of course everyone wanted to be on a good team. But what are the key differences between the two? Is it the ability of the individuals and their skills that make the difference? Can’t be. One percent of the U.S. population joins the military and one percent of that one percent makes it to Special Operations. So we are talking about the .01 percent of the best of the best.
Besides, most of us have seen the underdog team that was not the cream of the crop be successful and cohesive. While having the correct individuals in key places in the team with the appropriate skills is very important, I believe that it is far more crucial to have a leader that sees clearly and can serve as a fusion point for their team. Based on my experience, here are the four key characteristics that make for a poor leader.
How many of us have worked for someone who was blatantly insecure in the position they were placed in? Why are they insecure? Perhaps they aren’t confident in their skills. But as a leader, do we have to know everything? Absolutely not! Some of the best leaders in our history have been those that surround themselves with good people and heed the advice given. Your team may have a better idea than you could have come up with on your own. Sometimes the most junior person on the team can have the key to the problem at hand. There’s no shame in listening to those who report to you, and you shouldn’t be jealous that you didn’t come up with the idea.
Instead, lift them up and praise them for the contribution to the team. If the leader is the only one allowed to have the good ideas, then you are stunting the success of the team. As leaders, we cannot be afraid of our team nor feel insecure about their abilities to contribute to the overall mission. As leaders, we should push for our teams to be better and support them in their growth. We are the conduits to our team’s success and the success of our individual teammates. Fear and jealousy can be cancer to a team if you allow it in.
There’s no faster way to kill the overall health of a team than to constantly be a blanket of negativity. This brings me back to the days of being in the jungle, patrolling while hungry, wet, and tired. Then, the guys on the team look at one another and start laughing. Some might think this is insanity. But in a really shitty situation, you have two choices: laugh because things really suck and find humor in how much they do, or sit under a tree, pout, and act like an asshole.
As leaders, we cannot afford to be negative even in the worst of times. Negativity is a like a plague, and it will spread through the team. Conversely, so is positivity! The world can be falling down around your team, but if you rally around one another and stay positive, it will make all the difference in the world.
This one will hurt. You work for hours, days, and weeks on a project or plan only to have the leader take credit for it as his own, saying nothing of your effort or giving credit to your team. What makes a great leader is a great team. We must work together to accomplish whatever task is at hand. Once that task is accomplished, we must recognize that it was done so by the blood, sweat, and tears of the team. When given the opportunity to explain how you accomplished such a feat, give it to your team.
This will accomplish two things: One, it will give you credibility with your team because they will see that you recognize them and their value. Two, the upper echelon will see you as a leader who can rally your men for a common cause.
No one man that stands alone will last in battle against an army. The Greeks knew this and developed a phalanx so they could stand shoulder to shoulder, shield to shield. This gave them not the strength of one man, but the strength of the entire team working together. There was no glory hog there, and this thought process was what made them successful as a team.
Not that the old breed is bad, but in an ever-changing world, we need to adapt and evolve to our changing environment and mission. It causes stress and weight on a team that is trying to accomplish a mission when the leader either does not believe in the new way of doing things or does not have knowledge of the changing environment needed to adapt.
This will bring frustration to the team and will isolate the leader from the rest of the team. As leaders, we should always be looking for innovative ways to get our mission accomplished. We want to work efficiently and quickly. We cannot afford to waste resources or the most valuable commodity, time. Whether it be a new piece of technology or an evolving tactic, we as leaders need to be constantly assessing the way we do business, checking to see if there is a smarter, faster way of doing it.
We don’t have to know everything, we just have to train and equip our team to do so. Do not be insecure, negative, greedy, or scared to change. Instead, rally each other! Work diligently to clearly paint the picture of the team’s direction and mission. This is crucial for your team to understand its mission.
Get them to understand the ‘why’, and they will believe in the mission. Push your team to succeed and grow; we as leaders should want our people to grow and surpass us. Take pride that it was your guidance and leadership that lead that person to become the person they are. Treat your people with respect and believe in them, and they will, in turn, believe in you.