Five Keys to Leading a Team

Whether leading a small team or a larger organization, I have found a few tips I like to share on building an environment for group success:

1) Establish the team objectives:

Define and articulate the objectives and measures of success for the team. Demonstrate how the team's objectives are unique but support those of the organization at large.

It's not enough as a leader to articulate your group’s objectives once and assume everyone is on board.  Refer to the established goals throughout your project, and use them to frame accomplishments and interactions.

Measuring performance against the stated objectives is also critical.  It establishes the definition of success, and puts what matters front and center.

2) Get the right people on — and off — the bus:

This is often said, but that doesn’t make it any less critical. Of course every leader wants to stack their team with "A" players.  You either have some of these or you need to find some. But you also can’t expect to only work with "A" players— otherwise, your leadership wouldn’t be needed.

For all other members of my team, I'll take attitude over technical skill any day. People who want to succeed generally will if they’re supported with the right resources and environment. This is about finding which strengths a leader can manage and which weaknesses need support.

And of course, there are those who lack critical skills or a positive attitude. Managers too often fail through inaction in dealing with these. Do not underestimate the negative impact that these individuals can have on the rest of the team’s success.

3) Demonstrate your commitment:

Demonstrate to the team that you are invested in  the success of the organization, the stated objectives of the team and the success of each individual —in that order, and before any self-serving objectives.  You do this with sustained action over time, not with words.  

I don’t mean simply that you need to work long hours and take on all of the hard tasks.  Of course, it's important to display work ethic, to show that you are willing to roll up your sleeves and take on the same work as the team.  But if this is your only approach, you will get so bogged down that you won't be available where your team needs you most.

4) Be a coach.

A coach pushes people. If you aren't asking people to do something they haven't done before, you aren't setting the bar high enough.  

A coach also supports. When someone isn't finding their way or isn't succeeding, you help them.  In either case, ample use of the word "we" is often helpful.

Look around and you will find that many managers rely too heavily on either pushing —think of the hardass who is never pleased— or supporting—like the coddler who is everybody’s friend.  Appropriate balance nets appropriate results.

Finally, a coach celebrates. Providing positive feedback when it’s earned makes people more receptive to negative feedback when it’s necessary. And showing that you value, recognize, and reward even small successes will create more of them.

5) Make decisions.

I like people I lead to know that there is plenty of opportunity for input. I don't have all of the answers. I want others to be exploring and suggesting new things, and I often seek out review and input from team members I respect.

But there are also moments when a decision must be made and people need to have clear direction. You can't be afraid of making the unpopular decision so much that you don't make a decision at all.  

As the quote goes, "Consensus is the absence of leadership."

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