Our world of business has changed fundamentally. Thirty years ago, companies were hiring managers and they were hiring leaders, but they were not necessarily the same people. Today, every manager is expected not only to be an effective leader but also a coach and mentor. The demands on those in charge of others have never been greater and technology is making the reality a 24/7 construct. Most of us are more comfortable on one side or the other in the leadership/management balance. Balancing the skills between leadership and management is the focus for all managers and leaders today.
Leading Strong Teams
"If only I had a stronger team!" Most leaders have thought this at one time or another. Yet successful leaders seem to develop strong teams for their projects wherever they go. So how do they do that? The key factors in leading strong teams are:
Establish continuous improvement by building on the characteristics of strong teams
Cooperation: In a strong team, individuals rely on each other to make processes and interactions function as planned. Strong teams root out uncooperative members and either replace them with people who will move the process forward or coach them on more cooperative behavior. Dale Carnegie came up with some specific Human Relations principles which focus on how to gain willing cooperation, which are a tremendous guide for all of us.
Mutual Respect: In a strong team, individuals avoid arrogance, condescension, and criticism. Teams achieve success when their members respect each other's talents, opinions, and efforts. Communication is a critical soft skill which is often under-developed. What we say and how we say it, can make all the difference to the atmospherics within a team.
Democratic: In a strong team, every team member has a voice. Each member of the team has a right to question the process, add input, and evaluate the team's progress.
Capitalize on individual strengths to take teams to higher levels of performance. In a strong team, the leader knows how to capitalize on each member's individual strengths. Not everyone on the team has to be a great people person, but some team members have to be. Not everyone has to be meticulous, but certain members of the team must be. To capitalize on individual strengths, team leaders must be able to:
Recognize strengths: Many leaders have a hard time recognizing their team members' strengths. In a business climate where appreciation is often in short supply, many of us get out of the habit of looking for the strengths in others. It takes a change in our mindset to start seeing what we admire or appreciate in others. The classic mind-set switch is to stop looking for what team members did which was incorrect and start looking for what they are doing right. The next step is to recognize it and praise them for it.
Combine strengths to make a team: Combining strengths in a strong team is a little bit like combining ingredients in a great recipe. Just dumping ingredients into a pan doesn't make a great dish, no matter how excellent each individual ingredient may be. It is typical to see talented, capable individuals who underperform as a team. Every sports coach knows they would rather have a star team, than try and coach a team full of stars. Individual brilliance is never as strong as team brilliance.
Focus on strengths, not weaknesses: Dale Carnegie tells a story about a man in one of his programs who was asked by his wife to list six things that he would like to change about her. The participant recounted that he told his wife he would have to think about it and give her an answer in the morning. He realized that it would be easy to list six things he would change about her, but rather than doing that, he called the florist and ordered six red roses. He had them delivered to his wife with a note that said he couldn't think of six things to change about her; he loved her just the way she was. You can imagine the positive reaction that he received. He stated that, at that moment, he realized the power of appreciation. Do you show appreciation for your team members' strengths or do you focus on their weaknesses?
Facilitate the interaction of diverse personalities on strong teams. Even leaders with the best intentions are sometimes guilty of wanting their team members to do or act like they do. Working in a team with diverse personalities requires flexibility, patience, and open-mindedness. If you are a big picture person it is handy to have someone focused on the micro details and vice versa. If you are dynamic and fast paced, it is helpful to have someone more considered look at the same issue. Overall, we can strike the right balance because we need the full strength of the team to be brought to bear on solving business problems. When you embrace your team members' diverse personalities, you enable your team to reach its fullest potential.
Celebrate diversity: Although it seems easier, most people would be bored working with a team whose members all had the same personalities. Team interaction is much more stimulating and interesting when the team has a variety of personal styles and characteristics. By celebrating differences, you acknowledge that all of us are enriched by our opportunity to work together. Group think is the death knell of creativity and so diversity amongst the team help us to avoid this issue.
Open lines of communication: Team members tend to avoid other team members with different personalities and to form informal alliances with similar members. If team leaders allow these tendencies to go on indefinitely, team sub-groups become cliques with insiders and outsiders and the lines of communication within the team are blocked .
Build bridges, not walls: Leaders of strong teams learn to facilitate connections between diverse styles. Look for ways to make it easier for team members to form alliances, increase mutual understanding, and break down perceived barriers in the way they approach the work. Silos hinder innovation.
Manage results, not tasks: Ultimately, what matters is each team member's contribution to the team's goals and mission. Leaders who are adept at facilitating strong teams with diverse personalities have learned to focus on the results each team member achieves, rather than on trying to make them achieve the results in a certain way. This allows the individuals to express their personalities through their work and still contribute significantly to the team effort. Being micro-managed is not sought or appreciated by most people and it stifles the degree of engagement felt for the common tasks.
Leverage competitive spirit to gain cooperation. Friendly competition generates results. Leaders of strong teams keep the competition between the team and its own past results — not between individual team members. Make competition exciting. Who would you rather have working at your side — a competitive individual or someone easily satisfied by mediocre results?
Managers manage processes and leaders manage processes and build people. Today’s business environment has made the old style manager redundant and organizations are focused on leaders. Learning how to lead, fundamentally means becoming better with people. Mastery of the soft skills is increasingly the difference between success and failure.