#4 The Challenges of Leadership – Leading A Team

In our 6-part series on the 6 Common Challenges of Leadership, based on a white paper by William A. Gentry, Regina H. Eckert, Sarah A. Stawiski, and Sophia Zhao, our 4th challenge is Leading a Team.

So far, we’ve looked at Developing Managerial Effectiveness, Inspiring Others, and Developing Employees – all of which play their own part in effectively leading a team.  As with these first three challenges, leading a team can be a position we arrive at without having any formal training.  A position that requires the coming together of multiple skills and which has impact on multiple people as well as the major outcomes of that team’s goals.

Leading a Team is described as “The challenge of team-building, team development, and team management; how to instil pride in a team or support the team, how to lead a big team, and what to do when taking over a new team.

Because leadership of team is one of my main focuses, I’m going refer to a few previous resources rather than reinventing the wheel.  Let’s take a look:

Leading vs Managing

It seems that very little good ever comes from managing people as opposed to leading them.  You can manage systems and processes, but managing people is a closed circuit of finite energy where frustration and boredom eventually over run growth and innovation.  Leaders develop over time as they learn to draw on their own life experience, to share their vulnerability, to share the stories that link the team values and those of the team members, and to take on the responsibility and mindset of leadership. 

We need to give our team members the freedom to use their talents.  Not only did we hire them for a reason, but each of them brings a unique something-something to their space.  When we encourage them to use their strengths, expansion, increased energy and buy-in are a few of the by-products.

When it comes to leading vs managing, here are a few resources:

Are You A Leader, Or Are You Just Taking A Walk?
When we get a bee in our bonnet, or when we have such clarity and surety and we KNOW it’s good…occasionally we fail to check whether our team has bought in too.  When was the last time you turned round to make sure your people were following you?  Leadership requires followers.  Happy followers are obviously preferable.

Be Human – But Remember Your TEAM!
It’s human nature when the going gets tough, when the ball starts rolling faster, when the heat increases for us to do the thing we feel we do best in a position of leadership – and take control.  For some reason, when the going gets going, we tend to forget that we have a team and try and do so much in our own strength.  Trust yourself.  But not yourself alone. 

The Power of Imperfect Leadership
Whether it’s in our teams, our businesses or our homes, our imperfections are what make us beautifully us.  They’re what connect us to each other and they’re where growth, humour and learning come from.  If, as leaders, we can create this space by demonstrating these traits ourselves, then we can expect our teams to be more fully and safely engaged with their purpose.

How do you currently feel about your own mistakes and those of others in your team?  What can you do today to lead by example in creating a safe space where mistakes and imperfections are celebrated for the growth and connection opportunities they can be if we frame them correctly.  How can we lighten the load both for ourselves and our teams by seeing the joy in learning rather than the dejection in making an error?

Communication, Energy and Direction

What and how we communication dictates the level of energy in our teams.  Do they understand the vision and buy into it?  Are they being dragged down by things that aren’t part of your vision?  When was the last time you considered what and how your team were communicating and the resultant energy?  Once you’ve considered the generation and possible leakage of energy within your team, then you need to consider harnessing and directing that energy.  Here are a few resources for your consideration:

Step 1 – Communication
George Bernard Shaw said “The biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”, and Nat Turner said “Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity.”.  You don’t even need another human being to communicate – sometimes the communications we have with ourselves are the source of all our issues!
The bottom line is that Communication is a non-negotiable.  You will communicate something, even when you are silent.  So what we communicate and how we communicate it is the beginning of every move we make.  Thankfully, communication is a skill – a muscle we can grow.

Leaderful Culture & Clarity
Often, leaders feel that to be transparent (especially in uncertain times when things keep changing) is to appear less authoritative, and to keep adjusting and discussing is to lose your power and leverage.  The reality is that people want to relate to their leaders, to know their leaders are experiencing the same problems they are and to know how they’ve overcome personal hardships.  Communication with our teams is vital to holding that team together.

Step 5 – Team
A Powerhouse Team is one where the cogs turn smoothly greased by effective communication, connection to each other and to the vision of the business, and inspired by the energy of personal and corporate growth.  A team who exist in a space governed by an agreed upon culture and common values.  A team who feel safe enough to openly discuss their issues and won’t allow those issues to snag up their operations.  A team who no longer require managing and who are becoming leaders themselves.  A team who innovate and act with autonomy that power your business to levels you only previously dreamed of.  “TEAM” is not a destination.  Team is an achievement.  It’s somewhere many businesses never get and where only the successful stay. 

The Responsibility of Leadership

The responsibility of leadership isn’t for everyone, and how we shoulder it matters.  There are many kinds of leaders and few of them have that healthy balance between maintaining their own energy and focus rather than giving it away managing people, keeping track of the Big Picture whilst the team do the intricate work, and taking the hard lines when needed with respect and compassion that instils the same reciprocally.  Here are a few resources for your consideration:

The Big Picture – Direction, Clarity, Energy
Leadership must set the direction and ensure everyone agrees on the destination.  There must be clearly defined deliverables that give everyone something to aim for and allow us to know when we’ve arrived.  Each team member must know with clarity what’s expected of them as individuals and have/be provided with the skills and tools to accomplish their mission.  Each team member must understand The Big Picture and how their part in it affects the other crew members.  Emphasis must be kept on The Big Picture rather than the individual roles involved in maintaining it.

When was the last time you reviewed your desired destination and the timeline for getting there?  Have you involved your whole team in that discussion so that they all have sight of it?  When was the last time you clarified everyone’s roles and responsibilities in achieving that outcome?  Have you plotted check points along the way to monitor progress, energy levels, required skills and deviations?  What methods for reward and recharge have you locked in to make sure your crew don’t run out of energy?  Can every member feel their importance in the grand scheme so that they’re plugged in to the journey and outcome?  What will you achieve when you reach your destination and how will it benefit you all?  How can you support your team to maintain The Big Picture on your way there?

Step 4 – Truth
Truth is the foundation of trust.  Don’t aim at trust – because we’re only human, and we fail.  Aim at truth, and trust will follow.  Do you have the right people on board?  Do you have the right people in the right seats?  What are the underlying issues holding you back?  Is your business viable?  Whatever the case may be, truth is a necessary part of the process towards building a Powerhouse Team. 

The Vulnerability of Strong Leadership
Leadership requires some fairly strong stuff from us, regardless of our level or named position, and it can feel like we need to guard our backs.  Whether you lead a family, whether you lead a team, whether you lead a business, whether you lead a country – honesty and transparency are vital components of leading well.

Are you willing to take the full weight of leadership on your own shoulders?  To be responsible for stating the facts in a timeous and open fashion so as not to burden your team with the human tendency to fill in the blanks?  To be fully responsible for the projected aims and the outcomes, even if they are not favourable or as expected?  Are you strong enough to lead your team through Plan B; through hurdles, hiccups, failure and to retain their trust while you do so?  Or do you need them to cushion the load for you?

Leading a team is not for the faint hearted.  It requires strength, energy, emotional intelligence, compassion, drive, inspired story-telling, focus, and an ability to shoulder responsibility regardless of where the fault lies.  What I’ve mentioned above are only a few considerations, and leading a team requires that you continuously question your perspective and feed it with awareness and energy from various different sources.
One of the most powerful things a leader can do is ask for feedback.  Ask your team how they would do things differently, given the chance.  Ask them what they’d do if they were the leader.  Ask them how they lead in their own right.  Inspire discussions on leadership so that everyone can share and the mindset is opened up in each team member.  Leaders grow leaders.  Leaders create and direct energy.  Leaders invite communication.  Leaders celebrate team members.

by Christen Killick

September 16th, 2019

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.