Throughout your life, you’re going to be a leader and a follower on many different “teams”. This is important. Your ability to “lead and/or play well with others” at work is a critical success factor for career advancement.
Why is it so important to be good at leading and following? First, if you are a poor leader or weak team member you’ll be shut out of many opportunities. Second, those roles often reverse in the blink of an eye. You might be the designated leader now, but if someone else comes up with a great idea out of the blue, you might need to switch hats and sit in the back seat for a while. You never know. Someone who is on the bench today could become the team captain tomorrow.
The reverse of this can also happen; you might a cog now but you could become the decision maker down the road. Either way, you want to cultivate support from the people around you rather than create tension and resentments.
As a result, it’s critical to be good at both leading the group and also simply providing support. And you have to recognize when to play which roll.
Again, there is a lot at stake here. If you are not a good leader and a good follower, you’re going to make it more difficult for your team to be effective. As a result, you may find yourself off the team before you know what hits you. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. Today we’ll talk about being a great leader. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss how to be an invaluable team member. Let’s get to work.
A team exists for one thing – to accomplish a goal. Sure individual members have their own motivations. But the team’s objective is the common thread you can always pull on in order to bring everyone together.
Spend time to define your mission. Crystallize it. Write it down. Get everyone’s agreement and buy-in. Don’t do a thing until everyone in the group understands the purpose of the group and can articulate that purpose. This includes you amigo.
Democracy is great for politics but not so much when it comes to business or to getting things done quickly and decisively. It’s important to know who is responsible for what and who makes the final decision. If not, it will be really hard to accomplish anything.
Of course your group is made up of many individuals and everyone has their own opinion. But every group has a leader in order to move forward. If you are in charge, remind everyone that you value their opinion but for the sake of moving ahead, decisions will be made and implemented. Explain the process for re-evaluation and make it clear that once ideas are tested, there will be plenty of time to gather input and make changes as needed.
But at some point, you have to pull the trigger. After a reasonable amount of time discussing options, it is better to make a decision (even a flawed one) and act rather than to waste precious time in endless debate.
If you reach an impasse with some of the people on your team, have a private meeting with them. If they refuse to accept your decision as leader this simply means they don’t accept your authority. Talk about this with your next highest up. It could be that you are overstepping your bounds. If so, admit it and take a breather. But if the boss re-affirms your position, you have to assert yourself. Make it clear that a decision has been made and the members can either support it or be removed from the team. Their choice.
In my experience as a business owner, leadership is the most valuable quality a team member can have. This includes rallying the troops of course. But it also means initiative. Look for problems. When you see one, fix it or offer a solution before being asked. This goes for your team members and your superiors.
For example, one of my clients worked for a non-profit in Southern California. He was a “mere” bookkeeper. But when he saw the firm was paying for too much for a business loan it was using, he did the research and found a lower-cost business loan provider. Needless to say, my client was promoted pretty quickly.
Hold The Ego Please
Remember I asked you to first clarify your mission before doing anything? Here’s why. Often, while a group operates, people get mixed up. They mistake your reactions to their ideas or actions as a confirmation or rejections of them as people. You as a leader have to be careful not to fall into that trap as well.
Humans take things personally. In other words, if you reject someone’s idea, they could take as a personal rejection.
As a leader, you have to be careful. Don’t let anyone’s ego (including your own) hijack the group. Constantly remind each member what the purpose of the group is. When someone suggests an idea that you don’t think is particularly useful, be gentle. Before delivering the bad news, tell them something you like about what they said or did and then add your correction.
If someone corrects you or offers a better solution, welcome it. That’s what true leaders do.
I keep harping on talking about the group’s mission. You know why? Because people forget. If someone on your team forgets or gets mixed up, don’t get angry. Instead use every opportunity to reinforce why you are doing what you are doing and what the end benefit is.
Coca Cola is the world’s most recognized brand – yet they are also the second greatest advertiser in the world. Why? Because people forget. Do yourself a favor. As long as Coke keeps reminding us what to drink, you keep reminding your group what they are doing and why if you want to be a great leader.
As I hinted above; there is a time to lead and there is a time to follow. Even if you are the official team leader, look for opportunities to put other people at the head of the pack. When someone comes up with an idea, don’t dismiss it out of hand as I suggested above.
Take time to evaluate the suggestion. If it helps the group achieve their objective, embrace the idea. Give that person the ball and let them run with it. Don’t ever worry about being pushed aside. If you can achieve your goal faster by putting someone else at the helm, the people in the corner office are going to notice this sign of leadership in you. This actually could be one way to advance at work believe it or not. In any event, it’s not about you anyway, remember?
Being a top team leader isn’t really that difficult. It’s about taking yourself out of the equation and making it all about accomplishing your team’s goal. You do that by putting your ego on the shelf and facilitating advancement towards the end goal. Remind everyone what you are trying to do and why it’s so important. Encourage everyone to contribute their best ideas and efforts and show them respect by showcasing other people’s good ideas and successes.
What are other ways to be a great leader at work? What are the traps we need to avoid?