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Fast Forward: become an inspiring team leader

 
Posted: Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Today we commonly feel the urge to move faster – take notice faster, learn faster, decide faster and act faster. It becomes a struggle. Still we can’t just decide: let’s be faster. There are situations, behaviors, previous experience and other things slowing us down. Let’s gather some analysis on what are the common situations asking for faster action, and what could be the simplest solutions at hand helping us find a way to move in a Fast Forward way – e.g., to establish a more effective team via becoming a real leader for the team.

The need of the team is defined by our inability to get the expected results by means of only one person. On the other hand, the effectiveness of a team depends on many factors. Sometimes team can even be less effective than a single person. One of the important aspects of a team is having a team leader – trusted one, that is.

There are tons and tons of books about leading teams. It’s time consuming to read it all and for the most part it’s very frustrating, e.g. somehow it is typical for this kind of books to repeat the same thing over and over again (last time I counted 43 times of the same concept repeated within just 300 pages). I’ll try to make a summary of my own experience, and will keep it brief.

To pull out things we need to do, first of all we need to define what we want to achieve, what will make a person an inspiring team leader. It may sound strange, but it’s the opinion of the team about you as a leader. Even the best of organizing managers may never become great as a team lead, because a team may simply not accept them. Next question is – what does a team expect of a team leader?

Expectations

    • Self-confident
    • Trustworthy
    • Supportive and inspiring
    • Team specifics (each team will have some specific expectations; just look around for them – I prefer inquiring team members, one by one)

Ok, with the expectations being set, the next question is how to actually meet those. Just declaring out loud “Yes, I do!” won’t be much of a help here. A proof is needed.

Meeting the expectations

Self-confident

Self-confidence isn’t about jumping around with daily changes in decisions, project directions and highly emotional reaction to issues. It’s a kind of steadiness.

  • Make decisions. If someone instead of you is making an important decision for the team, then it’s a question – who is the true leader? To whom team will go in case of crisis? Whose opinion the team will trust? Don’t push others away by saying that it’s your decision to make, though. Instead, ask the team to take part, just make sure that the final word remains to be yours. As an example: “Ok, let’s finish this discussion. Let us agree that we’ll proceed with Martin’s idea. Thanks to all involved!”
  • Stick to your decisions:
    • set high-level directions and stay with them for a longer period (a year at least),
    • set project-level directions and don’t adjust more often than once a month,
    • feel free to adjust small-scale changes weekly.
  • Don’t rush to fight back – it may look as an act of an unconfident person. One of the best approaches is to ask to explain what a person meant (as verbal attacks are often very imprecise and easy to misunderstand). Ask what he or she proposes to do. You’ve got plenty of time to calmly rethink what is this all about and how to react. You may even answer something along these lines: “Thanks, Edward. I see your point of view and as I think it’s an important question, I’d like to consider what we can do about it. Let’s talk about it and decide what to do this afternoon, 16:00, at my office – is it ok with you?”.
  • Don’t evade issues and team members. It will look like a really big weakness of yours. Be sure to acknowledge problems. Provide time for each team member (although it doesn’t mean – on demand and as much as they would want).

And your team will be able to follow your decisions and directions on their own. Even if you change your mind, at the end of a period show an interest in the results of the each member of the team – it keeps everyone motivated by acknowledging the importance of the work they are doing.

Trustworthy

Sounds tricky, but in fact it’s not!

  • Explain your decision to the team. Describe driving factors and expected results. They will feel trusted, because you are sharing important information with them. Ask everyone for opinions and recommendations. To don’t get involved in large scale directionless discussions, moderate each discussion (yes, it requires specific skills) – e.g., have time limits, etc.
  • Never share personal information/opinion received from one team member with anyone else, except when the sharing is explicitly approved. If you are not sure, ask directly: “Is it ok with you if I talk about it with John?” Respect their trust in you, shown by team members sharing with you. Maybe they are just wandering – is this an issue at all?
  • Always share achievements. If a good idea was not yours but Anna’s – mention it in team discussions and thank Anna, mention it on large and high-level meetings as well.
  • And share failures, too. If Peter has failed, you both have failed, and this is how you should present it – in front of Peter, in front of the team, and in front of the whole world.

The last two points lead us to the next characteristic…

Supportive and inspiring

Sharing achievements and failures is one of the defining characteristics of being supportive, but there’s more:

  • Respect and support ideas of everyone in the team. Yes, you may have better ideas, but sometimes it’s not the case. Be thankful to everyone involved! Moderate choices and make a decision (important decisions should always be yours, or at least delegated to someone else – remember that it is the leader, who makes decisions).
  • By supporting ideas of the others you make them feel inspired. It also builds trust. As you support your teammates, you gain much more ideas to work with in order to get better overall results. And by having an overall view of the situation and opportunities you may present this look the best way. It will look inspiring not only to the team, but also to the others in the organization.

Working on yourself

How to achieve your goals and stay on top of yourself? Regularly do a self-check and keep developing:

  • List characteristics you believe are important for you as a leader.
  • Setup a To Do list – what exactly you will do to achieve the chosen characteristics.
  • Setup regular reviews for yourself (in the beginning on the daily bases; later on – weekly).
  • On the reviews:
    • Go through the list and write down what exactly you have already accomplished:
      • to act in accordance with a certain characteristic,
      • also write down what was wrong – you acted inappropriately, missed the right moment, did nothing, when an action was really appropriate.
    • Write down what was the impact of good and not-so-good actions of yours.
    • Now review the list and decide what activities you have to do next – sometimes it’s just to keep things the way they are, sometimes you might need to make an apology*, and sometimes you need to stop doing things, because you spent too much time already, but the impact was insignificant. So:
      • Write down things to do,
      • Adjust list for the next review.

* Acknowledgement of your own mistakes is one of the greatest characteristics of a true leader. Anyway, most of the involved people will know what happened and why – but being sincere will show you as a strong person, strong enough to be unafraid to fail at times. A small tip: don’t end with an acknowledgement of a failure and apologies (if needed) – instead, ask for help to develop and make things better: explain what can be done differently, as you see it, what can be changed – but stay on the edge of the changes and lead those.

  • Ask your team for feedback on how you are performing as a team lead. Explain why you need this, and thank them afterwards for sharing opinions. Use gathered opinions on your regular review to decide what is important and requires action and what is unimportant.

To make others believe in you, you must believe in you yourself first. No acting will buy trust. Failure in cheating on your own team will strike back strongly on you as a team leader. And you will fail to cheat. So, just don’t – be trustworthy.

And remember, there’s always a chance to fail. Even after ten years of greatness you may fall low and fall deep. So stay tuned, focused, open minded to the team, practice being a leader! You are destined to encounter failures, but be sure not to exaggerate, i.e. avoid make an elephant out of a fly.  Share, acknowledge your faults to the team, go further, and bring the team with you. They will not let you down.

If you have questions about the topic or would like to discuss it further – feel free to contact us!


Andris Bariss About the author: Andris Bariss is an enthusiast of business processes’ development with more than 20 year experience in analysis and improving of business processes and development of IT solutions. Experienced in both mass market and custom solutions, Andris is always looking for a complete overview of a problem or situation, in order to evaluate causal relationship and to develop the best possible solution. Developing himself as a usability expert, passionate for a good user experience.