I wanted to share my learnings on what it means to be a leader and create high performance, happy teams.
I hope these thoughts will help you on your personal journey.
Many start by reminding us that leaders should serve their team, not control and dominate. Of course that’s absolutely right, but it stops short. I believe we should be transformational leaders [Unicorn Project, Gene Kim], focusing on the growth and transformation of our team members into their best versions – professionally and personally.
Let’s break this down into 5 areas a leader should deliver for their team.
If you’ve not read “The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek, read it. It provides a wonderful description of why vision – “Just Cause” or purpose is so critical to human endeavour. It fuels us, it helps us navigate complex waters, it unites us with common purpose.
A leader should define purpose for the team, present it in an easy to communicate medium, and always, constantly draw the team back to their purpose.
In the absence of purpose – and many of organisations lack this sadly – we must coach them to find it themselves.
Oh this is a big one! We need to create spaces around our team where they can speak their minds freely, express themselves, disagree and most importantly – get things wrong.
This doesn’t mean spaces where they are not challenged!
- Enjoy resilient high performance teams who self organise and self support.
- Promote clear, early and frequent communications.
- Allow problems to surface quickly (fail fast, fix quickly!)
- Create an innovative environment.
- Demonstrate compassion, vulnerability and trust to your team.
- Develop trust within the team by creating a vulnerable space.
- Meeting and communicate frequently.
- Celebrate failure!
We need to lead this by demonstrating vulnerability in front of our teams during our frequent stand-ups and discussions. Let them know you “don’t know” – make mistakes and admit them. Goof around, have fun and encourage laughter within the team. If someone does fail, don’t shame them or “tell them off” in front of the team – do it in a safe 1-2-1 environment from a place of compassion.
This can’t be manufactured. This has to be genuine and come from your compassion for them; people know immediately if you’re faking it. I think that’s critical as a leader – you have to really, genuinely want this for the team. It has to come from your heart, or they’ll never open up themselves.
Also side with them – always have their back. When they ask for holiday, give it immediately. If they ask for compassionate time off to support an ill family member – give it immediately. If they’ve failed and the business wants their blood – support them to the hilt – even to the point of quitting yourself if it takes that.
Some teams have been abused for years in a vicious loop of underperformance and command and control by the business. Moving them to a space of trust and vulnerability – to open up – will take time. Months at the very least. Be genuine and prove again and again you have their back.
Toxic environments with closed teams don’t communicate. Problems are hidden or covered up. People seek to protect themselves. There is no team, only silos of knowledge and capability, everyone “covering themselves”.
I had an opportunity to meet and ask questions of our CEO in recent months. Before the meeting I was briefed by my director that I should not ask any “Career ending questions” of the CEO. That CEO is never challenged, never hears of any problems or controversy – to that CEO the company is sailing along nicely! What nonsense. We should be safe to raise concerns, to ask questions without fear of any attack or retribution.
Next we’re going to talk about Growth. I’ve already babbled for too long about Safe Spaces, so I’ll continue in another blog post!