Leadership Part 1

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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.

Purpose

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.

Safe Spaces

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!

Benefits

  • 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.

How

  • 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.

Damage

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!

Teaching an old dog new tricks

I was meeting up with some old, long in the tooth friends of mine the other week. One of our member works at a very large “High Street” bank in the data warehousing and presentation teams. They’re employ a lot of young graduates, usually the crop of the available guys and girls coming from top establishments.

These guys burn brightly, are full of ideas and ambition. He loves working with these younger team members, and believes its the future for organisations.

We then naturally went on to talk about how old duffers like ourselves can compete / contribute against such bright, gifted individuals who require a fraction of our salary and packages. The talk about Generation Z, Y, X etc came up, and how Z’s and X’s (the latter being the “millennial’s”) are so much better in modern work places than our generation.

One of us even suggested that at our age (45+, I’m the baby of the group) it’s impossible to learn new behaviours, mind sets and skills.

I personally took insult on that one. I’m potentially competing against younger candidates for jobs – am I really now obsolete? Can I really not learn?

I think the difference boils down to how we handle the feeling of change. That knot of anxiety in your gut when you’re doing something new, talking to someone new – basically pushing outside your comfort zone.

I was once told to welcome that sensation – “Congratulations, you’re changing!”. It’s a great attitude, and leads to a personal internal culture where change and personal growth are embraced.

Young people – who lack experience – are constantly out of their comfort zone, more or less. Many times in a given month they’ll experience that feeling. Many still run from it, but many also get used to it or even (the best of us) embrace it. They are exposed to the sensation so much because there comfort zone (made by experience) is so small.

Old duffers like myself have either a wide comfort zone through experience, or a limited but extremely well trodden zone, probably fenced with barbed wire and with earth packed down as hard as concrete. The latter are specialized individuals (“I only do SQL”), the former are “jack of all trades”. Of course many people will be somewhere in between. We don’t tend to leave our comfort zone nearly so much. The feeling of change if uncomfortable and scary and probably not necessary. So we turn around and return to our comfort zone (resist change).

This is when you get a problem. But you don’t have to be like this. As old buggers we need to recognise and internalise;

  • We must constantly change to grow.
  • We must grow to stay competitive and meet our potential.
  • To embrace that “feeling of change” – the anxiety we feel when leaving our comfort zones.
  • We truly know nothing. Feeling you already know something prevents you learning.

In the last 4 months, as my journey hits multiple new cross roads – I’m getting this sensation weekly. Change is hard, but embrace it. Welcome that sensation – Congratulations, you’re changing!

This old dog can learn new tricks, can you?