Effective Team Leadership: Getting the Right People on the Bus

In his all-time business classic (that every leader should read), Good to Great, author Jim Collins explains how “great” companies get the right people on the bus (and subsequently, the wrong people off). While not a revolutionary concept, it was nonetheless an eye-opening and insightful observation because so many organizations and teams seem to get the wrong people on the bus, and then, inexplicably, keep them on!

Nothing frustrates team members more than keeping someone on the team that is not a good fit, and more so, someone who actively hurts the team and creates dissension. This kills morale and destroys trust in leadership.

You see, Collins was driving home this key point — get the RIGHT people. Leaders are famous for saying that people are your greatest asset, but that is not always the case. The truth is, the RIGHT people are your greatest asset. Great teams are only great because they have the right people on the team, from top to bottom.

Characteristics of the “Right People”:

-Have a positive attitude
-Align with the values of the organization
-Embody a strong work ethic
-Are teachable and welcome feedback
-Want to keep growing and developing
-Focus on the success of the team, not self-interest
-Bring out the best in others
-Know and embrace their role

So if you’re leading a team, you need to ask yourself, “Do we have the right people on our bus?”. Before you figure out where you’re driving the bus (which is what most leaders focus on instead), first make sure the right passengers are on board. If not, the bus is likely to either break down or veer off the road and crash, even if you have a great destination that you are driving toward.

Leader: What Your Team Needs From You

Leaders–ask not what your team can do for you, ask what you can do for your team! If you want to lead a high-functioning, high-performing team, it is imperative that you focus less on giving orders and more on giving your team the support they need.

So, what exactly does your team need from you in order to realize their full potential and deliver their best? They need a lot, but following are some of the most important things that you can give to your team:

Direction – give your team a sense of where you are taking them and what the team is trying to achieve. What is the vision? What are the long-term goals? There needs to be a destination that inspires passion and purpose in your people–something worth pursuing. This is what ultimately motivates and inspires people. When is the last time you talked about the big picture?

Clarity – your team members should never be confused about their role or the priorities of the team. Confusion creates frustration, which can often lead to dissension. Your job as the leader is to head off any confusion by constantly creating clarity both for each individual member and the collective team. How often do you have clarifying conversations with your team?

Encouragement – something so simple as offering a word of affirmation or praise is often so rare in organizations and teams these days. Leaders can get too caught up in their daily work that they fail to encourage the people they lead. Don’t make this mistake–take time to encourage your people on a daily basis. Are you regularly offering words of affirmation and encouragement to your team members?

Feedback – in order for a team to function at its highest level, people need to know what they are doing well, as well as where they can improve. The best way for this to happen is through ongoing, regular feedback that occurs in the form of coaching. When you coach others, you are helping them realize their full potential. How often are you coaching your team members and providing them with constructive feedback?

Time – as a leader your “plate is always full,” but remember to keep your plate clean for people by giving them your time. We’re all very busy, but we should never be too busy for those that we lead. When you give people your time, they will give you their loyalty and devotion. This is how relationships and trust are built, and ultimately how great teams are developed. Are you making time in your schedule for people?

There are many other things that team members need from their leaders, but if you will focus on regularly providing your people with these five, you will create an environment that inspires, motivates, challenges, and uplifts your team. You will also have the respect and loyalty of your team–something that many leaders do not have because they simply do not take the time to ask what they can give to their team instead of what they can get from them.

What others things does a team need from its leader?

Organizational Health Part I: Politics and Confusion

frustrated businessmanIn a recent Forbes blog article, Erika Anderson (2012) discussed the reasons why key employees often leave organizations. Her conclusion? “Top talent leaves an organization when they are badly managed and the organization is confusing and uninspiring.”  I could not agree more.  What she is describing is a lack of organizational health.

My most recent post provided an overview of organizational health, which is a topic that has grown in prominence since Patrick Lencioni released his latest bestseller, The Advantage. His premise is that organizational health is the single greatest advantage you have for success. I agree. So if this is true, why do so many organizations fail at achieving health internally? Many reasons account for this, but in the next three posts I will breakdown the key indicators of healthy (or unhealthy) organizations. In this post we will examine the two greatest threats to organizational health in my opinion: internal politics and confusion.

First, internal politics. Nothing will contribute more to an unhealthy organization than an environment of politics. Just think about our national political climate. Is that something you would like to replicate within your organization? I venture to guess the answer is no. Organizations suffer from internal politics because leaders and managers allow certain behaviors to exist and permeate the working environment. These include things like personal agendas, power plays, dishonesty, gossip, egos, and the list goes on. Basically, this is due to a lack of clear core values that are embraced throughout the organization.

The second threat to organizational health is confusion. Healthy organizations are clear about where they are going and how they will get there. This clarity is present throughout the entire organization, from top to bottom. That is the key—everyone is on the same page. Too often though, leaders have a plan for where the organization is going (vision), but the employees are unclear about this vision (often due to poor communication), do not have a sense of the vision, and lack clarity about the daily purpose and mission of the organization. When confusion sets in, employees become increasingly frustrated and confused about the direction of the organization and what leaders are asking of them. This, combined with politics, is a recipe for a very unhealthy environment.

The good news is that these challenges can be dealt with if leaders are willing to do so. I believe that three specific things can help an organization overcome politics and confusion:

1)      Assertive Leadership
Nothing creates an environment of politics and confusion in an organization more than passive leadership. These problems must be dealt with and confronted head-on, but leaders are often afraid of confrontation and let internal politics fester. Confusion sets in when leaders waffle about decisions because they are trying to not offend anyone and make everyone happy. Leadership requires decisiveness and the ability to deal with challenges. Your organization will never be healthy if the leader cannot be assertive enough to deal with politics and alleviate confusion.

2)      Consistent Communication
This sounds so simple, yet so many organizations are terrible at communication. It is astounding how often employees point to poor communication as a serious organizational issue. If leaders would get clear about their message and then consistently communicate that message to employees, it would make a world of difference in the morale and performance of an organization. While employees might not always agree with what is being communicated, they will appreciate the fact that leaders take the time to consistently communicate what they are doing and why they are doing it. This goes back to being assertive. If a leader is passive about communication and does not consistently communicate to his or her team, internal politics and confusion will only continue to get worse.

3)      Team Development
This third recommendation is another area that is often overlooked and undervalued. Teams become great because they take time to develop as a team, and they actively work out any problems or challenges they are facing. This doesn’t happen overnight though. Team members must be able to trust one another enough to effectively deal with conflict and hold one another accountable. Leaders must invest time and resources into their team, and they must make it a point for team members to spend time with another. This may involve some initial steps that are uncomfortable, but in the long run the team will be stronger and more effective. Politics and confusion will not be an issue because great teams actively and openly communicate with one another.

If you are a leader or manager in charge of a team, I implore you to pursue organizational health for your organization or department.  These suggestions will get you started, but there is much more to come. The next post will examine the issues of morale and productivity, which are significantly impacted when politics and confusion exist in an organization.

Anderson, E. (2012, January 18). Why top talent leaves: Top 10 reason boiled down to 1 [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikaandersen/2012/01/18/why-top-talent-leaves-top-10-reasons-boiled-down-to-1/#comment-1936