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Posts Tagged ‘team building’

on developing leadership qualities


I suppose that, to start this blog off, I should define leadership qualities, but they are something that I can know when I see them, but find it very hard to pin down exactly what they are. It is a bit like looking at a painting. What makes a great artist? There are things like composition, brushwork, use of colour and so on, but put something done by a competent amateur alongside a Rembrandt or a Turner or whatever and the difference is obvious even to an uneducated eye like mine.

One my years at work I have seen leadership good, bad and average and would say that most of the leaders that I have encountered were inconsistent. There were some who had one moment where they could have stood with the top ten percent and then never reached those heights again, some who were generally awful, but had the odd moment where they did well and others who were average performers with the occasional moment up or down.

This leads to another question and that is how do you evaluate success as a leader? Results in terms of the way that the teams that they lead have performed is one, but it is not entirely reliable because I have seen badly led teams achieve remarkable results despite the person at the top. Perhaps a more reliable indicator is in the number of people that come through their ranks and go on to achieve good things. Some good leaders may be loved, but some are unloveable despite their abilities. Respect might be another criteria, but are we talking here about respect for their professionalism or as a person? Either could be relevant, but neither is a given.

And so it is hard to pin these things down. Physical presence might be a factor, but now always. Chaerisma is often mentioned, but it does not always make for a good leader even if it does tend to attract followers. Most measures are subjective and they are in the eyes of those who follow or look on. I know what I like as they say, and when I see it I know it.

The problem that I had to face, as do all leaders, is how do you develop others? John Adair maintained that it can be taught and his Action Centred Leadership principles are well established. I agree with that to some degree for I have attended and ACL course back in my early years as a junior manager in a large corporation. It is not a course that I remember fondly because the tutor was somewhat wooden and gave no signs of leadership qualities whatsoever, they worked through the syllabus by rote and I did absorb some of the thinking, but I made my way home thinking that it would have been so much better had it been delivered by someone who demonstrated leadership from the front.

For me trying to teach leadership is a bit like teaching someone to play an instrument. There are many people who can pick up enough of the rudiments to be able to play a recognisable tune, but you they may never get much further than that. The better leaders will benefit from tuition and, as I discussed last week, blending theory with practice is the most effective mix. It depends on the individual though and they have to have something that represents a talent for leadership; some spark that will light their fire.

All leaders have to start somewhere and trying to spot those elusive leadership qualities in someone who is not yet leading is your next challenge. In my most successful years of doing this I used to give people mini projects to deal with, allowing them support, but room to fail and always being prepared to accept the consequences of any such failure. Another opportunity was to have one of the team chair out monthly meeting. It provides an element of pressure in that you are amongst your peers and have your boss down the table too, but you are in a more benevolent environment that you might otherwise be. Seeing how someone manages to control a meeting like that is an opportunity to observe whatever leadership qualities they may have and to see where they might be helped along with advice. (Many of these meetings were videotaped and the results could be observed and dissected at leisure afterwards).

These are slightly artificial pressures, but observing people in the heat of battle is a great opportunity to see how the lead. Are they just watching their own corner or are they looking out for the team? Do they encourage their colleagues or harangue them? A good leader will always be observing and forming judgements, if for no there reason than you want to improve team performance generally, but within that looking for signs of tomorrow’s leaders is important.

What specifically am I looking for then? Mostly it is about subtleties; do they have a feel for when to push and when to back off, are they seeing the different needs of individuals in terms of what motivates them and makes them tick, how do they assess the mood of the team and evaluate the environment in which they are working. Life is dynamic and so change is constant. Having the ability to read that change and be able to adjust the focus of the team accordingly is another leadership skill. Seeing how people think, how they reason things and their decision making process against what is known and what is predicted gives an indication of their potential.

Something else that I will be looking for is whether or not people naturally follow because you cannot lead without followers. Someone with good leadership potential will show that tendency to naturally take charge, but if you put someone in charge of a task will the others accept that leadership or not? There is a difference here between leading and being bossy that you should be able too see.

There is no one size fits all here. List your own top ten leaders and consider them in as dispassionate a detail as you can and you will probably find that there are a range of styles; there may even be ten different ones. You can learn from what you deduce, but do try to develop your own styles for copying someone else is unlikely to work for you. Also don’t be afraid to learn form lessons of poor leadership as there are bound to be a reasonable number of such examples around you.

on heroes and villains


Which are you, hero or villain? If you have made anything out of your life you will almost certainly be both and this is one of the things that leaders have to accept and learn how to deal with. How you deal with it will define you, so getting it right is important.

The hero thing mainly comes through results. If you are constantly delivering then you will be well regarded from above and, if you ensure that your team get the glory, or at least share the rewards, then flowers will be lain in your path. Or not, because any success you enjoy will bring about jealousy from some of your less enlightened peers and they, along with anyone above you in the hierarchy who is also none too secure will see you as a villain. They will feel threatened and it is no use trying to present that they won’t because it is a fact of life that in any organisation there will be some who react that way.

If you are at the top of the tree then you can set the agenda for your organisation and one of the first things that you should be doing as a leader is to establish the right kind of culture, but for most people they can only do that within their own team and hope that others see the benefit and follow your lead.

Jealousy and fear are emotions that are common throughout the animal world and is not just confined to us humans. It is unlikely that we can ever change so what needs to be done is to try and avoid the things that trigger them. You can’t hide success, and you shouldn’t, but don’t ram it down other people’s throats: A little humility goes a long way. Being open with your peers about how you do things can also help, not least because if they can use some of your methods to help themselves the the organisation that you all work for benefits too.

Fear is harder to cope with because it can be even less rational than jealousy. If you are more successful than a colleague then they may fear for their job. Again, sharing what you do and how you do it might help, if nothing else it shows that you want to be on their side and not a threat to them. The fear factor can also apply to your boss as I have found more than once. There is nothing wrong with having one of your team who can run rings around you in some aspect of work; you should want people who are better than you working for you, but not everyone can cope with that. My approach has been to always be open about what I am doing and, when I get the chance to talk to the next person up the line, to say how supportive my boss is and how much that contributes to any success coming my way. Taking the threat away as much as I can.

When all is said any done you can’t win them all and some people will not be won round. My consolation has always come from two sources; firstly in results. If my part of the empire is doing well then I am doing my job and I expect no less from myself. The other factor is through having a motivated team who are, because they are generally happy, delivering the results that are cheering me up. If I have these then it does not matter if some see me as a villain and, most of the time, I don’t care if I am a hero to anyone or not these days: I have been around long enough to become comfortable with who I am.

It wasn’t always that way though and I have had some hard times with self doubt and all the baggage that comes with that. If that is where you are then stick with it. Experience is everything and do not worry too much about the times when things go wrong, just learn from them and get better. Trust your team and work with them to make them better. Learn from your peers even when they don’t want to help you and encourage feedback on how you are doing. If you can believe in yourself through it all you will make it. One last though: it doesn’t matter whether others see you as hero or villain for if they think of you as one or the other then you have been noticed and people who are noticed have a tendency to get the opportunities to get on in life.

on teams


So much of team building chatter is based on the premise that we are all capable of being excellent, that same mentality of the Blair years that we can all have anything that we want, that there are no losers and similar excuses that blights genuine progress. The reality is that there are always losers because there are so few genuine winners and, in any case, true excellence is something that comes at the expense of much else. If you want that you can forget most of the work:life balance claptrap that is bandied around.

For anyone leading a team the issue is how to get the best balance from what you have and you will rarely have any choice in picking your team, at least at first, so you will be doing what you can with the hand that you are dealt. There is every chance that you will have a star or rough diamond in the mix and a number of people who are very competent as well as what will seem to be a dud or two.

The first step is to get to know them and try to understand what makes them tick. Weaknesses are important, but put them at the back of the queue for now and concentrate of strengths. You may want to work on people’s weak areas in time, but for now use the team to cover each other’s weak area. If someone is not good on the ‘phone don’t let them answer it. It is important to the team to feel that you believe in them so if you get them doing the things that they are best at they will be happier and start to trust you. As that trust builds they will be more receptive to your efforts to develop them and these should always be around polishing their skills before working on their weaker areas.

If you can get that right you will find that at least some of your team will start to ask about working on their weaknesses. This only comes when people begin to feel confident and you will not get that by harping on about their weaknesses; you need to be subtle and building the confidence that they, and you, need. It is about building an atmosphere of mutual trust.

Another benefit from this approach is that when things go wrong people will be more open about what they did which helps to understand what you need to do to prevent recurrence. Eliminating errors becomes a lot easier when your team truly believe that they are working in a no-blame culture so always look for what went wrong rather than who did it.

As you come to understand your team better you will also understand what motivates them. Not everyone wants to be a star and there is no reason why they should. For many people to just do a job that fulfils them and enables them to survive in modest comfort is all they want and people like that are the bedrock of any team. They turn up, do their stuff and go home day in, day out. What will demotivate people like that quickly is a poor working environment so, as leader, you want to make sure that the physical infrastructure works well and that your team have the things that they need. It can become a huge problem when the stapler can rarely be found and, when it can, it is out of staples or the photocopier is always out of paper. These are simple things to fix, but are the grains of sand that can grind people down. Fix them and people will be happier and happier people are more motivated and productive.

A few thought to play with. As always, feel free to disagree.

on the SISI principle


In good teams there is a focus on individual goals; if everyone delivers their part to the best of their abilities then the team will succeed. There is nothing wrong with that. It is a very good basis for success, but in executing such a way of working it can go wrong.

Where it goes wrong is that you have a group of individuals and not a team and there will be none of the synergy that real teams enjoy. The foundation for good, and possibly great, teams is to ensure than everyone understands what the organisations goal is and focuses their attention on their part of that, but also working for each other as the day goes by.

You want people who have each other’s backs, who will think of the common good and not just of their own targets. It is about helping the team succeed and not individual glory. It isn’t about baling out lame ducks; that is your job as the leader, but it does include putting things right when there is a problem.

The SISI principle is built around the old adage; Everybody was sure that somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but although it was everybody’s job everybody thought that somebody else would do it. In the end nobody did what anybody could have and somebody should have done.

SISI stands for See It Sort It. If it needs doing then do it. If you can’t do it find someone who can, but get it sorted now, don’t leave it for someone else. If a colleague is in trouble help them. If you are struggling seek help. If you see a problem then sort it. It can be the most trivial of things; leaving the photocopier without paper, not putting a new toilet roll onto the holder or not tidying up. All of these things are the grit in the gearbox that wears people down, but if you can get them to just fix these things as they go you get that synergy.

It comes from team spirit, but it also builds team spirit. Once you get a group working as a team you will find that they can absorb pressure like a sponge. They are all confident that someone has their back and develop a belief in themselves as a team that can do anything.

SISI, it easy. It cost nothing and pays back in volumes. Why not try it?

on a question of trust


I have been reading a lot of political commentaries lately, not as a form of self-flagellation, but out of interest. A common thread has emerged from this that brings to mind parallels from my business experience down the years and I will call it The Curse of the New Broom. Read more…

on why good teams can  emerge around bad leaders


There is a lot written and taught about good leadership being behind the development of good teams and I have contributed my fair share. But is a good leader essential to the creation of a good team? Read more…

on sharing your thinking with your team


If you have followed the last couple of Musings you will see that I advocate effective communication between the leader and the team. The idea of sharing your thinking with your subordinates is alien to many, but it is beneficial in a number of ways. Read more…

on the JFDI principle


Back in the early 1970s I was on a management training programme with a company that operated throughout the UK and was doing the rounds of every department in the business to learn the ropes before, hopefully, getting onto the management ladder with a promotion to a line job. One of the people I worked for during that period was a big influence on me, firstly positive, but then negative and the thing that tipped the balance was the JFDI principle. Read more…

on demotivating people


We all have obsessions and those of us who lead teams may have a few for we are driven people. We like to refer to these foibles as being focussed, having a clear vision or something of that kind, but behind whatever management speak we wrap it up in we are still obsessed.

Read more…

on accentuating the positive


A call asking for some free advice is a fact of life in my line of work and rarely does a week go by without one. Whether the caller gets the advice they are seeking depends on how well I know them and last week’s call was from someone I have known for a while so I was at least prepared to listen. Read more…