This post is part of the Elements of Leadership series.
If you’ve been following this series, you’ve no doubt noticed that I view organizations more like teams than mere collections of people. There’s both a positive reason for this and a realistic one.
The positive reason is that people like being part of successful groups and being praised for what they do. People are much more satisfied and motivated when they view organizational successes as personal success rather than just organizational victories. “Team” captures that feeling more than company or group or any other word I know of.
The realistic reason is that an organization is a team, whether they are functional and happy or dysfunctional and miserable. The efforts and setbacks from one part of the team affect other parts of the team — and at root, your group has at least one common goal.
Your job as a leader of your organization is to spread “teamthink.” Teamthink moves members of your group from thinking just about their individual success to the success of the group — they move to saying “we” rather than “I”. They begin to understand their interrelatedness and appreciate the different roles being played in the team. They become accountable not to themselves, but to the team.
It can be tricky to pull off in some environments because we’ve been socialized to compete with each other, but the following actions start the snowball a’rolling:
1. Use Team Terms in Your Interactions with Your Team
I once read somewhere that if you’re having problems in your organization, start by making larger concentric circles around yourself. The insight: if you want something to change in a group, start with what you’re doing and what you’ve done to make those changes.
That said, you have to understand and live your role in the team. When it comes to hiring and firing, you may be the Boss and have that power. But when it comes to working with your team, you must remember that you are part of the team, not above it.
The easiest way to start getting your mind right is to start making efforts to change the way you speak. Rather than saying, “You need to do this,” say, “This task is critical for us.” In a group whose roles are not well-defined, you will have to spend a lot more time indicating who needs to do what, but as things become more solid, people will understand who does what and you won’t have to make it clear — they’ll know what they do in the team without anybody saying anything.
Use collective terms as much as you can in your speech. Make the link between sub-groups of your organization and the organization visual so that people can see where they fit. Even if there are good reasons for them to sit in a cubicle, make sure the intangible glue that unites them is far more forceful than the walls that divide them.
Do whatever you can to embody teamthink in your own actions. One of the clearest ways to push this is to…
2. Give Public Credit to the Team, Attribute Blame to Yourself
“Recognition for a job well done is high on the list of motivating influences for all people; more important, in many instances, than compensation itself.” — John M. Wilson.
Even if you single-handedly led your organization through some challenge, never say, “I did this.” Any successes that your organization achieves is because of their hard work and will to succeed. Even if they know you did it all, at the end of the day, they’ll remember what they did, and they’ll want to be a part of the success.
On the other hand, all setbacks for the organization are your fault. If you had given better guidance, the team wouldn’t have failed. If you would have given them more time, they would have succeeded. If you’d been more realistic in your planning, they would have been able to follow through.
For some reason, this seems to be the opposite of the way things happen in most organizations. When things go well, the leader takes all the credit. When things go poorly, some fall guy gets his pink slip.
You want your team to feel responsible for what they have done. If they feel responsible for the team’s success, they’ll strive to keep it successful. If they feel solely responsible for its setbacks, they’ll be gun-shy the next time their turn comes up.
Push the good energy outwards towards your team and pull the bad energy towards yourself — such is the mantle and burden of leadership. Sometimes, though, you need to direct attention to individuals within the team. When you do so, remember to…
3. Praise in Public, Reprimand in Private
When the success of your team is due to the stand-out efforts of one individual (not you!), praise her in public. Tell as many people as you can (in front of her) that she did a great job for whatever she did.
By doing so, you’ve let her know how important she is and you’ve given her something to live up to. You’ve also given others a living example of what the team is looking for.
If the setbacks of your team are due to the efforts, or lack thereof, of one person, NEVER make that public. Do not chew your teammates out in front of their peers — this is especially true of your junior leaders. Pull them away from the team (out of sight and sound!) and discuss the situation with them.
A few pointers on this one:
Never attribute to malice what ignorance or incompetence adequately explains.
Few people wake up in the morning trying to figure out ways to screw their teammates over. Most people want to be successful. Before you begin your sit-down with the teammate in question, assume that she was either ignorant or not trained to do what she was asked to do.
Ask first, reprimand later.
I’ve lost track of how many times I went to reprimand a teammate and found that they were doing something somebody else told them to do or what they thought I wanted them to do. Sometimes they were doing something unexpected but good nonetheless and just didn’t have time to let me know they’d changed paths.
Always get your facts before you begin your reprimand. Failing to do so can make the difference between you being an effective leader and you making a really big ass of yourself.
Incorporate a positive element.
Unless you’re dealing with a through-and-through assbag, they provide some value to your team in one shape or form. Don’t go into a reprimand session full of critiques and complaints when the reality is that your teammate deserves some recognition for the good things she has done.
The goal of one of these types of sessions is to positively influence behavior. You want your teammate to come away thinking and feeling that whatever they’re being reprimanded about is a bump in the road and not the road itself. If you hand their ass to them and don’t encourage them, you’ve lost that teammate. If you let them know how they can excel the next time and make that realistic for them, you’ve mentored your teammate.
And that makes all the difference between you being an effective leader and an efficient manager.
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