I believe there are five key imperatives that excellent team leaders must strive to accomplish. My belief in these five come from the experience, challenges, failures, and successes I have had the honor of experiencing over the past 15 years as I supported, managed, and led multiple individuals and teams through many varied experiences. Through that variation, I found these to be constant contributors to success.
Set Clear Goals
It is critical that a leader set and communicate clear and consistent goals for his or her team. This is true even if the leader finds themselves in an environment that may not have overall clear and consistent goals. Every team needs to know what they are working towards. When they do not, the team moves without purpose. Hopefully you will find yourself in an organization that has clear and consistent goals into which you can design your team’s goals to support. However, if you do not, it is still an imperative that you establish and communicate goals to your team.
Once the goals are established, you want your team working to accomplish them. They should not be working for you but, instead, should work towards the goals. Have you ever worked under a leader where you found yourself thinking, “Gosh, if I wasn’t doing tasks for him all the time I would be able to get my real work done!” In my opinion, it is less than beneficial if your team feels this way. Instead, they need to know that you are there to provide the resources they need to accomplish the goals you have established. You need to work for them to provide what they need as opposed to them working for you. I use the term “resources” in a broad sense. Resources include staff, budget, training, coaching, guidance, space, time, support, and more. Anything they are lacking in tools you need to work to provide within the constraints of the business situation you are in.
Once your team is working towards accomplishing the established goals using their resources, they are going to encounter obstacles. These come in all forms from conflicts between staff, concerns with goals, conflicts with other teams, roadblocks of all kinds, and even personal life stresses and issues. The third leadership imperative is to clear these obstacles. Your team needs to know you have their back and are working to break through any barriers that are preventing them from accomplishing the goals. The faster these obstacles can be overcome, the sooner they can get back to working towards these goals.
Leaders need to understand the status of their teams progress towards the goals and then make sure this information is communicated to other teams and leaders. A leader gets the word out with respect to the accomplishments of the team and attributing these accomplishments to the team members who did the work. For failures, the reverse applies. You should take full responsibility for a team failure. While you certainly need to take actions to correct situations that led to failures, these failures fall on you as opposed to the team or individual team members. Ultimately, you’re accountable for failures and your team is responsible for success. How do you correct for failures? First you must look at yourself and the three prior imperatives. Did you not make the goals clear and consistent? Did you fail to provide the resources needed to accomplish the goals? Were you not able to recognize and clear obstacles that worked against a successful goal? Most of the time you will find the failure falls in these areas as opposed to a failure of your staff. Of course, sometimes it is a staff failure and this is where the next imperative comes into play.
Develop The Careers Of Your Staff
Your team members need to trust that you are helping them develop their careers. In my experience, there are three primary career growth areas each of your team members will gravitate towards:
- You may have members of your team who want your job. This is excellent and you should help them get there as it contributes to a responsible succession plan for your position. What skills do they need to accomplish this that they do not have? How do you help them gain these skills. Work with them to develop and execute a plan.
- You may have team members who simply want to get better within the job that they have. Too many times I believe people think that they need to change jobs to move up when they may just want to see a career path within their position. It is your job to help enable this. Send them to the conferences to speak on behalf of your company about their project. Develop a training or certification program with them. Provide training materials that expand their knowledge into a new area and help them become the expert.
- Then you will have a third type of team member that really wants, or should be, doing something else. They, literally, may want to own a donut shop. Or, they may want to change careers. Perhaps they want another role on the team. It is my belief that you need to have a trust relationship with your staff that they feel comfortable sharing these aspirations with you knowing that you will support them. If they do not, then they may pursue their alternate desires in secret causing disengagement from their current job and surprise departures. If they know you are helping them, they are more likely to stay engaged in their current responsibilities.
Finally, for multiple reasons, sometimes your environment is not the right environment for a team member. You must be honest with them about your concerns. And, take a hard look to make sure that the problem is not related to a failure on your part of the prior imperatives. Perhaps it is a training problem. Perhaps it is something else. If you must make a change, it is your responsibility to help them move to an environment better suited to their skills, disposition, and desires.