“We are greater than the sum of our parts” – John Green
I don’t think there are many quotes that speak more to the power that teams bring to fulfilling the purpose and mission of an organization than the one above.
But what is it about teams that make them greater than the sum of their parts?
In my mind it is clear – the leaders on the team bring that ‘extra something’ that turns a group of individuals into a high performing team.
Let me take this a step further and underscore that great leaders create great teams. However, if a de facto leader doesn’t appreciate and honor the duties that come with actually being a leader, then that team will likely become equal to or less than the sum of its parts.
In those situations, don’t blame the team. The reality is that there are no bad teams… just bad leaders.
Let’s challenge ourselves to always be the very best leader possible.
While I would rather convey a great example of leadership, I feel like we often learn the most from the ‘what not to do scenarios‘ than we do when everything is going great.
For the sake of the story, let’s introduce some characters… we will call them Al and Tim (I was a big fan of Home Improvement).
Tim reported to Al, and during his professional development meeting for that year, Al challenged Tim to setup one-on-one meetings with the management layer that was 2 levels below him (my management level – hooray!).
When I heard about this I was PUMPED! Just like today I am obsessed with learning and growing, and to have the opportunity to connect with leaders several levels above me was an incredible opportunity.
We had a few meetings that year, and I looked forward to each of them. Days in advance I would try to think up topics that would help me learn while also hopefully making a good impression and showing my potential within the organization.
Then Al left the company to embark on an incredible opportunity… and the quarterly meetings with Tim disappeared – no communication or explanation, just gone.
Perhaps there were several good reasons, but all I had were my thoughts and perception. All I saw was that those meetings only happened because Tim was told to do so – not because he wanted to conduct them.
It hurt a bit.
That hurt was intensified when it came time for me to leave and pursue other opportunities. Once I let my manager know of my intentions, Tim acted as if I no longer existed – that the sacrifices and hard work I put into my team never happened. As you can likely tell from this story, there is still some resentment on my part – not proud of it, but I’m only human. Yet I can learn from it!
I don’t tell this story to bash Tim by any stretch. Everyone will have their own management style, and his continues to serve him well. Rather, I tell this story to point out some key lessons to help us become great leaders.
Let’s check out those and more below!
Leadership is an art not a science
There is no ideal leader, or proper way to embody leadership. Leadership is a personal journey that those of us who want to make a significant impact in life will embark on. It is a journey that will never end, but is well worth traveling.
I want to touch on some of my guide posts for leadership as they exist today. I stress today because I fully expect them to change and mature as I mature throughout my career and life.
Before digging in, I want to stress one point. Today I’m not talking about good or bad managers. I’m talking about leaders, which takes me to my first point…
Leaders aren’t always managers, and managers certainly are not always leaders
The sad reality is that not all managers are leaders. On the flip side, not all leaders have to be managers. Certain people will rise to the level of management for a variety of reasons (title, money, power, etc.) yet not assume the responsibility of becoming a true leader in that role.
At the same time, many individuals may enjoy their non-management role and choose to become experts in their chosen field – this is great and necessary to build great teams. What’s great is that this doesn’t by any stretch preclude them from leadership! Which takes us to my next point.
Lead from the front, back, side, top or bottom
The beauty of leadership, is that those non-management teammates can become the best leader on the team if they choose. They key word for both scenarios (managers or non-managers) is ‘choice’.
Regardless of our title or role at home, work, or on the field, we can choose to be leaders and make a tremendous impact in our sphere of influence. Even if you are the most junior person on the team or on the lowest rung of the corporate ladder, you can still make a huge impact as a leader. When given the choice, choose leadership!
Care because you want to not because someone tells you to
This was my biggest take away from my quick story above, and something I’ve taken to heart and applied in my own leadership journey.
When I was running my team at my previous company, I implemented bi-weekly one-on-ones with all of my direct reports. The goal was to give them an opportunity to talk through the good and the bad along with their desires for their future and professional development.
Those 30 minutes away from the craziness of our operational duties were a total focus on my team members, and I truly believe our team was stronger as a result. I was shocked to receive feedback from several of the more senior members of my team who noted that they’ve never had a better manager, primarily citing the fact that I cared. These were individuals who had decades of experience while I was roughly 5 years into my career.
I say this not to brag but rather to support the importance of caring! Whether we are managers or not, let’s take the time show our peers and teammates that we sincerely care about them!
Before I move on, I would be remiss not to clarify that I’m not implying that Tim didn’t care. I’m sure there were legitimate reasons why those one-on-ones ended. However without clear communication…
Perception becomes reality
Great leaders provide direction, focus and purpose to the rest of their team. They accomplish this through clear, concise and consistent communication.
When this doesn’t happen, team members will begin to go in all different directions based on their unique understanding of what needs to be done. Over time, this creates a disjointed and fractioned team which won’t accomplish anything meaningful.
Their perception of what needs to be done becomes their reality.
As leaders, we must communicate with a focus on quality, quantity and variety. Different team members will ingest information in different ways, therefore it is critical that we communicate important messages through as many mediums available – e-mail, chat, poster boards, newsletters, etc. Know your team and communicate accordingly.
Communicate the reality – don’t rely on perception to do it for you. You won’t like the results.
Kill the ‘unchosen alternative’
I admit this sounds like an intense and violent concept, but let me explain. This was actually a nugget I took away from a Manager Tools podcast. This is particularly relevant to managers but just as important for leaders regardless of title.
Basically, when there is an important problem to solve, all of the decision makers must come together and discuss all the possible approaches to solving that problem. This approach recommends arguing your respective point with all of your energy until the final decision is made. If the group went with your idea, then great! However if they did not, as leaders, we must ‘kill’ all other ideas and get 100% behind the chosen direction.
It’s easier to complain about your idea not being selected and criticize everyone else.
However that negativity will cascade down the organization and serve only to defeat the task at hand – everyone fails.
As leaders, let’s get behind our team or organization’s decisions and give our very best to make that endeavor a success.
Build the team up around you
The best leaders give their team members the tools they need to succeed while bad leaders often want to be the ‘best’ person on their team.
Those bad leaders will selfishly hold people back and prevent them from growing out of fear and insecurity.
We must help those around us to achieve their best to elevate the collective excellence of our team. Besides, if we are the very best on our team, then we are actually stunting our own growth.
When it comes to building a team we must also address those who are not carrying their weight. As good leaders, we must identify those who are struggling and give them every opportunity and resource to improve. However, if they don’t step up and take advantage of the opportunities before them, then we cannot be afraid to cut them loose. Sometimes building the team up is the result of addition through subtraction.
Connect the dots
Far too often, I’ve seen a team member’s passion decrease as they lose sight of how their daily contributions impact the greater purpose and mission of the team or organization. In order to effectively motivate our teams, we must continually reinforce how the individual’s dedication, hard work, and intensity directly helps drive our organization and team forward.
Whether we are motivating our starters or practice squad members, each plays a critical and unique role to the team’s greater success. Sometimes they just need to be reminded.
We always want our team members to grow – whether that growth is within our team or out of the team. Don’t get me wrong – it’s never easy to see one of our star players move on to a new opportunity. However, if our people aren’t outgrowing their roles then we are failing as leaders.
Backfilling the roles of our best and brightest becomes a great opportunity for us to flex our leadership muscles, and a great opportunity for others on the team to step up and make their own impact – to become the next star player.
Let’s make an effort to foster an environment where we celebrate our team’s growth and success no matter what.
Create an environment of positivity
Finally, and possibly most importantly, we as leaders need to create a positive environment.
Our teams and organizations will be dealt their fair share of frustrations, challenges, and bad news. It’s always going to be easier to b**** and moan about those things than it will be to maintain a positive outlook for the future.
The reality is that negativity breeds more negativity while positivity breeds more positivity!
While creating and maintaining that positivity will be difficult, it will be more than worth it when your team is turning those challenges into opportunities and excelling while other teams are simmering in their own negativity.
I know there was a quite a bit to digest, and it is my sincere hope that at least one of these nuggets speaks to the journey you are currently on. No matter what our role or function is on our team, let’s all strive to be our best and lead those around us.
Not only will it create a better working environment for you and those around you, but it will also give you a much more powerful purpose and help you create impact in your world!
Discussion Question – What is your best leadership trait, and which one needs the most work?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."