Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some pretty incredible teams. Ones where work didn’t seem like work. Where the camaraderie, laughter, and drive to succeed made us unstoppable. We had a sense of pride and accomplishment in our work. Even the rough days seemed easy.
I still keep in touch with people who were on those teams. We get together when we can. We reach out to each when we need work-related or life advice. We celebrate each other’s achievements and soothe each other through the hard times. I appreciate those people more than they know.
Then where were the not-so-awesome teams. The ones where every small task seemed monumental and arguments were the norm. Coming into work would break my spirit just a little bit every day. But I trudged on while hoping for the light at the end of the tunnel – a new leader, a new role in the company, a new job altogether… something. And most of the time I didn’t realize just how much damage it was doing to me until I was out of the situation.
A boss has the title. A leader has the people. – Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why
Whether or not a team succeeds is based on one factor: leadership. Great teams have inspiring leaders who have a vision for success, work hard to build confidence and promote their people. Dysfunctional teams have leaders who are secretive and don’t clearly communicate the strategy, plans, or goals for the team. They tend to not have tangible skills for the role they’re in, making it impossible to operationalize the work and lay out a clear path to success.
Leadership positions aren’t about being “the boss.” They are about inspiring and empowering people to do their best work.
If you’re a leader, keep these things in mind:
Build and Maintain Trust
Nothing damages a team more than lack of trust and faith in their leader. A manager’s job is to always look out for the team; making sure they have what they need to succeed and promoting their work to the rest of the organization. You’re their cheerleader and their momma-bear. They need to know you’ve got their best interests, as well as the company’s best interest, as a number one priority. Your team needs a safe place to ask questions, vent their frustrations and celebrate their achievements.
The moment you break that trust, you’ve stopped productivity. Focus switches to self-preservation mode and people become distracted. You’ve lost the team, their motivation, and their awesome output.
Things to avoid:
Not standing up for your team. Even if they made a mistake, it’s your job smooth it out externally and deal with it fairly within the team. If it’s something small, let it go. We are humans. We make mistakes. If it’s a bigger issue, have the hard conversations, but make sure it’s delivered with fairness and with actionable changes to avoid the same situation in the future.
Not delivering on promises. If you make promises about anything, you need to deliver on them. Whether it’s removing an obstacle, securing budget for training or conferences or getting them promoted or a raise; if you don’t keep your word, they lose confidence in your ability to lead.
Not celebrating the wins. Only talking about the struggles without ever giving them high-fives for good work will leave everyone unfulfilled. We all have things about our jobs that are “bucket fillers” – those things that give you all the warm fuzzies about the work you do. Without those, your team won’t feel valued, and they won’t give their best work.
Being shady AF. If you can’t deliver straight answers, no one will have faith in you. Transparency is key. Companies, departments, teams – they all go through rough patches. If you’re transparent with your team, they will respect you so much more than if you keep them in the dark. Not sharing makes people uneasy which breeds whispers and rumors that take the focus away from doing great work.
Don’t lie. I mean, that seems hella obvious, but sadly, it’s not. Chatter always happens. Lies always get out. And you will look like a grade-A asshole.
Be An Expert In What You Lead
My number one beef with any of my managers who led a dysfunctional team was that they had no expertise in what they were leading. This notion that a good leader can lead anything is not a real. I’ve never had a manager who was a good leader with no functional knowledge of the job. It’s bullshit. You can’t lead what you’ve never actually done. If you can’t get down in the weeds, roll up your sleeves and help your team with the work, you can’t teach them how to get better at their craft or help them get to the next level of their career.
You’re also making your team less productive. It’s exhausting for the team to have to feed a leader every little bit of info so that they can attempt to have an intelligent conversation their behalf. It makes it hard for you as a leader to understand and fight for what they need. It squashes creativity and beats down the team’s spirit. If 75% of your team’s time is spent managing up and educating leadership, then they aren’t getting actual, revenue-driving work done. And nobody wins.
Bring Them In
You hire people for a reason. They have expertise and skills you need for the team to be successful. So put those to good use. Don’t try to solve significant problems in a vacuum. Make the team a part of the solution. Let them know you trust them. Building this relationship will go such a long way with that bucket-filling piece and gain their respect. It will also take the burden of having to solve everything off of your shoulders.
Lead With Your Heart
These are human beings. They have complex feelings and emotions that drive their actions. Remember that always. Bring them into your heart and great things will happen.
Look, leadership isn’t always easy, but it should be fulfilling in more ways than just your individual success. Not everyone is cut out for it. If you’re in a leadership role or considering taking one on, then you need to think about this: Why are you doing it? Answer that honestly. If the answer revolves solely around money or “power” or your personal gain, then stop. Do yourself and the team a favor and figure out another way to meet your financial and career goals.
If your answers revolve around building successful people and having a kickass team? Then go for it. And remember, those people are counting on you. Take that shit seriously, and you’ll be golden.