The Cultivation of Leadership – Your All-Star Team

It’s said that the purpose of good leadership is to create other leaders. Far from this being a case of too many chiefs and too few Indians (or native Americans to be correct) it is a return to Stephen R. Covey’s reference to the best relationships; interdependence through independence. The best analogy I came across to express this is to consider a team of all-stars. Each knowing that the other is passionate, self-directed, self-driven and doesn’t need to be covered. It is also important to recognise at this point that when all-stars come together initially they also require time to get to know each other, work together get a feel for each other. I’m thinking of teams like The British and Irish Lions rugby, each very capable in their own right and coming together at short notice to train with each other. For me, this makes their accomplishments all the more deserving of great praise.

It is also worth noting at this point that leadership is not a title, it is a way of being. To people who are managers or team leaders this can be seen either as something to step in to or something they feel threatened by when they see it in someone else who doesn’t have a ‘title’. Why? Because the one thing that makes leaders is that they have followers. To follow someone is a voluntary action that does not require force i.e. I order you to… and therefore it carries power. If you are in a role that calls for the management of people and you don’t have that leadership quality you can see the obvious conflict. Management not confident in their abilities may target such people to keep down if they feel threatened rather than ally them to make life easier.

Question 1 – Are you worth following?

There is a phrase that goes “Do as I say, don’t do as I do”. I know this drives people mad because it is a clear lack of integrity and responsibility. When people are working with this kind of manager they will not feel that they are contributing to anything worthwhile and will become disengaged and look to a leader for advice and direction, which may not be you, the manager or team lead. Your co-workers aren’t fooled by paper shuffling either. You will want to be delivering results through action, more so than they.

It’s also said that success leaves a trail. If you are looking to create other leaders in your wake you’ll have to leave them something to model on.

Question 2 – Do I see Time as my friend or enemy?

It may sound counter intuitive but unsuccessful people see time as their enemy, a tide to swim against, the sword of Damocles constantly waiting to fall. This does not lend to a good work environment or again, more long term decision making which creating an all-star team takes. Are you the type of manager who micro manages or leaps in with the phrase “I’ll do it myself it’ll be quicker”? Firstly, this undermines the other person and secondly, it probably isn’t the best use of your time (and by extension the company’s time for which they are paying you as a return on investment).

There is a fine line between urgency and laissez-faire. Like an all-star team, there has to be a level of trust on your part and a level of expectation that the job can be done by them (Douglas McGreagor, Management Professor at MIT. Theory X, Theory Y). Here’s what the educated leader understands; there are Performance goals and there are Learning goals e.g. Performance goal, get an A in French. Being able to speak French is a learning goal. The difference is that those who achieve learning goals will incorporate and adapt what they have learned where as performance goals are forgotten (Carol Dweck (Stanford University)). Don’t get me wrong, I am not talking absolutes here, it’s not just one or the other. What I am saying is that where time allows (and this may mean making the time), learning should be prioritised over performance.

Now you’re starting to give your team the space to explore.

Question 3 – Is it advice or your opinion?

Are you able to let others do it their way if it get’s the same result or do you insist on having to do it ‘your way’? To the institutionalised, the phrase “That’s the way we’ve always done it” is a rule of thumb that requires no critical thinking and no responsibility. It also denotes rigidity and short term consequences for decision making. When people on your team come to you with suggestions, ideas or modus operandi that may not fit the current one this doesn’t make them wrong and if it works it doesn’t make you wrong. The latter is very important. If you are afraid of being ‘wrong’ then 1) you are not taking responsibility and demonstrating leadership and 2) you may be blocking progress by not allowing other perspectives to be explored. Often I’ve come across the “It’s a great idea but it’s not my idea” death knell. Remember that it took years for Otto Frederick Rohwedder to become the greatest thing…

As a leader, allowing others the space to try, to attempt or to explore without the ‘wrong’ tag gives you that same space too (think Google’s 20% time). As a leader, you, don’t always have to have the right answer but you must always have an answer. Phew.

Question 4 – Am I Emotionally Intelligent (EQ)?

Management often means the management of the resources rather than the minutia of a department. In most cases, this is the human resource. Unlike IQ, EQ can be improved greatly through practice and one of the well-known proponents of EQ and especially in the field of leadership is Dr Daniel Goldman. Why is it so important? Have you ever worked for or seen first-hand someone, be it personal or professional, that people just do anything for? Chances are that these people exude a high level of emotional and social intelligence. These are people who are self-aware of their emotional state, can identify and name their emotional state and through this self-awareness and self-management be aware of, name and identify the emotional state of their team members and act accordingly, empathetically. When managing a team of people the most powerful question you can (genuinely) ask is “How are you?” and give them the space to respond honestly.

I’m always reminded of the axiom that people will do more for recognition than they will for money. Once again we are back to the element of ‘time’. Making the time to find out about the emotional or mental well-being of anyone, to connect with them on more than just a workplace capacity strengthens the bonds of the team. It is the basis of the ‘one for all’ mentality. Share experiences are a powerful currency, especially outside of the work environment.

Question 5 – Can I walk away?

Nothing lasts forever. People move on, get promoted or required in a different department or office. If you’re playing the long game as a leader then the litmus test must be your ability to spend less and less time with the team in a managerial capacity. I don’t think it needs saying but I’m going to say it anyway; this is a huge time and energy saver for any manager. To have a created a team of all-stars, of people who have the one-for-all attitude, who will give more than is asked of them and who can express their talents to your benefit and any of whom could fulfil your role if you weren’t there for whatever reason. What would that be worth to you as a manager or for the bigger picture, for the company? Imagine the office culture and work environment in such a functioning team?

So I’ll leave you with what Verse 16 of the Tao Te Ching, written some 1,500 years ago has to say about leadership;

“The best leaders are those their people hardly know exist.

The next best is a leader who is loved and praised.
Next comes the one who is feared.
The worst one is the leader that is despised …

The best leaders value their words, and use them sparingly.
When they have accomplished their task,
the people say, “Amazing!
We did it, all by ourselves!”

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