team building

To Build a Team, You Must Become a Leader

I am a big advocate of leadership development.  I study and push leadership development through all I do in life.

I once read that General Dwight D. Eisenhower was asked how he managed to lead such a diverse group of people to work together to win Europe from the Nazis.  He answered, “Sir, it is one team, or we lose.”

How alike is our situation to Eisenhower’s back then?  We all work with groups of diverse people.  Each person has different skills, talents, temperaments, motivations, and experiences. If we don’t work as a team, our odds at success are greatly diminished.

What Defines a Leader?

If I were to ask you what makes a person a leader, you are likely to say that it is the person with the top position, the person with the right title, that they have authority or expertise, or maybe that they have the right track record.  A leader is the person in charge.

These are the things that we usually think of when we think of leaders.  Here’s a new perspective: there is no leader without followers and following is completely voluntary.  You can’t manage your team to success.  It is only through leadership that your team will follow you and with a strong sense of purpose and commitment, accomplish together what you set out to do.  Why do people volunteer to follow?  Because they trust the leader.  When people follow, they make themselves vulnerable to the leader.  In order to feel comfortable with this vulnerability, they need to feel confident in respect for and admiration of their leader.  This is your responsibility as the leader – to develop this type of relationship with your followers.

So how can one achieve this?

Stop Managing and Start Leading

Stop managing your team and start leading them. You create a schedule, develop minutes, order materials, and delegate tasks. These transactions are what you do, but they are not what make your team succeed or fail.  They are the tasks of the job, which is where we focus far too often.   Consider the following:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager accepts reality; the leader investigates it.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader has his or her eye on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

Drive out Fear

No passion so effectively robs the mind of all its power of acting and reasoning as fear.  Fear of communicating openly and candidly is the silent killer of organizational performance.  When you make someone do something through coercion you can’t help but create a fear factor.  I like to refer to this leadership style as the “Do as I say, or else.”  Although this leadership style is effective and is useful in some situations, it will not help in building the team.

If fear is the underlying motivation, your team will not create, innovate, or even execute their basic job functions in a quality manner.  Fear and trust cannot coexist – they are mutually exclusive.  By definition, in order for leadership to exist, there must be high levels of trust.  So as a leader you must constantly be looking for where fear exists.  Even small pockets of fear can undermine the trust required for success.  To combat “fear”, you must create an atmosphere that allows for dialogue to occur.  This will allow the “truth” to surface in a safe fashion.  Only then you can deal with the issue and work to understand the cause of the fear.

Build Trust

Trust is one of the most critical requirements for effective leadership.  Building and sustaining trust in organizations is a critical leadership practice and it’s one that never ends.  Trust is your critical path to success.  So monitor the level of trust within your team and work to improve it.  There are different types of trust: contractual, communication, and competence.

Contractual trust concerns how expectations are managed and how boundaries are set.  To improve the level of contractual trust there must exist a mutual understanding between people in that each will do what they say they will do; for example, managing expectations, keeping agreements, being consistent, etc.

Communication trust is about the context and content of communication between people.  Trust influences communication and communication influences trust; for example, sharing information, telling the truth, admitting mistakes, maintaining confidentiality, etc.

Competence trust is about ensuring that you and your team have the necessary skills and knowledge to make the journey.  The essence of competence trust is that those responsible for implementing change need to be involved in designing the change; for example, acknowledging people’s skills and abilities, allowing people to make decisions, involving others and seeking their input, etc.

Contractual trust sets the tone for engagement and direction and shapes roles and responsibilities. Communication trust establishes information flow and how people talk with one another; competence trust allows individuals to leverage and further develop skills, abilities, and knowledge.  Trust is developed by how leaders behave in their day to day activities.  Trust takes a long time to build and a short time to destroy.

Don’t Let the Past Predict Your Future

Many times we just can’t let go of something that occurred in the past.  It keeps playing out in our minds and we begin to project it into the future.  As a trusted leader you must not allow the past to predict your future.  You must create a strong, positive, optimistic vision for your team that overcomes past problems, issues, or failures.

Great team leaders spend time clarifying goals, cultivating their own leadership skills and identifying new ways to achieve great results.  The very essence of leadership is that you have a vision and the ability to inspire others to follow because they want to follow, and they want to achieve great things together as part of your team.

The benefits of building a great team are awesome!  When you see your people viewing themselves as a team, making sacrifices for each other and working together toward a common goal, it alters your perspective on leadership.  It makes you step back and say, “WOW!”  You learn from personal experience what Emerson knew to be true: “No man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

Team building is a means to an end, not an end in itself.  What do you want your team to achieve?

Mr. Clarke’s leadership experience began while serving as a Platoon Leader with the US Army.  From there Mr. Clarke carried other various roles, each complementing the previous, such as Executive Officer, Company Commander, Battalion Logistics Officer, and Battalion Operations Officer.  Mr. Clarke utilizes this invaluable leadership experience to build his group into a synergetic fighting force.  Currently, he is the President of the ERP & Technology Group with XONITEK Corporation.

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