Leadership, like parenting or teaching is actually all about finding that golden balance between nurturing someone and giving them the competence and confidence to be as brilliant as they can possibly be.
The best parents are not necessarily the ones that leave their kids to goof around at the top of the climbing frame yielding a stick sword in one hand are they? Not unless their kids are at the park practically every day and have been up there doing this for what seems like forever. The difference between your protection of a child with a ‘sword’ in his hand 10 meters above your head at the age of 4 and another boy at 14 has more to do with age than experience as a rule. However, a 14 year old that has never been to the park before and isn’t used to the frolics of playing pirates on the climbing frame, would probably feel well out of his comfort zone. As a parent, you have to gauge when your child needs your support and when they are ready to take on responsibility for themselves. The same is true of leadership.
You see leadership is to some extent about sharpening skills and making sure that individual weaknesses are not holding back or frustrating your team. Not only do the team members suffer if their weaknesses are putting them under pressure, but the bottom line is, that your focus as a leader is to make sure that the performance of your team is not compromised by the weaknesses of one team-player.
There used to be a hugely popular quiz show in the UK where the phrase “You are the weakest link!” was used by Anne Robinson to dismiss losers on the show. She plays the part of a ‘bitch from hell’. Why not take a look a look at this one minute clip to see what you think about the body language, facial expressions and tone of the questions being asked? Come into the Facebook group, I’d love to hear what you think about it.
Q. What is it about her that makes it tempting to give her a hard time?
Q. What does this teach us about leadership styles?
Q. Which leadership styles appeal to you? What brings out the best in you?
A knife might seem like a threatening instrument, but it can be used for all sorts of things that are useful and helpful. A manager’s job is not merely to eliminate all of the weaknesses and capitalise on all strengths because there is a time and place for all of these. Just think about the Belbin team roles for example. The creative, impulsive, spontaneous person may have issues with planning and time management, but at the beginning of a project you’ll get much more out of encouraging his creativity than from criticising his punctuality.
So we are not carving wooden dolls, or making puppets that dance on a string. Instead, we are shaping individuals, people with their own culture, tradition, beliefs, experiences, education and upbringing. We are all unique, and as frustrating as some weaknesses might be, where the brilliance of the individual allows your team to flourish, you need to be able to address those weaknesses in a firm but empathetic way.
“So what’s the standard approach?”
“That’s right! You send them on a training course right?”
But wait a minute. Can you remember the last time that you were sent on a training course? How did it make you feel? What did you start asking yourself? Did you feel disgruntled? Did you feel that you would prefer to learn from your manager on the job rather than having to take time out to go on a course? Did you feel alienated? Did you feel that your team saw you differently now that you were labelled as being “weak in ….”?
These questions and more, rear their ugly heads when we are confronted with indirect criticism. It feels uncomfortable to know that your deficiencies or failings have been discovered or identified and yet most of us have already been frustrated by that very shortcoming, many, many times before. So it is not just a case of discovering something new about you that needs to be worked on, but rather the disappointment that it has been exposed. Therefore empathy is called for and leaders should also weigh up the advantages of embracing weaknesses together by introducing in-house training into the team schedule. This should be done without pointing the finger or addressing just one weakness, but instead tackle a handful of your team’s skills.
Sure! It is a time investment and as a leader you might prefer to spend your time, getting the job done, but building a functioning and fabulously confident and knowledgeable team is a critical part of getting that job done. If you really want to have an independent, responsible team, you need to do your bit.
So flip out that knife, use it with caution, do not threaten anybody and never run. Take your time and spread the strengths and gently scuff away at those inperfections. Empower your team as you would have liked to have been empowered when you were younger. Share your skills, voice your opinions, show them your approaches and do not hide behind the lessons. Take those aha moments that got you to where you are now and weave them into a training story that will single you out as being authentic, supportive and approachable.
This might feel uncomfortable. You might feel that you are exposing too much, but being authentic, does NOTundermine your authority,IF you are sharing your knowledge, BUILDING them up, GIVING them the tools to excel and feel good about themselves, their job and their team.
Talking about the team, make sure that you involve the whole team – remember to consider ALL working schedules and make sure that you go on leadership training yourself too. Invite the ‘power planners’ to get involved, get them to share their stories as you have done. Ask the ‘programming pimp’ to share his approach.
Get the whole team to stand up on a regular basis and share their successes and what they have learned at the end of each project or launch or development phase – some teams even have a weekly or monthly ‘soap box’. When I was working at Reuters we all had to stand up on the soap box and we had just 60 seconds with a timer to give an update. It was an upbeat affair where everybody was at liberty to boast about their performance no matter how big or small, we could shamelessly sing our praises, share a lesson or a workaround you had discovered. I learned a lot from the rest of the team, soon got a handle on who to go to for what and although it was nerve wrecking getting up there the first time, it soon became easier and you knew for sure that you wanted to have something positive to share at the end of the week. This might not be a good fit for you but think of a way to let your team shine, it works wonders!
Once you have developed a genuinely positive approach to learning in your team, the insecurities of going on a training course will have diminished considerably. The next step is to work on your appraisal process in a way that enables your team to take an active part in planning their personal development. Remember, it’s ‘their’ personal development, so it is transferable skills that will appeal most, which might make you nervous, after all nobody wants to lose their best staff but you know what, if you are a great leader, their loyalty will increase anyway, after all you have invested in them haven’t you?
As we say in the UK “What goes around, comes around!”
So make learning an inherent and positive part of being in your team, it will single you ‘guys’ out as being the team that works well together, that pulls together, that learns together and succeeds together.
Your team, their success!