Over time, in fact, for most of my career, I’ve placed myself in the firing line in terms of infrastructure design and support. Whilst this works very well from a career and job security perspective, it is also the origin of important factors that are the key to success or failure in running a department, the formation of an effective team, and most importantly, becoming an effective and successful leader.
Of of the many things I have learned over the last 5 years, the most pertinent is that people do not expect you to know everything, or consider your abilities to be any less if you have to admit you’ll need to check something before putting yourself on the line. Feeling you always have to be right can actually be very damaging, as you spend more time attempting to look smart – so much that you in fact unknowingly degrade relationships and trust in your authority or knowledge.
In fact, always being right breeds a level of arrogance and contempt amongst key personnel, and gives the individual a “God Like” status. Not only does this make other members of staff feel uncomfortable, it also reduces the overall effectiveness of any team if others are missing out on opportunities to grow. This can easily be misinterpreted as a lack of confidence from the leader, and the affected individual naturally may feel as though they are being sidelined, or used for other meaningless functions that have little self satisfaction or reward – even worse, they do not feel like they are part of a team. Is this a failure of the individual concerned, or a failure on the part of the leader for not releasing this issue sooner ?
The disgruntled employee or team member
The upshot of this is the disgruntled employee. This does not mean that you should wrap staff up in cotton wool and pander to their every whim, as you are making a rod for your own back if you do. I found a quote by Benjamin Franklin some time ago, and it struck such a chord with me that I now use it on a frequent basis (and as part of the mantra for Phenomlab). That quote is as below
Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.
Simply barking orders at a team member is “ok” from the directional perspective, but if you really want your staff to thrive, involve them in projects, actively encourage their input into discussions, and promote the concept of cross training. You’ll find that this adds significant value and depth to your department and associated functions, and makes your staff actually want to work for you in the first place. I personally have gone from being the sole point of escalation to adopting a more pragmatic approach of giving my team the necessary skills and knowledge to be able to not only fulfil the role required, but also provide them with an opportunity to learn as they go. Involvement and development are key factors, as they make the member of staff feel as though their input is valid, and if they contribute to something that is part of a much larger project, they are highly likely to be motivated to know more.
The end result of taking this approach is of significant value. It is this value that you will need to leverage at various points, and it is vital that key resources are motivated within your team if it is to succeed. Having a plan of who needs to be where, or who needs to be doing what is only half of the solution – the remainder must come from a desire to be involved at the individual level. Without desire, there is no motivation. Without motivation, your team does not function to anywhere near the level of potential it could have.
Team investment, coaching, and competence
The differences between good and bad leadership can be measured by both attitude and aptitude from your staff – not only does the team member responsible need to be competent, and equipped to make decisions based on judgement and experience, they also need the assurance that support from management and the business as a whole exists, and can be called on as required. This is particularly important during strained and difficult situations, where tempers can easily fray as a result of stress. When instances like this take place, it’s important to understand why, and deal with the situation before it spirals out of control – not in a way that could be seen as berating or remonstrating, but in a neutral fashion. I often find that offline discussions with staff help a great deal as it provides them with a forum to express their concerns – often to a mutual and beneficial agreement.
Additionally, loading everything onto one resource and relying on this individual to deliver without considering the possible consequences is a recipe for disaster. By doing this, you introduce key staff risk, and a single point of failure. Your resources are human, and are susceptible to emotion, illness, tiredness, and vacations – do you really want to be in a position where you are a sitting duck with no means of responding to an issue from a technical perspective ? I expect not (at least, I’d hope so).
…. there’s no “I” in team
This quote sums up the single point of failure very well.
The one other important factor to consider when putting together a team is skill set, and technical ability. Some members of staff will take to technology and the associated learning curve like a fish to water – others may not find the path so easy or obstacle free. This does not, and should never mean that person is pushed to the bottom of the list in terms of technical ability, or sidelined into a lesser role. The point here is to play to people’s strengths rather than weaknesses – often those who seem slower to learn are very methodical, and in fact, are more of an asset than a fast learning loose cannon that constantly makes the same mistakes.
Key areas of knowledge can be difficult to fulfill on a limited budget, or constrained resources (I know all about this one believe me), but neither of these should serve as a supposed barrier when building your team. The skill set should be as widely spread amongst team members as possible, thus creating a safety net, and filling the inevitable black hole when one member is unavailable. Additionally, this collective group of skills should consist of business input as well as technical, with every team member being in full possession of relevant updates and information at all times. There will be times when investment from a financial and manpower perspective are less than abundant, and whilst this is not ideal, it may be necessary in order to satisfy the “now” requirement.
Contrary to popular belief, team building is not a HR problem – it’s a leadership requirement primarily. To this end, buy in from leaders is essential if any team is to succeed. Without this, the necessary people requirements are unlikely to be fulfilled, and the inevitable gap this creates unrealised until the potential for failure becomes an unfortunate reality. So where do you as a leader fit into this vein ? Take my scenario – I’m out there in the battlefield every day with my team. Yes, I’m a leader, but behave more like a counselor and mentor for my staff. I lead from behind and engage thought processes rather than force feed commands. The hallmark of a good leader is to allow people to spread their wings and potential – even if it inevitably means they will eventually flee the nest one day.
Be a mentor, guide, and sit on the inside of the team – not the outside. Don’t place yourself in an office where you have no idea what’s happening on the front line. Even if you are just the radio operator, you are still a vital component that forms part of the larger unit.
Your team’s success is your success.
What’s your view ?