Trust your team: four tips to stepping aside

When you maintain a leadership role, it’s tempting to take charge all the time. But you have to know when to hand off responsibility to members of your team. Leaders know when to make decisions, but they also know when to trust others to make those decisions for them.

Being a leader is an important role, and we often feel tempted to fulfill and build up those expectations. But an often unrecognized quality of leadership is knowing when to shut up and step aside. Not everything needs your stamp of approval or your opinion, so here are four tips to help you identify that moment when you’re not needed.

Your skill set isn’t involved

Good leaders realize that their knowledge and experiences are limited in few different aspects. That’s okay. You might know your organization better than anyone in the world, but some components will still require a specialized skill set that you don’t have. Trust the experts or your employees who carry the strengths that you lack. Make sure your talents are being used where they’re most needed, while you let others take care of those issues that function as roadblocks to your skill sets.

You have a full plate — delegate

Time is a luxury, so treat it like one. You don’t have to be at the forefront of every decision because there are other people in your organization who can do that for you. Recognize that and take advantage of that fact. Know what situations and components of your organization actually require your attention and know when you can afford to pass it on to a capable member of your team. They’re your team, so use them.

A new perspective doesn’t hurt

A great leader is always striving to learn new things and create new opportunities. There’s only one way to do that, and that’s by allowing yourself to take a minute to sit and listen to a few fresh voices. You won’t get the best work out of your team members if they’re waiting for you to tell them to jump, so let them know that their opinions and ideas matter. Let them work out problems on their own, and it’s likely they’ll do it better than you could have imagined.

Ego can make a team fragile

While you might be the most talented person in the world, you don’t and shouldn’t do everything. You won’t always know better, and thinking you do all the time could injure your team. Try to be humble, know your flaws and allow others to fill the gaps. Don’t let your self-importance get in the way and trust your team to do the job they were hired to do.

How to achieve buy-in? Six tips on how to become a great communicator

It’s easy to identify communication as a key component of leadership success, but many struggle to relay an idea or get their bosses, colleagues and subordinates to “buy-in” to their ideas. If you have a strategic vision for your company and your role within it, it is essential to impart that upon others and gain their endorsement.

Below are six tips that you can immediately incorporate to get to that next level of communication success and earn the essential “buy-in” of your peers.

Show it. Sometimes it’s just about looking the part. Communication can be about your outward appearance, often the foundation of your first impression. This doesn’t mean how you are dressed necessarily, but instead how you hold yourself. Prove your confidence by showing it. This can influences how you express an idea: an energetic tone, smiling, nodding, strong eye contact, firm handshake, and an easy and relaxed posture. All these display, engage and bolster “buy-in.”

Keep it simple. Over-explanation will be the first nail in your coffin. If no one knows what you are talking about, then it will be nearly impossible to fulfill your strategic vision. Complexity is valued by the lonely, and triumph is never attained alone. Confident leaders will make it simple for those around them, allowing those people to “buy-in” to the idea. Yes, you might sound smart using industry jargon and flourishes, but there’s no quicker way to lose a room and tamp down excitement.

Share. We have a tendency to want to keep everything close to the chest, but sometimes it’s overkill. If you’re seeking investment from people in your company, they need to know what the hell is going on. Tell them. Sharing information strategically will make you more valuable to your organization and potentially raise your profile as an expert. This is how trust is built, and it will develop that “buy-in” you want from bosses, colleagues, and subordinates.

Improvise. Any great leader can identify a communication formula that works, and it’s needed because the modern work environment forces people to think on their feet. Brevity is the soul of wit and the avenue to the desired “buy-in.” Learn to give off-the-cuff statements that concisely summarize your point in a few sentences or less. Someone who can deliver on his/her feet impresses everyone, and that improvisation is a craft that can be mastered.

Spin a yarn. Humans naturally communicate by telling stories, so use that to your advantage. Add anecdotes to meetings and presentations as well as casual conversations to drive home the points and ideas that you want to impact onto others. Some may find it difficult to remember only the essential point. But once it is illustrated in a story, people can use it as a guiding light to remember and more easily “buy in” to the concept.

Ask questions. Any great leader knows that their education is never complete. If you don’t take the time to hear what’s happening from the basement to the penthouse of your company, then you’re not going to address problems that could blow up later and maybe even miss some opportunities. It’s important to make yourself available and hear from others. Because no mater how smart you are, you don’t have all the answers.

Yes, sometimes the answers won’t matter, but colleagues and subordinates will always appreciate you taking a moment to step back and listen.

Learn “The Cubs Way” and Share the Win

Diamond6 Leadership & Strategy has a soft spot for the Chicago Cubs, as D6 CEO Jeff McCausland is a lifelong fan. But the Cubs are also a masterclass in leadership, especially when we consider General Manager Theo Epstein.

Epstein has broken two baseball “curses” during his 15 years as a Major League Baseball general manager. He first took on the helm of his hometown team — the Boston Red Sox  — where he brought the Curse of the Bambino to an end in 2004. In 2012, he came to the Cubs, completely rebuilt the team and won a World Series within five years.

He is a managerial legend now, but it still came as a surprise when he was named Fortune Magazine’s best leader in the world — even beating out the pope. Yet his reaction to the magazine’s honor also proves his qualities as a great leader.

The baby-faced manager, only 43, said he was taken aback by the top spot.

“Um, I can’t even get my dog to stop peeing in my house,” Epstein texted ESPN writer Buster Olney. “This is ridiculous. The whole thing is patently ridiculous.”

But it’s that exact dismissal that is evidence he is such a great leader. It is that rejection that proves his sense of modesty and humility — an integral characteristic of leadership. Epstein would be the first to say that he is not singularly responsible for changing the culture of an entire franchise and bringing the first baseball championship to the city of Chicago in 108 years. But it must be noted that his organizational changes brought the Cubs a victory.

“It’s baseball — a pastime involving a lot of chance,” Epstein told Olney, before bringing up a player he signed as an example. “If [utility player Ben] Zobrist’s ball is three inches farther off the line, I’m on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. And I’m not the best leader in our organization; our players are.”

A weaker person would have immediately taken credit for others’ wins, but Epstein is unwilling to bask in that glory. Instead he readjusts it and places the honor at the feet of the members of his organization, such as the players.

A good leader knows that the successes of a “team” isn’t the result of any one person. We must recognize and acknowledge every individual’s contributions or else we create an environment that doesn’t encourage success. No organization wants to stifle good work, so understand the new “Cubs Way” and share the achievement in order to inspire accomplishment.

Great Organizations Do Small Things Well

Great Organizations Do Small Things Well — Find the Long Snapper

I have been thinking about what do great organizations do that differentiate them from good organizations, and there are a number of things. But one that sticks out to me is that great organizations do small things very well. Let me give you an example that I observed while watching the end of the 2016 college football season.

By any measure you would have to accept that the University of Alabama football team is successful at what they do despite losing in the NCAA football championships to Clemson University earlier this year. The Crimson Tide have won 16 national championships including four in the last eight years. They have made more bowl appearances (64) than any other team in NCAA history. Alabama has won 30 conference titles and had 11 undefeated seasons. Currently, there are 24 committed recruits to the Alabama football program in 2017. Five are ranked number one in the nation at their position, including Thomas Fletcher from Washington State. Thomas graduated from the prestigious IMG Academy and is a long snapper. [1]

Now for those of you who may not be football aficionados, a long snapper is a center who only snaps the ball on punts. This means he will likely only be on the field for seven or eight plays per game. But those plays are often crucial. Place kickers have gotten better and now may attempt field goals from well over forty yards. Consequently, punts normally occur when a team remains in their own territory. A badly handled snap can result in disaster. The long snapper must snap the ball between his legs and send it approximately fifteen yards in 0.75 seconds. He must do this accurately and repeatedly during some of the most pressure packed moments of a football game. Furthermore, he knows that as soon as he snaps the ball he is going to be hit by at least one (if not more) 300 pound defensive lineman.

After years of success, clearly Alabama’s head football coach is leaving little to chance and will consistently bring in the best players he can. But many Division 1 teams still rely on a walk-on or fourth string player who is still learning to become their long snapper. But Saban wants to insure that his organization has every advantage as they confront their competition — and all leaders can take a lesson from this. This is not encouragement to micro-manage but rather the need for successful leaders to try and “see around corners,” think a little out of the box, and encourage their team members by their actions to be thorough and relentless in the pursuit of perfection in what each does for the overall success of the team. If the leader stresses the need to “find the long snapper” then the entire team will focus on what are the small things that can potentially make a difference.

If you still find this unconvincing, consider the following: Where did Nick Saban acquire his relentless focus on insuring his team did small things well?  He was mentored by a master, Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots. Saban worked under Belichick from 1991 to 1994. Last year Belichick stunned many in the NFL when the Patriots selected a long snapper in the fifth round of the NFL draft. 

But if you’re still not buying this idea, I suggest you simply call the Atlanta Falcons and ask them their opinion.

-Dr. Jeff McCausland

[1] Sam Borden, “An Upside-Down Priority”, New York Times, December 26, 2016, p. D1.

Three Steps to Leading Effective Teams

Picture this: your boss is on a “teams” kick.  It seems as though everyone in the organization has been scheduled for surgery to conjoin hips. For awhile, the staff wonders, “why didn’t we do this before?” But then reality sets in: dysfunctional conflict erupts, goals are not being met, members “miss” meetings, and people yearn for the days when decisions could be made without having to run everything by “the committee”…

Two relevant articles on “Teams” and “Strategic Foresight” recently appeared in the Diamond 6 newsletter; I hope you read both. A primary reason organizations fail to unlock the potential of the people in the organization is because those who should be leading see the latest “fad” and without strategic foresight, attempt to employ the latest craze assuming all will be well. Too many of those who should be leaders take a stab at doing something, anything!, to make the organization more effective; teams are a common approach.  But teams are not a panacea – they are one of many tools leaders can employ to improve operations, if employed appropriately. Here’s a “prescription” that should accomplish multiple goals, including reducing the “burnout” felt by the people in your teams:

  • Adopt a “continuous improvement” mindset – no organization is perfect, but that shouldn’t keep us from pursuing perfection.
  • Become a “learning organization” – one of the key tenets we promote in our quest to help unlock the potential of people in organizations is the understanding that as humans, we are prone to make mistakes. When a mishap occurs, too many bosses jump to the “punishment” phase without carefully exploring why the mistake took place. Many of these problems involve organizational constraints or failures to adequately train and equip those whom we have tasked to accomplish our mission.
  • Employ the proper techniques to meet the needs of your situation – “teams” is one of these. When used properly, teams can spark an explosion in productivity.  The first concern: how will you know you have truly employed a team?

During my initial foray into the workings of an organization I usually find “groups”, not “teams”. The difference in results is stark.  Although there are numerous distinctions that can be argued, two primary items required for teams to be functional (and avoid collaboration burnout!) are accountability and effectiveness. We all know that what gets measured gets done. Using metrics to establish your goals and serve as your “yardstick” is only a starting point.  Although objective items are easier to measure (e.g., increased sales), subjective measures must also be employed (e.g., how well is the team “working”?). To grow, team members must be open to ideas for improvement. An essential item is the one most of us abhor: the fear of receiving feedback that is anything but complimentary. It can be virtually paralyzing in an environment that lacks trust.  Employing the 3 steps outlined above is a good starting point to establishing trust. Add in a strong measure of respect – for and from each member of the organization. It will go a long way toward building an environment within which teams can thrive. An example of respect is the right of refusal – an incredibly important topic we will explore in a future article where we will also discuss additional ways to avoid “burnout”.

The initial keys: ensure you have taken the time to develop your Strategic Foresight; communicate that vision to the people in your organization; employ the 3 tenets of an effective organization (i.e., focus on continuous improvement, become a learning organization, and employ the proper tools to meet the needs of the organization); establish an environment of trust and respect for all members of the organization; reap the rewards; and celebrate victories. If we show people the fruits of their labors and the effect their efforts have on the organization, they will be more likely to “move on” to the next target with vigor and a desire to accomplish even the most difficult mission.

People who are challenged and rewarded will be glad to take a break at the end of the week but will also look forward to showing up on Monday…make that a goal.

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Ken Pasch is President of the leader development company Ki (pronounced “key”) Visions and author of “Become the Boss You Always Wanted”.  Ki Visions and Diamond 6 work collaboratively.  The full Ki Visions lineup includes: coaching, consulting, keynotes, and training.  Ken also teaches at the Smeal College of Business at Penn State.  Ken’s primary purpose: helping good people…become great leaders!
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