Monday, February 4, 2019

Great leadership isn't about you

Photo credit: ionut-coman-photographer-459986-unsplash
There’s a lot of great – and not so great - leadership advice out there.  Unfortunately, most of it’s focused on the personality and behaviour of the leader, ignoring one of the most important jobs of a leader: building a great team.

This focus on the leader is due at least in part to a flawed belief that people leave managers, which is true to a point.  I mean, I’ve left a couple of bad managers myself, but like most easy answers it’s incomplete.  Here’s why:

Let’s say you have a crappy manager in a great company.  If the company’s so awesome except for your lousy manager, you would probably consider changing managers within the company before leaving entirely.  Oh, but wait – you probably wouldn’t have a crappy manager in a great company. 

See where I’m going with this?  It’s the company not the manager that ultimately drives you off.
Photo credit: daniel-cheung-129839-unsplash

Also, let’s not forget people also leave companies for bigger jobs or more money, things even a stellar manager may not be able to provide immediately for the asking.  Sometimes a better offer’s just a better offer.

So, more precisely, people leave bad managers, they leave companies that tolerate and reward bad managers, and they also leave good managers and companies for a better opportunity.

Back to mainstream leadership advice, which I will paraphrase here:

Leaders should be authentic, empathic, and humble; they should listen, encourage, and support the people on their team; they should invite ideas and experimentation; they should play well with others; they should communicate a clear vision; they should be available; they should be vulnerable (but not in a creepy way); they should be professional, results-oriented, and mentally flexible; and they should help people achieve their personal goals while working toward the strategic goals of the business.

Good stuff. But.

At the end of the day, no one succeeds in isolation and teamwork drives innovation, community and great culture.  That means that one of the most important things managers can do for their teams is cultivate a safe and inclusive place for everyone to contribute, so they bring their best selves to work.

That means more than having weekly team meetings and providing bonding opportunities like team events.  It means providing clear expectations about team behavior and recognition for collaborative achievements.  It means empowering people to work together, solve problems, and create an amazing team experience.  It also means tending the garden, i.e. hiring people who will work well with the team and promptly addressing toxic behaviours.

That doesn’t mean everything’s always perfect.  Sometimes it’s a process.  Sometimes there are growing pains.  Sometimes things take longer.  But the focus is always on making the team better.

Great leaders come in all shapes and sizes. They may be male or female, introverted or extroverted, tall or short, chic or shabby, suave or awkward, remote or onsite.  However, they’re easy to spot because they have one thing in common: They lead great teams.

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