- Define a very clear picture of the future – a vision for the team. This is crucial, because teams search desperately for specific targets. Consider the old expression: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Journeys without a clear destination leave groups feeling flat and lost. Keeping teams informed on where they’re headed and how best to get there means leaders must be prepared to acknowledge and adapt to changes in operational conditions and even objectives. Leaders cannot sit back and watch, but instead must create and recreate the vision and team spirit that stops people from becoming lost.
- Be genuine, even if it means lowering your guard. Good leaders have an uncanny sense about how and when to express their inner selves. They will even reveal their own vulnerabilities at the right time to gain the respect of those around them. They are not so concerned about projecting a perfect image: they know that high-impact leaders get results by laughing at their own flaws.
- Ask good questions. They use enquiry and advocacy in such a way as to keep them abreast of what is really going on. They seem to use a simple formula of the 70-20-10 rule in conversations: 70 per cent listening, 20 per cent enquiring with just the right amount of advocacy, and 10 per cent tracking (i.e., summarizing and synthesizing information, and providing possible courses of action).
- Talk about things – even the hard things. A leader who gets their team to click is not afraid to talk about the tough stuff. They find ways to have the difficult conversations with the knowledge that burying problems doesn’t make them go away. They also know that if they, as a leader, don’t talk about things, no-one will and, pretty soon, a culture will develop in which too many things are left unsaid. (I can always tell when teams are dysfunctional by measuring the amount of stuff not talked about, or what I call the “let’s not go there” issues.)
- Follow through on commitments. Leaders of high-performing teams find ways to build trust and maintain it, especially by making teams hold to their commitments and keeping the team’s view of its goals clear. However, they also know how to distinguish professional trust from blind loyalty.
- Let others speak first. In high-performing teams, members see themselves as equal in terms of communication. Leaders should therefore encourage this by putting the other person’s need to express their agenda ahead of their own.
- Listen. High-performing teams comprise people who have mastered the art of listening without fear, of allowing others to speak without reacting strongly or negatively to what is being said, or what they anticipate will be said. The leader fosters and honors this attribute within the team by quickly putting a stop to bad conversational behavior that cuts other people off and implies that their ideas are not valued. The leader knows that achieving higher levels of innovation requires team members to be unafraid to express unusual ideas and advocate experimental processes.
- Face up to non-performing players. This brings us to a very important characteristic of high-performing teams, which is that their leaders do not tolerate players who pull the team apart. Interestingly, experienced leaders frequently maintain unity and discipline through third parties in the form of people we call ‘passionate champions’. A leader may surround him or herself with several passionate champions, who have established an understanding and close working relationship with one another, and who are totally focused on, and committed to, the team’s objectives. They are capable of getting the job done and are not afraid to remove people who are failing to help them do so.
- Have fun, but never at others’ expense. High impact leaders steer clear of sarcasm: they always take the high road. If they do make fun of someone, it’s usually themselves. They have learned the lesson that reckless humor can be misinterpreted and backfire. They know that critics of the organization can turn inappropriate remarks back on a leader who makes them.
- Be confident and dependable. Somehow, over and above the daily struggle, leaders who get teams to click project confidence. They do this by preparing their conversations and not backing away from, or skimming over, real issues and problems, even difficult or confronting ones. They always address ‘What’s up?’ and ‘What’s so?’ in the organization. They don’t try to be spin doctors because they know that, ultimately, this doesn’t work. Rather, they are known as straight shooters–people who play hard, fight fair, and never, never give up. At the end of the day, team members know that, whatever happens, their leader will be left standing. This gives them confidence that they will be standing, too. They also know that, should things get really bad, their leader will not desert them or try to shift the blame, but seek to protect them, even if it means standing in the line of fire.
About the Author:
Phil Harkins is CEO of Linkage, the company that he founded in 1988. Phil is an internationally-known expert in the fields of organizational development, leadership, communications, and executive coaching. His clients include senior executives and teams at leading organizations worldwide. He is co-chair of The Global Institute for Leadership Development, which has been ranked the #1 leadership development experience in the world by Leadership Excellence for five consecutive years.