Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Leadership 101: Odds and Ends Grab Bag

My second-to-last post in this series is really a grab bag of several topics which I thought important but was too lazy to come up with enough material on to write longer individual posts on. Frankly, I was also getting concerned I’d started spending too much time telling Jim-as-an-old-fart war stories or was drifting into Dilbert land complaining about bad bosses…

With that in mind, here are a few smaller items about leadership fundamentals which you need to keep in mind as well.

You’re Part of the Team, but You’re Not IN the Team

A leader needs to be close to and part of his team, but he needs to remember that he’s not IN the team. That sounds strange, so let me try to clear it up a bit. While you lead the team, you need to keep in mind that your teammates aren’t your peers. You’re responsible for leading them, you’re responsible for their success as individuals, but you’re also responsible for the team’s success and contribution to the larger organization. At some point you’ll have to make some difficult decisions, and sometimes an overly intimate relationship with your team can get in the way.

Don’t get me wrong: build camaraderie with your team. Build strong bonds with your team. Build incredibly strong trust and communication with your team. But you’ve got to maintain a bit of distance between you and your team to ensure you’re able to have a clear head when it’s time to make tough calls.

Part of this is also taking care to avoid blowing off steam around your team. Don’t vent your frustrations to your team, instead find a peer at your same level and form a Mutual Rant League. When you start venting to your team you’re injecting them with the same level of frustration you’ve got. Worse, actually, since it’s a one-to-many relationship and whatever you feel frustrated about will get vastly magnified and distorted when you vent to your team. Finally, they’re seeing that you’re not living up to the Calm in a Storm tenet I wrote about earlier.

As Capt. John Miller said in Saving Private Ryan, “Gripes go up, not down. Always up. You gripe to me, I gripe to my superior officer, so on, so on, and so on. I don't gripe to you. I don't gripe in front of you.”

Unfair? Maybe. Deal with it. You’re a leader. Act like one.

Value Your Elites, but Keep Membership to That Group Open

Hopefully you’ve got a team built up of top-notch performers. They’re elites who work hard, work well, and work to continually improve themselves. The 10X productivity factor of your elites isn’t a myth, it’s a reality, and it’s a reality that brings your organization incredible success.

Recognize those folks as elites, because they are. They’ve invested a tremendous amount of time, passion, and sweat equity in improving themselves. There’s a vast ocean of individuals in the world who care not a whit for self-improvement, and your elites are small islands in that sea of dross. Recognize your elites for what they’ve done to reach their level, and heed their input. If you’re lucky you’ve got a team working for you that’s a whole lot smarter than you, so listen to them! (And it’s a Good Thing to have folks smarter than you on your team.)

At the same time, keep the entrance door open to that group and encourage people from other teams to aspire to get into your team. Don’t you dare drop the bar for entrance to your elite team, but make it clear to others that they can join the Kool Kidz if they have the right mindset and put in the level of work required to lift themselves over that bar.

Furthermore, open up that door even wider: actively encourage members from other teams to join your brown bag lunch presentations. Set up developer exchanges where outsiders can join your group and get fired up about how neat it is to learn new things and succeed at them.

Your elites are the drivers of success in your organization. Recognize them as such.

Praise in Public, Criticize in Private

Do I really have to write about this one? Yes, unfortunately, I do.

Criticism to one of your team members should never be given in front of others. Do it in private where there’s no sense of confrontation and egos can stay a bit less inflated. Furthermore, you’re bettering your odds of success for ensuring the criticism is taken as guidance for the receiver to improve on something. Criticism in public is nothing more than a slapdown, and it’s always going to leave hard feelings.

Even worse, your team’s going to take a significant morale hit as they see you grinding someone down in front of them. They’ll lose the confidence you’ve worked to build up in them for fear of being castigated in public for errors, right or wrong.

Conversely, offer up your praises in public. Recognize the person in front of their peers. You’re lifting up the recipient, and you’re building good morale with the peers, too.

Successful Team? It's the Team's Success, Not Yours.

Just because you’re a leader doesn’t mean you get to take credit for your team’s accomplishments. Sure, you’ve worked hard to build up that team, but the victories and accomplishments the team achieves are the team’s! Yes, you certainly had a part in it, but guess what? Who did the real work? You guided, you had some vision, hopefully you inspired and supported – but you didn’t figure out that Excel Services issue, you didn’t handle all the blocking at the net, and you alone didn’t pull off making 550 folks outrageously happy over a three day conference. (SharePoint development, volleyball, and CodeMash, respectively. J )

Sports teams are great for this: the coaches generally make sure the players get the limelight. Apple’s nearly the complete opposite: Steve Jobs seems to take credit for every accomplishment and gets his name on many of the patents awarded to Apple when I doubt he’s the driving force behind many of them.

Ensure the spotlight’s on those who actually do the work. You lead, but your team wins the victories.


A complete listing of all articles in this series can be found here.

1 comment:

Dan Hounshell said...

Jim, I'm just catching up on my RSS feeds and I've read this series from front to back. This has been an excellent series and a great personal reminder for me.

A lot of the points that you've made tend to get muddled or forgotten over time or just plain overlooked while focused on the daily mission. Your stories have served as positive reinforcement.


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