Sometimes you’re going to find that leading people is a joy: you admire how everyone pulls together to scale new heights of performance and teamwork. At other times, however, leading people can seem like an uphill battle as they falter and fail to deliver the performance you expect.
I will help you to discover how to encourage your team members to strive towards achieving peak performance by setting standards for them and acting promptly when individuals fail to achieve those standards. You find out how to tackle the thorny issues of unacceptable behaviour and performance, as well as how to use coaching to lead people to even better performance.
You’re responsible for setting and maintaining the standards of work, behaviour and performance of your whole team and every member of it: you’re the standard-bearer for your team! You want your team to rally round your standards, uphold and protect them just as an army unites around and protects its distinctive flag in battle ... even to the last man standing!
As the standard-bearer for your team, you also: (1) Promote and uphold your own, your team’s and your organisation’s values. (2) Represent, promote and uphold the purpose, objectives and requirements of your team within your organisation to enable people to achieve the objectives and results expected of them. (3) Create a team identity that enables your team to feel part of something special.
Be a bold standard-bearer and carry your flag high: ‘fly it from the summit’ so that what you and your team stand for, in terms of purpose, objectives, values and standards, can be seen by everyone in your team and all the people your team works with.
1. Unite and engage the team
Leading teams that achieve peak performance have a common purpose, vision and goals so people can derive meaning, motivation and fulfilment from their work. Especially a shared sense of higher purpose and values create an incredible amount of engagement.
If your organisation already has stated the values and a purpose and a tagline, use them to unite and engage the team. Ensure that everyone in the team knows what this means in your team and how the team and each individual contributes to the bigger purpose. Demonstrate your commitment to them by living in accordance to those values and making decisions that are aligned with those values consistently.
For example, both Southwest Airlines of the USA and Air India have high levels of engagement and has had decades of profitable growth. Their taglines are impressive: Southwest’s “Low fares; nothing to hide” and Air India’s “Your palace in the sky”.
If your company or your team does not have an articulated purpose, then now is a perfect time to start the process of finding it. We are moving into the purpose economy and any company not engaging with a bigger purpose will surely get left behind. Talk with the higher management and convince them.
2. Lead your team with clarity and structure
When companies want to change their culture, it is crucial that the structure supports the culture to allow every team member to bring his or her peak performance. Some of that needs to come from the organisation but here is what must come from the leader. Leading teams means to clarify the roles and responsibilities so that everyone understands three key things.
1. What am I expected to take ownership of?
2. What do I have authority for? What can and can’t I make decisions on?
3. Who do I need to inform/ask about what?
Leading teams receive clear and consistent messages from their leader so that there is no room for misinterpretation and everyone has clarity about the direction and the rules and boundaries in the team. Of course, this also means that as the team leader you must apply team rules consistently and fairly for everyone in the team with no exceptions.
3. Inspire and energize
Leading teams is easier for leaders that manage to balance confidence with humility. Ego-driven leaders often take credit for successes of the team, which demotivates the team. Make sure you acknowledge people and give recognition for their contribution regularly. More than 80 percent of leaders think the once a year performance review (with bonuses for achievers) is enough.
It is wrong. Studies show that employees forget praise/bonuses after seven days. Yet, when a leader shows humility and connects authentically and constantly, acknowledging the people in their team often they are energized and inspired to deliver their best performance.
When leading teams, your job is to make sure the energy stays in high and positive. Leave your grief stuff at the office room door, take responsibility for your own energy first and bring contagious energy to work. Inspire regularly, have fun, laugh a lot, share stories and successes and celebrate the reaching of milestones.
When you encounter a lot of doubters who say, “It has always been like that and it won’t change,” take small steps. When climbing the stairs, the first thing you have to do is take the first step, then the next one. Create success moments with short-term goals. Prove that the team can achieve targets, build new beliefs to overcome the doubts and build from there.
Get exceptional at identifying energy blocks. Make decisions fast, remove the blocks, remove the excuses and create energy flow in the team. Like with sports people, when a team is in flow it will achieve peak performance.
4. Develop and empower people
Leading teams means spending time with the people in your team, understanding their drivers and their potential. To build leading teams for the future you need to think about succession in the team and letting go. When you let go it creates growth opportunities for others.
Develop your people and find opportunities for them to grow. Make sure you keep the balance between the size of the challenge or growth opportunity and the capability of the employee. If the challenge is too large for the current skill set the team member, he will be overwhelmed or maybe even panic. If it is too small for his perceived capability then he’ll be bored. When you strike the right balance and increase their capability step by step you also maintain that flow energy crucial to peak performance.
Empower and encourage them to be bold and to learn from mistakes. How you react to their mistakes makes a huge difference to their preparedness and courage to take on ownership or show initiative. When an employee gets blamed for mistakes they will think twice about showing initiative in the future. When mistakes are used as a learning experience, it will propel people forward. So, coach them and give them constructive feedback. Mentor them and share how you learnt along the way.
5. Build trust and accountability
The foundation of leading teams is trust. To that extent, leaders of excellent teams are authentic and real, no masks, no politics. They connect personally with the team members and create opportunities for them to get to know each other informally also. Creating common shared experiences and fostering collaboration continues to build the level of trust in the team.
Accountability and reliability solidifies the trust. No double standards. The leader must be a shining example of that. They must always keep their promises and do what they say they are going to do. People are much more likely to bring their best to work when they trust their leader.
(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired corporate director counting three decades of senior management experience. He is now an independent consultant and a freelance journalist. He may be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)