It’s not just about the tasks!

You have probably heard the saying that “Leadership is getting things done.” or, “Leadership is getting things done through other people.”

A good leader, however, needs to realise that leadership is as much about the people as about the tasks. You can only succeed as a leader if your team succeed!

I have worked with many leaders who, though they understood the need for their teams to be successful, did not know how best to do so. Other than the usual “plan”, “budget”, “tasks”, “KPI’s”, they didn’t know what else they could do. They might have succeeded in the short-term, but conflicts, burnouts, discouragement, and turnovers within the team were common.

It doesn’t have to be that way.


Five things your team need from you, the leader, in order to succeed.

For your team to succeed, they need five things from you.


1. Clear Direction

This is a no-brainer! A team without a clear direction is just a group of people who happen to congregate.

I coached one lady who has had to deal with a long-drawn team conflict; she was not the leader. Members of the team were heads of their own divisions, and the conflicts often had to do with differing needs and priorities.

“Why does your team exists?” I asked her. “We’re all division heads, that’s why we’re on this team,” she said.

“What exactly are you trying to accomplish as a team?” Again, I asked. “There’s the organisational goal,” she said, “and we just need to manage our divisions well to contribute towards that goal. But this team exists only because of who we are, individually.”

Apparently, the team leader formed the team because it’s a good idea for division heads to come together as a ‘team’.

Without a clear direction, the team soon falls apart.

When I think of direction, I think of at least four components:

  • Purpose: why the team exists.
  • Mission: what the team is taking responsibility to accomplish, for whom.
  • Vision: what it looks like when the team has accomplished its mission.
  • Values: the key principles or character traits that will guide the team as it carries out its mission.

Your team need a clear direction, and you need to ensure that they have one! This might be formulated entirely by the leader or, preferably, in collaboration with the team.


2. Clear priorities

An executive I worked with was overwhelmed by the tasks his director piled upon him.

He knew his KPI’s and wanted to work on tasks that will directly affect his KPI’s. His director, however, kept asking him to work on tasks that were mostly unrelated to his KPI’s. Some of these were administrative tasks that were either not critical or could have been handled by others. Some were tasks that the director felt this executive could handle better than other team members. A few were the director’s own responsibilities!

Having those additional tasks prevented this executive from focusing on tasks that were most important to him. Yet, the company’s management kept asking about his progress towards his KPI goals!

I coached him to figure out ways to work with his director and set clear priorities. He had to set boundaries, but also help his director realise that those extra, non-priority, tasks prevented him from succeeding at his primary responsibilities.

Without clear priorities, the team end up doing things that distract them from what really matters. It’s not just about choosing between tasks that are either related or not related to the goals. Sometimes it’s about choosing between what’s good and what’s best.

Your team need you to set clear priorities. Doing so will set your team up for success!


3. Believe in them

I coached a team leader who struggled with leading an under-performing team. To be fair, he only recently took over the team from someone else.

While exploring ways to improve the team’s performance, he used phrases like, “they can’t do it”, “they will mess it up”, “I have to hand-hold them”, “they won’t know how to do it”, “they won’t do a good job”, “I have to tell them everything”, etc. Not all at once, but variations of those phrases showed up every now and then.

After a while, I asked him, “In what ways do your attitude towards your team affect the way you work with them?”

He looked at me as if I had just hit him on his head with a hammer!

Later, he admitted that he hadn’t realised how negatively he had viewed his team until I asked him that question.

The way we believe, or not, in our team will affect the way we relate to and work with them. People will rise, or sink, to the level matching our expectation of them; it’ll have to be a realistic expectation, of course!

For this team leader, he had to work at changing his attitude towards his team. Several months later, his team’s performance did improve! His improved attitude towards his team did not magically result in their improved performance, but it allowed him to work constructively to help the team improve.

Your team need you to believe in them! A leader who does not believe in his team will not lead well, and a team whose leader does not believe in them will not succeed.


4. Empower them

Everyone is unique. We each have our strengths and the potential to excel if we’re in the right environment.

Not too long ago, I worked with a company on a short-term project. The company director has had many years of experience and was quite successful in several arenas.

As I worked with her, I noticed some of the ways she worked with her team:

  • She doesn’t praise anyone for doing their job well. Instead, she likes to point out her staff’s mistakes.
  • When something went wrong, she immediately assumed that her staff was at fault.
  • She has a strong opinion on many issues and did not like her team to voice a different view.
  • She wanted many things to be done her way, even though her staff could have done them differently and have better results.

Most of the staff I talked to have resigned to do just the minimum and fly under her radar. “It’s her business, she can do anything she likes,” they said. Sad, isn’t it?

Contrast this with another leader I worked under.

We had clear goals and budget, but lots of freedom to decide how we would pursue those goals, as long as we are not departing from the team’s direction. The team leader often asked us, “What else can I do to help you succeed?” All of us on the team felt valued and empowered, and together we were making significant impacts in many parts of the world!

Empowerment is not just about authority, resources, or equipping. It’s also about creating an environment that brings out the best in an individual.

Your team need you to empower them! Doing so will prepare them for success!

“Empowerment is about creating an environment that brings out the best in an individual.”


5. Get out of their way!

This is one of the hardest things for leaders to do.

I have worked under leaders who wanted to have their hand in everything, and it was suffocating!

When the leader tries to micromanage and is actually poor at the area he’s trying to ‘manage’, he messes things up. On the other hand, if he is an expert in that area, he deprives his team of the opportunities to learn from their own experiences, grow, and gain confidence!

Years ago, I was asked to lead a large team that had an image problem (both self-image and external perception). I worked at several angles to address the image problem; one of which was to hire a marketing guy.

I told him, “This is the direction we want to go, these are the outcomes I’m looking for, and here are the parameters you need to work with. Tell me what you need to get us there.” Once we have reached an understanding, I stepped out of the way and let him run the show!

Of course, I didn’t just “don’t care about it”. I met with him regularly to monitor his progress, find out what the team and I needed to do, what obstacles he needed me to remove, and how else I could help him succeed. Some parts of his plan were, frankly, a little uncomfortable for me (nothing unethical, though), but I decided to trust his expert judgement; the fact that ‘marketing’ was way over my head made that an easy decision.

He did an astonishing job! Together with all the other measures we put in place, we managed to turn the image problem around in less than a year!

I learned the value of “getting out of his way” so that he could do his job.

Your team need you to get out of their way, even as you provide clear direction and priorities, believe in them, and empower them so that they can do their job well. Doing so will help them succeed!


What about you?

Which of these five things are you already providing for your team? Which one would you like to grow in?

What other areas do you think an effective leader could do to help his team succeed?


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