Can you think of a time when you were part of a team that you were really proud of and made you feel your best?
When I look back I have one experience that stands out for me. When I joined this company there was only my manager and me. 3 years later we were a team of 10 people. The first thing I remember from those times was how much we accomplished and not just volume, but complexity of work under challenging conditions but together we always found a way and we had such a great time doing it.
Sometime later I discussed with my then manager what she and I had done to create this high performing team. At the time it may have been more luck and circumstances than applying best practice but however it happened the key conditions for a high performing team were there.
The 1st thing was that my boss led a tough recruitment process to find the best possible people which was the essential foundation. As each person joined we would spend quite some time discussing the direction and values of the company and our part in the grand plan. We openly discussed their role in this, our expectations and our way of working and asked where they felt confident and where their challenges lay.
As we learned about each team member we focused on developing their gaps and utilising their strengths. Not just their experience and skills but also their interests, the areas they wanted to learn more about and their personal style and way of working.
In the full team and in our smaller teams we had various meetings of different kinds. Some to ensure we all knew what was going on and review our progress, some brainstorming and developing new ideas to solve problems, some learning sessions to build our confidence and some sharing best practice so we could learn from each other, combine our various talents and overcome our gaps as a team. But we also worked with each other on a daily basis, co-operated on joint projects and supported each other where needed.
Of course we had our disagreements too, but we communicated openly, gave each other constructive feedback to help each other, found common ground and moved forward again and often went for a drink together at the end of a day to relax together, discuss the day or just have some fun.
As each person joined we would spend time discussing the direction and values of the company, their role in this, our expectations and our way of working and asked where they felt confident and where their challenges lay.
Having this experience definitely showed me what was possible and later as I tried to recreate this I discovered it did not always come together so easily, so having a simple checklist of the key ingredients helps a lot:
Many of you know that I work with the SDI tool as a way to help people understand the diversity of people, our inner drives, different ways of communicating and getting things done as well as dealing with challenges and potential conflicts.
In my 1st leadership role I had one person in my team who I didn't know so well and seemed to be quite different from me. We got along OK but nothing special. From my perspective I found her quite difficult to manage, she often challenged me on things I really wasn't so sure about, always seemed to have an opinion about everything that wasn't the same as mine. She also often did things in a way I could not understand and didn't seem quite right to me.
At the end of one long and difficult day I remember that she 'stormed' into my office and spent a good 30 mins shouting about all kinds of things she wasn't happy with, all things I was doing wrong and how I personally was making her life miserable. I had no chance to say anything as she continued with her outburst until she said she had had enough, left the office slamming the door behind her and went home.
Fortunately I had a great manager who helped me to understand that as a leader, it was my job to get to know her, what was really important to her in her job and her way of working. With this knowledge I could start to make sense of some of her behaviours and ways of doing things that were so different than mine.
"Don't try to get people to do what you do, instead help them to find their own way, what they do best and how they can do what they do even better than you."
As I did this I started to see her in a new light and to appreciate some of her behaviours as strengths I didn't have. In some cases I would still not do things as she did, but when I encouraged her to do things her own way I was surprised that she still got a good result despite doing things I didn't think would work.
During this time our relationship improved, despite or maybe because of, our differences, we developed a way of understanding each other, supporting each other and slowly trusting each other.
Quite some time later she said she wanted to talk to me about something and she apologised for how she had treated me that day in the office. I was really surprised and asked her why she had decided to apologise now. She told me that at that time she had felt I did not appreciate her or her work as I did with others. I often disagreed with her or didn't accept her ideas or suggestions and she was starting to think that this was not the right job for her and that she could not work with me as her manager.
I was shocked to think she could see me like this when I was unaware of doing those things and thought I had simply tried to handle a difficult person as best I could. Obviously she was trying to handle her difficult boss (me) as best as she could. She went on to explain how things had improved so much over the past few months that she now really enjoyed working with me and felt she'd learned a lot from me.
Through my career I have found this to be good advice that enabled me to manage many difficult situations in a more constructive way. It taught me about diversity and how different we really are. Being able to put my own feelings aside, not take things so personally and focus on how to understand and support the other person.
No one else is like you, no two people are the same and we all do things differently. Don't try to get people to do what you do, instead help them to find their own way, what they do best and how they can do what they do even better than you.
Don't judge or worry they're not doing things the right way, there is no 'right' way. Accept and embrace the differences and find the key to tapping into that inner potential and bringing out the best in each of your team.
"No one else is like you, no two people are the same and we all do things differently."
I also consider this experience one of the most powerful and important ones in my career. I learned the value of diversity and differences in a team and challenges these bring in building a strong team with strong relationships.
We think our perception of a person is either right or wrong but it is only a perception; their way of thinking, doing and being through our filters and of course they have their perception of us.
In my case these filters gave us both distorted views and it was only when I took responsibility for building that relationship despite our differences and putting my perception to one side and see her through her eyes that I saw a different side of her.
Some years ago I was working a company where a new senior leader had just started. Everyone was talking about him; what would he be like, what kind of a boss would he be, had anyone met him yet and what was their impression? Soon the rumours began that he was not such a nice person, people thought he was checking up on them, judging them and they were worried about what he would do with this information.
Shortly after this I attended a meeting he was also present at. He sat at the back in the corner, had a notebook in which he wrote many things during the one hour meeting and did not say anything. After the meeting I went and asked him how he was settling in to the company and his new role. He explained that this was a higher position than his last job and in a different industry. It meant that he felt he had a lot to learn about the culture, the company and his role before he would really settle in. I asked him what kind of notes he was taking and he showed me his notebook filled with learnings for himself, nothing to do with the people.
This was when I first learned that 'not communicating' at all is still communicating a message. People had expectations about him and his role that were only in their heads and they were making assumptions about everything he did that supported these assumptions. Saying nothing had indeed communicated a message to the people around him that was not the one he wanted to communicate.
Not communicating at all is still communicating a message.
I shared my observation with him and we discussed how he could change this perception. He decided to start telling people how he felt and that he had a lot to learn. He asked people for their help and contributed in meetings if only with more questions for a while. His interaction with people and honesty started to change their view of him. They started to talk about what a nice guy he was, how he was taking time to learn and was respectful of them and their roles.
You can almost never over communicate.
Throughout my experience I learned that not communicating enough is one of the biggest problems you can have as a leader, because people fill in the gaps themselves with things that are rarely correct. In fact I believe you can almost never over communicate.
Everything we do and say and everything we don't do and say is communicating a message to our people and others around us, but are they getting the message we want to communicate?
As a new leader the first thing you can do is take time to talk with your people, not only to share more about yourself, your plans for the department, your current priorities or how you would like the team to work, but also to ask lots of questions and really get to know them; how do they feel in their role, is it comfortable, challenging, boring or overwhelming, what support or changes would they appreciate, what ideas do they have about the future of the team, things that need improving etc.
When you communicate you are not only exchanging information you are making a connection with a person, building trust, creating understanding and a solid base for your future co-operation. We can say this is the foundation for everything else you want to accomplish as a leader. With this, your job becomes much easier and your team become much happier and more motivated. This enables all of you as a team to accomplish more together and feel good about what you are doing.
When you communicate you are making a connection with a person
So, every day, take time to talk, chat, share, ask questions, discuss ideas, find out concerns, fears and wishes. Use what you learn to motivate and develop more, find every possible way to help your people to succeed and you will succeed too.
What is your next step to take your communication to a new level?
The more you learn, the more you realise there is to learn. So, learn, learn and keep learning how to improve what you do and how you do it. Apply the learning, practice, take risks, make mistakes, move on and continuously improve yourself.
As many of you know my passion is learning, however it was not always this way. At the age of only 21 I was promoted into my first training role. I had no real idea what it meant, but it was a better position and package, travel through the UK, working from home and I was excited about doing something different. I had a lot to learn and somehow also thought that it would not be so difficult and I'd soon be up to speed. I could not have been more wrong.
As a leader the only way you really get things done, is through your people, by supporting and empowering them. As a new leader, you are probably facing the challenge of realising you could not do, control, get involved, solve or start every task your team has to accomplish. As if this isn't frustrating enough, you might also come to realise that you don't even know how to do some of the things your team needs to do. So how can you possibly ensure these things get done, on time and to the standard required?
In my blog on My 5 keys to Leadership Success, Support and Empower Your Team is the first key. It's first because it's an important shift in thinking, feeling and acting that has to happen before you can really start to embrace and enjoy the role of a leader.
So, how exactly do you do this?
When I was only 25 I found myself, for the 1st time, in the position of leader. I had applied for and got a Training Manager position in a large retail organisation. Although at the beginning it was a stand-alone position, we grew quickly and I soon found myself leading a team of 5 or 6 people. I really wish I had known then, what I know now and I am so grateful to all the leaders I reported to who helped me to grow and develop my own leadership skills throughout the years.
So if I could turn back time and give myself as a new leader advice what would I tell myself?