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Leadership & Teamwork

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

Don’t tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results. - George S. Patton Jr.

A leader defines strong, positive teamwork with a vision and the ability to inspire their team to work toward the realization of that vision.

The leader is not threatened in the least by the ability and diversity of their team. Instead, a good team leader engages their teammates in a discussion about what quality looks like and what is needed to perform and complete the job and empowers the team members to always strive for quality improvement.

Let us break all that down into its part parts. The first is a clearly defined leader. I believe every team must have a leader. There must be in charge and makes the ultimate decisions.

Team members may take turns being the leader as long as everyone is clear about whom the leader is on any given day. Another variation of that theme is to have certain people be the leader for projects in their area of expertise. However, in every event, teammates cannot question who the leader for that day or project is.

The leader needs to have a vision. This is like Covey’s second habit, begin with the end in mind. î A true leader creates the product twice---once in mentality and then in its basic form. It is impossible to lead toward a fuzzy vision. People are not inspired to follow uncertainty.

Having a vision is not enough to inspire teammates to strive toward the same goal. A good team leader knows how to help each teammate see how the product or service will be helpful and what their contribution is toward that end.

How does the janitor contribute to fans’ enjoyment at a professional baseball game? By supplying a clean, neat bathroom experience---that is how. If the janitor sees himself as a critical cog in the big-picture goal and receives positive recognition, he is more likely to perform his job enthusiastically.

Another part of inspiring one’s teammates is a clearly defined mission that everyone, preferably, has been interested in developing. Still, if not, team members can agree to the previously established team mission.

This becomes important in times of conflict between team members. When there is a dispute to solve, it is helpful to have an already set up way to measure the solution. Solutions are held up against the mission and whether they will move the team closer or further from the goal.

The other advantage of having a mission that all team members have agreed upon is that it can enhance cooperation. An individual ego is one of the most challenging things to manage on a team. There can be petty jealousies and a competitive spirit that can kill the cooperation of the best team. The mission statement is a way to minimize this potential for disaster.

The mission stays the focus that everything else is compared. An individual’s action is either helpful or hurtful to the task and dealt with accordingly. The group’s goal must always be placed above individuals' desires or egos. Jealousy and backstabbing have no proper place on a team.

A good leader is in no way threatened by the ability and diversity of their team. The best leaders are constantly seeking information from the front-line people who are doing the actual work. Without input from team members, the leader’s hands are tied behind their back.

It is also critical to use team members in their areas of expertise. Leaders cannot know everything about everything. There will be team members with skills and abilities that surpass those of the leader in certain areas. A good leader will ask for help when it is prudent.

This is also a time to value diversity. Having a team of people who do the same jobs, in the same way has no value. One person could more easily do the job than assembling a homogenous group.

The value of a team comes from its heterogeneity. Feedback and suggestions from people who do things differently will spark the team's creativity and genius. This is what masterminding is all about. Tap into the wealth that is already there.

Finally, a good leader holds the bar high. They do not ask their team to be average or mediocre. Moderate and modest can be easily replaced. The leader asks their team to do their absolute best collectively, and when they are done, the leader asks them to always strive for continuous improvement. The work is never done. The team should constantly evaluate what has been implemented and be comfortable making suggestions for ways to do it even better.

Previously, I mentioned that good leader empowers their teammates. Creating a need-satisfying environment does this. Team members must get along and know that the leader and the company have their best interests at heart. They must feel important, listened to, and respected. They must be free to make choices within the context of their assignments and have some fun in their work.

It is also critical for team members to feel safe. This means that they are not fearful in any way. The team leader is crucial in fostering this environment for the empowerment of the entire team.

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