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Leadership 101

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  • Are you a new leader wondering where to start?
  • As a leader, are you looking to elevate productivity?
  • As a leader, are looking to gain the respect and trust of your supervisors and team?
  • Are you pressured by your supervisor to become more aggressive, in order to gain more production? “Become a bulldog!” or “Lead with an iron fist!”?
  • As a leader, are you experianceing members of your team express unfavorable attitudes, exhibit defiance, or has become a negative influence?
  • As a leader, do you desire to inspire, lift morale and/or strengthen the cohesion of your team?
  • Do you have the potential to become a leader, but you're feeling fearful, intimidated or unsure?

If you’ve answered "yes" to any of these questions, then this post is certainly for you!

As a former Army leader and a leader within a Fortune 500 company, I’m extremely familiar with the stress and demands the position brings. To minimize the stress level, you will need to have your team operating as smooth as possible. In order to stay afloat or ahead of the game, your team will need to be competent, resourceful, engaged, proficient, motivated, professional, trusting and loyal.  This blog will provide you with insight on how to establish these elements.

As a leader, you must understand the perspective of your teammates and the various cultures they’re from. Many people, simply put, do not fully understand the meaning of responsibility, hard work, loyalty, and professionalism. This has to do with the culture they were raised in, so it is not their fault (For further understanding, read my blog titled A limited Perspective Is 100% the Cause of Conflicts and Emotional Suffering).

Instead of becoming frustrated and impatient with what you may perceive as blatant stupidity, like many leaders do, learn who they are. You do this by listening and asking questions. Display patience and understanding. Coach and develop.

Understand your work culture. It’s an environment that is structured with its own values, beliefs, and norms.  It’s based on how you conduct yourself, interact with others, individual roles, dress codes, time lines, expectations, consequences, and repercussions.  In order to become successful within the organization, one must embrace and perform well under these conditions or face consequences (getting terminated).

Below are some very informative, and proven to be successful, tips.

Establish your work subculture- A work subculture will be the culture you establish within the culture of the organization you work for. Basically, you will still perform under your organization’s culture, but the subculture you create will pertain to the functionality of your section/department. It too will consist of values beliefs and norms. To be a successful leader, your subculture must be structured in a way that will act as a team guideline towards obtaining desired results. Your substructure must contain the following elements (you can always add more as you progress).

Purpose- The production of your team affects the entire organization. It is important they understand how their performance both exceptional and unacceptable will impact the performance of the organization. This will provide a sense of self-importance and team pride. Understanding their worth will go a very long way!

Goals- As a leader, to be productive you must implement goals/milestones to work towards. This will provide a sense of purpose, something to strive for and motivation. This is part of keeping your team engaged.  Don’t let the only goals for your team be working towards “next break”, “leaving work to go home” and “payday.” Many of your team members will not develop a sense of urgency to do, what seems like, absolutely nothing! Goals should have an expectation and a time frame (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly) based on the criteria of your responsibilities.

Direction- As a leader, you must have the ability to “stir the ship”! As a ship captain (leader), not only is it your responsibility to keep the team afloat,  but to navigate in the safest, least complicated, and most productive way possible to reach your desired goals. Never expect this to go perfectly! Whenever there is a glitch, simply record what worked and what did not. Whatever didn’t work, alter it so that it does work the next time, or throw it out and implement something new.

Even if the route you took from point A to point B seemed to be a flawless success, you will want to analyze the actions taken with your team and use those creative juices to improve actions for better productivity the next time. Your section/department should be handled the same as we handle our lives. We want to keep an open mind and continue to improve every day. This must be a consistent process.

Job description- Providing a thorough job description for every team member will assist in holding everyone accountable. How many people have you witnessed using the excuse, “I didn’t know that was part of my “Job Description.” Accountability is one of the important elements of being a leader. If your team knows that you are holding them responsible for their work ethic,  it will act as a motivator. Most people want their jobs, so they will often perform accordingly. However, this must be a consistent practice.

Team Expectations- Everyone must know and understand their roles and responsibility within the section/department. In addition, all must understand what is expected of them. How else are you to set a standard and give a fair evaluation if there aren’t any daily or weekly milestones to reach? The expectations MUST be reasonable and obtainable. You can always raise your expectations based on close observation while keeping the above mentioned in mind. Preferably, each team member should have something in “black and white” stating this. This will assist with holding your team accountable. Practice consistency.

Getting the team to buy-in- Many successful leaders have their own theories about persuading their teams to buy-in to methods of making the section/department a success. Some leaders may say  “they will simply do what I tell them to do!”  If you want your team’s respect and trust, you might want to consider the following route. Based on my leadership experience, the greatest “buy-in” method is to prove by showing. How? Communicate with the team at the minimum of once a week. Discuss with them how their consistent performance has produced for both the team and the organization. Praise them, thank them, and celebrate every goal/ milestone. How’s “that” for getting your team to “buy- in”?

Compassion- As a leader, you must understand that those who follow your lead are not machines. They are human beings that experience troubling situations, family crises and illnesses like anyone else. If you want YOUR team to respect you, trust you, and hang their hat on not failing you as their leader, you MUST show that you care. Be there for them! Talk to them! ask questions about their family! Listen to them! Make yourself available to them! Help them by pointing them in the direction to find the help they need! As a leader, you will often find yourself becoming more than just a person leading the way. Some of your intangible roles as a leader will eventually be an advisor, a counselor, a mom, or a dad or just lending an ear. Be consistent.

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Empower your team- One way to motivate and groom teammates is by empowering them. Empower them to make decisions on their own.  Coach and develop them to not only earn your trust but to also embed the confidence within themselves to proficiently perform their assigned role. Another way to empower is to include the team in decision making (only in certain situations!) Ask them for ideas. Pick, choose and implement ideas that you feel will work. As a good practice, address the team to explain why some ideas were implemented why the rest were not. Why? Because you are training them to think as a leader. You are providing a snap shot of what it’s like to be in your role. After a while, you will eventually see certain members of your team begin giving ideas and making decisions based on what they’ve learned by you sharing your perspective. Remember, consistency.

Communication- Effective and continuous communication is a must for you as a leader. It is one of, if not the most, important elements of being a leader. At least once a week, a team meeting must be held. This allows you to gain a perspective on what’s going well, what hasn’t been done and why, where to improve, what to improve on, and how to improve. Address important information from “higher authority figures”. Address your issues and concerns within your section/department.

Listen to issues and concerns from the team that are work related as well as personal. Ensure you provide timely feed back!  Discuss expectations for the following week. Discuss the likelihood of reaching a specified goal based on current production of the team. This will allow you the opportunity to provide a spark that will ignite a sense of urgency. Also, use the opportunity to praise the team for the awesome job they’re doing. Again, consistency is imperative.

Just be yourself- No need to become someone you are not and risk becoming unhappy, stressed, depressed or hating your job. Being alive is partly about making healthy and long lasting relationships. What better place to make that happen than with your teammates?! You can absolutely be your authentic self. As long as you have a subculture/system set in place that is effective, you will have nothing to fear from anyone! Production is the name of the game. Meaning, if your team is meeting, preferably exceeding, your expectations while maintaining cohesion, team work and healthy relationships within the team, that’s equivalent to a successful leader! Be true to yourself consistently.

Be transparent- Hold nothing from your team. Be honest. Display candor. All while rendering respect and tact. I’m speaking in terms of individual work performance, team performance, the current productively level within the department/section and company. Be yourself! Show them that you are no different from them. You will find that many will respect it and many will take offense. On a wider perspective,  keep everyone in the loop to maintain the overall sense of purpose, direction, and trust. Consistency is a must.

Coaching– To coach doesn’t mean to give direct answers or to discipline. Coaching is using strategic questioning that will allow a team member to figure out their own issues and concerns. This will help you to develop those “robotic,” “needy” and less confident team members into people that can make timely decisions, be resourceful and productive on their own. This will be huge in freeing up time for yourself vs spending your time answering the questions that aren’t difficult but just require some thinking. Consistency, consistency, consistency.

Developing- Professional development and job performance development should be done far more often than during quarterly and annual evaluations. At a minimum, once a month or ASAP when you see a teammate’s professionalism and or productivity needing a serious boost! During these moments, let him/her know your perspective. Let them know exactly what you see. Be tactful. Be sure to ask if there is a specific reason for the drop in productivity. In addition, address how what you are seeing is affecting the section/department. Listen and ask questions. Gain an understanding. Together, brainstorm towards a solution that will improve their substandard work performance, while keeping their personal obstacles in mind.

Even if a team member is doing all of the right things, there is always room for improvement. Again, brainstorm with the team member on possible ways to become a greater asset. Continuous growth is good not only for you and your section, it’s also good for those who will eventually rise to the next level in their careers.  High but obtainable expectations are fundamental.  Consistency will normalize your subculture.

Holding the team accountable- When giving guidance to the team during your meetings and or at random moments, insist they write EVERYTHING down. Once they have written it down, ask them to repeat it back to you. This will ensure clear and concise understanding. Not only will this tactic cut down misunderstandings, but it will also hold your team members accountable. They can never give you the popular excuses “you didn’t tell”, “I don’t recall ” or “I forgot”. When you practice this technique, you will be able to coach and train immediately because there will be no question about who’s at fault for not getting a task completed.

Following up- As a leader, you must hold the team accountable. By following up, you create an intangible presence among the team. Meet with the team to obtain a break down of their current situation with tasks they’ve been assigned. Have they been completed? If not, why? Are there any pending issues, questions or concerns? I would recommend doing this daily, but I’ve witnessed some of my old colleagues, who were also leaders, conduct a “follow up” once a week during their weekly team meetings and it worked out just fine for them. Know your team and their proficiency level. Then you can make a solid decision. Be consistent.

In summary, just as we were all born into a culture filled with core values and beliefs, it eventually developed into our “normal” function of life. A work subculture serves the same purpose. If you want to be a successful and respected leader, it is imperative you establish a solid subculture. If you do not have a starting point, I strongly urge you to utilize the principles addressed above. Everything that has been mentioned thus far contributes to establishing competence, resourcefulness, engagement, proficiency, motivation, professionalism, trust and loyalty within your team. How you, as a leader, interact with them will set the example for them to follow.

Eventually, with consistency, they will begin to mirror both you and your expectations. Remember, consistency is extremely important. Consistency will generate a “normal” atmosphere. Meaning, your section/department will be running on auto pilot in no time.

Good luck in all of your endeavors!


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