A leader creates an environment where each individual in his group enjoys coming to work, gets excited about the work ahead and will get out of his way to achieve a common set of goals for the benefit of the company.
A good leader will also work diligently on growing his team members to the point where they will be able to take on parts or all of his main responsibilities. He will in a sense spend a lot of his energy to make himself obsolete.
The disappearing leader
Let me clarify that I don’t mean to quit the company. After all, everyone could walk into their bosses office and quit when the going-gets-tough. Good leaders don’t quit when it is tough. They quit when times are good.
I am reminded of our former CEO, John Kealey, who has re-built our company from a near collapse to a thriving, multi-million dollar company. He achieved this in a few short years by his relentless focus on corporate culture and alignment.
He left the company when everything was on the rise. Revenue, growth and the size of the company. He left when the company was at its best. I remember the days where we were all working towards the next step, the next release, and the next exciting new feature.
I am now in a position, where I want to build up my team to the point where all members are aligned around the same vision of building the next industry leading product. This vision can only be achieved with a strong team, which is working together not with each other but for each other. I want to build a team which does not need to get managed anymore.
Coming from an engineering background, I have long since shed my zeal of forcing my personal coding style and product improvements onto my team members and have enjoyed tuning into their understanding of the lower level improvements required to advance the products which we are working on.
I help guide them when needed but I see my role mainly as enabler of sorts, balancing the set goals with the team members needs and understanding of the technical implications. Nudging them along to be aligned with our common goals.
For some individuals you need a stronger push than for others. The important part however is communication and clarity of vision. What is it that we want to achieve and why are we working so damn hard. Answering the number one question for each and every employee, “What is in it for me ?”
Interestingly for a lot of people it is not a bigger bonus, but recognition and opportunities. While a performance based bonus is always a nice thing to receive, once the company is not doing to well it can actually have the opposite effect and the good people are leaving.
Recognizing people for their achievements is the best way I know off to building a strong team. Best of all it does not need to cost much more then your time.
Talking to your team when things are going well is as important as addressing shortcomings when things don’t work out as expected. Positive reinforcement has always delivered better results in the long term than bossing people around with an iron fist. Focusing the group on getting things done and moving forward is obviously better than pointing fingers and playing the blame game.
Take that coffee break. Get your team members out of the office and to the nearest Starbucks. Talk about all possible, and impossible things. These may not necessarily be work related. If you have ever wondered where the Think-Outside-The-Box ideas are coming from, that’s one place.
You don’t have to become friends with every single team member, though if you are genuine you will discover a lot of commonalities and build some type of friendship and trust. Family, Work, Hobby, Sports are all great ways to do so. Though try to stay away from Religion and Politics, that could backfire in a big way.
I consider all of my team members friends, and have also built friendship within other teams. I love talking about our hobbies. If you ever want to see someones eyes light up with a fiery passion then I suggest to tune in. Listen to the cool and world changing ideas which come out in a setting like this. You may discover that there is a lot out there which you did not know about.
Offer them opportunities
Offer them opportunities to grow in their profession. If there are small side projects which need to get done, and if it is at all possible, I would recommend to find a new, exciting technology which could be used instead of using the existing tools and frameworks which are already in use by the team.
The very best opportunities however come along when the company is in need of a senior person and you only have junior or mid-level team members available. This is when you should lead and mentor, provide feedback, suggest tools and techniques. This is where you earn your stars as a leader.
Be honest about the opportunity, and re-iterate the expectations to the individual on a regular basis in a friendly setting. Help him overcome obvious obstacles. Ask him how he would go about achieving the next step and nudge him along, but always let him make the final decision even if you know that it won’t work. During these times I am a source of suggestions but never a micro-manager.
You will find that this will not always be a success and you need to embrace yourself for some set-backs. However on the flip side you may just have trained a home grown new senior member and leader.
To the outside these steps are invisible and seem like the sole achievements of the individuals. You simply hired good people who thrive naturally. In reality you have been the enabler. You are the invisible leader.
Love what you are doing
Love what you do and do what you love, that is the best way to achieve success. Leading a team offers great joy and challenges. As a leader you are in a position to make a real impact on your team and your company.