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It takes great leadership to build great teams. Leaders who are not afraid to course correct, make the difficult decisions and establish standards of performance that are constantly being met – and improving at all times. Whether in the workplace, professional sports, or your local community, team building requires a keen understanding of people, their strengths and what gets them excited to work with others. Team building requires the management of egos and their constant demands for attention and recognition – not always warranted. Team building is both an art and a science and the leader who can consistently build high performance teams is worth their weight in gold.
History has shown us that it takes a special kind of leader with unique competencies and skills to successfully build great companies and teams. In the sports world, the late John Wooden set the standard for great coaches, leading UCLA to 10 NCAA national basketball championships in a 12-year period — seven in a row. His success was so iconic, Wooden created his own “Pyramid for Success” to help others excel through his proven wisdom. In the business world, we can look to Jack Welsh, who was the Chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001. According to Wikipedia, the company’s value rose 4000% during his tenure. In 2006 Welch’s net worth was estimated at $720 million and in 2009, he launched the Jack Welsh Management Institute at Strayer University.
Building companies requires the know-how to build long-lasting teams. This is why most managers never become leaders and why most leaders never reach the highest pinnacle of leadership success. It requires the ability to master the “art of people” and knowing how to maneuver hundreds (if not thousands) of people at the right place and at the right time. It means knowing how each person thinks and how to best utilize their competencies rightly at all times. It’s playing a continuous chess match – knowing that every wrong move that is made can cost the company hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars (just ask BP and Enron).
As you evaluate the sustainability of the team(s) you lead and its real impact on the organization you serve, here are six ways successful teams are built to last:
1. Be Aware of How You Work
As the leader of the team, you must be extremely aware of your leadership style and techniques. Are they as effective as you think? How well are they accepted by the team you are attempting to lead? Evaluate yourself and be critical about where you can improve, especially in areas that will benefit those whom you are a leading.
Though you may be in-charge, how you work may not be appreciated by those who work for you. You may have good intentions, but make sure you hold yourself accountable to course-correct and modify your approach if necessary to assure that you’re leading from a position of strength and respectability.
Be your own boss. Be flexible. Know who you are as a leader.
2. Get to Know the Rest of the Team
Much like you need to hold yourself accountable for your actions to assure you maximize performance and results, you must make the time to get to know your team and encourage camaraderie. In my “emotional intelligence blog,” I discuss the importance of caring, understanding the needs of your team and embracing differences and helping your colleagues experience their significance. In this case, gathering intelligence means learning what defines the strengths and capabilities of your team – the real assets that each member brings to the table, those they leave behind and those yet to be developed.
All great leaders know exactly what buttons to push and when to push them. They are experts at activating the talent that surrounds them. They are equally as effective at matching unique areas of subject matter expertise and / or competencies to solve problems and seek new solutions.
Fully knowing your team means that you have invested the time to understand how they are wired to think and what is required to motivate them to excel beyond what is expected from them.
Think of your team as puzzle pieces that can be placed together in a variety of ways.
3. Clearly Define Roles & Responsibilities
When you successfully complete step 2, you can then more effectively and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of those on your team. Now, don’t assume this is an easy step; in fact, you’ll often find that people’s ideal roles lie outside their job descriptions.
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Each of your team member’s responsibilities must be interconnected and dependent upon one another. This is not unlike team sports, where some players are known as “system players” – meaning that, although they may not be the most talented person on the team, they know how to work best within the “system.” This is why you must have a keen eye for talent that can evaluate people not only on their ability to play a particular role – but even more so on whether they fit the workplace culture (the system) and will be a team player.
For example, I once inherited an employee who wasn’t very good at his specific job. Instead of firing him, I took the time to get to know him and utilized his natural talents as a strategic facilitator who could keep all of the moving parts within the department in proper alignment and in lock-step communication. This person helped our team operate more efficiently and saved the company money by avoiding the bad decisions they previously made because of miscommunications. He was eventually promoted into a special projects manager role.
A team should operate as a mosaic whose unique strengths and differences convert into a powerful united force.
4. Be Proactive with Feedback
Feedback is the key to assuring any team is staying on track, but more importantly that it is improving each day. Feedback should be proactive and constant. Many leaders are prone to wait until a problem occurs before they give feedback.
Feedback is simply the art of great communication. It should be something that is part of one’s natural dialogue. Feedback can be both formal and informal. In fact, if it becomes too structured and stiff, it becomes difficult for the feedback to be authentic and impactful.
Remember that every team is different, with its own unique nuances and dynamics. Treat them as such. No cookie-cutter approach is allowed. Allow proactive feedback to serve as your team’s greatest enabler for continuous improvement.
Take the time to remind someone of how and what they can be doing better. Learn from them. Don’t complicate the process of constructive feedback. Feedback is two-way communication.
5. Acknowledge and Reward
With proactive feedback comes acknowledgement and reward. People love recognition, but are most appreciative of respect. Take the time to give your teammates the proper accolades they have earned and deserve. I have seen too many leaders take performance for granted because they don’t believe that one should be rewarded for “doing their job.”
At a time when people want to feel as if they are making a difference, be a thoughtful leader and reassure your team that you are paying attention to their efforts. Being genuine in your recognition and respect goes a long way towards building loyalty and trust. It organically ignites extra effort!
When people are acknowledged, their work brings them greater satisfaction and becomes more purposeful.
6. Always Celebrate Success
At a time when uncertainty is being dealt with each day, you must take the time to celebrate success. This goes beyond acknowledgment – this is about taking a step-back and reflecting on what you have accomplished and what you have learned throughout the journey.
In today’s fast-paced, rapidly changing world of work, people are not taking enough time to understand why they were successful and how their success reverberated and positively impacted those around them. I have seen leaders fall into the trap of self-aggrandizement – because of what their teams accomplished – rather than celebrating the success stories that in many cases required tremendous effort, sacrifice and perseverance.
Celebration is a short-lived activity. Don’t ignore it. Take the time to live in the moment and remember what allowed you to cross the finish line.
Leaders are only as successful as their teams and the great ones know that with the right team dynamics, decisions and diverse personalities, everyone wins in the end.
After falling off the performance roadmap for a few years, Tiger Woods has recently re-established himself as one of the top players in the world. Not only is Tiger positioned to make history and become known as the greatest golfer of all time, but it also appears he is leading others to improve their game, as well. Here are 5 things business leaders can learn from Tiger:
1. Face Pressure Head On
When recently asked about how much pressure he was under for an upcoming Major, Tiger responded by saying, “The same. The same pressure as any other tournament, and the same pressure every other player faces.” Pressure is self-imposed and can serve as quite a distraction if not dealt with properly. The most effective method for working through pressure is to acknowledge that the stakes are high and then move on. Force yourself to focus on what you can control, rather than allowing your mind to fixate on what could go wrong or on what the competition is doing. Jim Weddle, Managing Partner of Edward Jones, knows all too well about dealing with pressure. In 2011, in the face of a tough economic climate in which most brokerage firms struggled to survive, Weddle lead the company to one of its most successful years in the firm’s history. Weddle exemplified an unwavering focus on working with long-term individual investors and emphasizing quality rather than allowing his mind to waver on the uncertainty of the market. If you find yourself focusing on the potential obstacles to your success, commit to replacing those thoughts within 60 seconds with an idea for one thing you can do to put yourself in the best possible position to move forward.
2. Learn to Give Credit Where Credit is Due
Self-confidence is the number one variable for positively impacting performance in the entire field of sport psychology. This principle extends to the business world, as well. Tiger is often heard giving himself credit for his “strong iron play” or having his “focus on-target.” Learning to give oneself credit is an extremely effective method of increasing self-confidence and, hence, improving the likelihood for strong future performances. Get in the habit of writing down at least three successes at the end of each day. Doing so will have a compounding effect on self-confidence, thus allowing you to bounce back from tough times more quickly.
3. Emphasize Preparation
Prior to his dreadful Thanksgiving disaster, Tiger was definitely the hardest working and the most prepared player on the tour. I was lucky enough to have access to his training plan, as well as that of 4 other tour players with whom I was working. Tiger was out-preparing 3 of the 4 players by more than 30%, and the forth he was outdoing by a whopping 50%. After working through some personal distraction, Tiger is back on track with his mental and physical preparation. George Paz, CEO of the “mega-pharm” company, Express Scripts, lead his team to unprecedented market cap growth by emphasizing industriousness. In an interview discussing the changes within the company, Paz referred to his task of ensuring that the quality of the level of service provided to clients remains strong as “my 8-to-5 job.” He went on to say, “My 5-to-8 job is what’s the next move?” Work ethic and preparation will go a long way at determining the final score on the scoreboard. It is a fairly straightforward equation: if the work ethic is consistently there, the results are sure to follow. Are you outworking your competition?
When Tiger was recently asked if he was surprised at his reemerging dominance, he simply answered, “No. Next question.” An old saying in sport states: “Positive thinking doesn’t always work…negative thinking does.” When you believe in yourself, you significantly increase your ability to achieve greatness. Easier said than done, yet replacing negative and self-doubting thoughts with affirmative thoughts will have a significant impact on your success. Consider adopting a mental training program to train your brain toward positive thinking.
5. Be Accountable without Deprecation
Tiger has learned to be accountable for mistakes without internalizing failures. Take for example his comment about losing a late lead in the US Open: “I had the lead, and I lost it. I’m not happy about it, but it happens.” Great athletes and leaders alike have a tendency to beat themselves up when they fall short of expectations. Individuals who spend too much time punishing themselves for shortcomings become poised for lowered self-confidence and emotional unrest. Jack Welch, the former CEO of G.E., has been famously quoted stating: “I’ve learned that mistakes can often be as a good a teacher as success.” Welch has used the solutions generated from his mistakes to put himself in a better position than when he started. Learn to own failures without making excuses, and then quickly begin focusing on solutions to increase the probability for improvement. There is no need or benefit in stewing about your shortcomings, so stop doing it.
Tiger Woods is an inspiring example of leadership and dominance in sport, and some of the principles of mental toughness he displays are also found in the most successful business leaders in the world. He has not always been on top, yet his relentless drive serves as a mold for success. Realistically, business leaders are not always going to experience success, and high times are going to be tempered with seemingly brick walls to climb. How these difficulties are handled separates the leaders from the ones who fall behind. Developing a plan to deal with pressure and keep confidence high, while consistently working hard will go a long way at putting you on the leader board in golf, business and life.
Tauseef Qadri first started exploring the idea of “equitelligence”, or equine-inspired emotional intelligence, while studying management sciences at Loughborough University in the UK. Admittedly, Qadri was not your average management student. A keen horseman who began riding as a toddler and went on to study natural horsemanship under Ingella Larsson, one of the world’s leading “horse whisperers”, he was as familiar with the workings of horses as he was with the workings of human beings.
“I had to do a course on emotional intelligence and how we applied it in our own context. The world I knew was horses, so I thought about how I could apply those concepts to horses. I got a fantastic grade in that thesis, which encouraged me to think about developing those ideas further,” he says.
Natural horsemanship involves communicating with a horse using barely perceptible signals and subtle shifts in body language. It demands that a level of trust be built between the two parties and that they develop a common, non-vocal language. “Horsemanship is about developing an innate understanding of the horse’s perspective of the world. You have these two different worlds and in horsemanship you try to find a symbiosis.”
But many of the key principles in horsemanship can just as easily be applied to human behaviour, particularly when it comes to the workplace, Qadri discovered. After completing his degree, he went to work for Xerox and then did a stint in the financial services industry, which brought him to Dubai in 2006. All the while, he was incubating his ideas on “equitelligence”.
He subsequently developed a two-day intensive leadership programme based on developing emotional intelligence through interaction with horses, which has already proven popular with a number of high-profile corporations. “Usually the most experiential part of emotional intelligence workshops is when you interact face-to-face on a role play basis. But in that kind of context, both you and I know it’s not real. Try telling that to a 1,200-pound animal. With a horse, you have to be absolutely authentic.”
Qadri shared five key leadership skills that he believes can be developed through interactions with horses.
Part of the course involves grooming the horse and learning more about them. “This generates that elusive skill of empathy, which is so important in the workplace,” says Qadri.
Physiologically, and often unconsciously, at this point people will start smiling, their pupils will dilate, they will start salivating and they will get a tingling feeling in their back. “Those are the biological signs of empathy – it means that you are really making a connection. And people seem to have that with horses; that species divide is transcended.”
Horses communicate almost exclusively through body language, but more than 87 per cent of human communication is also purely physical. Participants learn the rudiments of horsemanship, which covers how they direct their energy, how they direct their focus, how they highlight to the horse that they are relaxed and how they increase their energy and transfer that energy to the horse.
Push versus release
Participants are invited to stand in front of their horse and make them walk backwards. “There is a rope connected to the halter and you just wiggle it increasingly vigorously; at a certain stage the horse will understand that he needs to move back. If people struggle with assertiveness, they will never go beyond a light wiggle. The horse will look at them and do nothing. Other people will swing the rope so hard that the horse will feel that jerk and literally run backwards. That’s not what you want either. That’s a reaction, not a response,” says Qadri.
“Similarly, in a board meeting, you should know when to press the accelerator because you are trying to drive a point home, but you should also know when not to because you are going to elicit a reaction and not a response,” says Qadri.
Because they are herd animals that are eager to please, horses will relinquish leadership if they understand what is required of them and think you know what you are doing. If you are inconsistent, they won’t.
The role of recognition
There’s a saying in horsemanship that is all-important: “The pressure will motivate but the release teaches.” Participants must encourage the horse to take some kind of action, but if that action is completed, they must immediately take away the pressure. “You must be able to say to the horse at that point in time, ‘Thank you, you’ve done a great job’. The more you can create that recognition culture, the more a horse will try harder for you,” says Qadri.