I’ve worked in multiple leadership positions within my company for the past 8 years. From managing a single team and up to 21 teams at a time, it’s been a humbling and gratifying learning experience. Being able to learn about people and how to get team results is a gift I’m extremely thankful for, and I want to share some important lessons.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. It may not even be the top three. You could even say they are painfully obvious. Even so, they are lessons I wish someone had clarified for me as a young leader.
Your number one priority is making sure everyone knows what the mission is.
Among the chaos we encounter, everyone must have a core idea to fall back on. Making decisions in times of uncertainty is hard enough. When everyone knows the mission they are able take steps toward it, even if it’s a baby step. Without it, people begin to set their own direction, minimizing or even detracting from the positive impact you’re looking to achieve.
With teams that I’ve worked with, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about our mission: what it is, how it applies to each person, and what actions align with it. I’ve also spent a lot of time talking about what steers us away – the distractions. This isn’t just a one time talk. It takes course over the first few months working together. And after those first few months, we continue to tie it in with our short-term plans and goals.
In the beginning of my career, I would sometimes let this discussion fall by the wayside. The popular saying “out of sight out of mind” begins to prove true. Not only would my team’s results slip, but the culture would also slowly change. Direction is taken over by an unknown force, and without someone purposefully steering the boat, my team found other issues tackle. Much of the time it was in the form of politics and bickering. Distractions abound.
This was a very valuable lesson for me: If you don’t set the direction for your team, someone else will.
Pick the right people
You second most important job is to pick the right people to work with. As a new manager, I spent a lot of time learning “how to motivate a team” and different types of people. There are plenty of resources that give you tips and tricks on how you can do it, but most of it is temporary. At the end of the day, intrinsic motivation lasts. Trying to directly motivate your team with treats, prizes, games, etc. is a waste of your damn time, and I see other managers doing this way too often. “Making it fun” is usually the excuse. You know what’s fun? Working together with enthusiastic people to achieve something everyone wants.
Cut ties quickly
The other side of the coin of this is: don’t work with the wrong people. Working with the wrong people, whether it’s because they’re negative, dishonest, or closed-minded will drain you dry. When I am working with a troublesome employee, they take up much of my mental space and bring down the morale of others. These people will ruin your team. Get them off the bus as quickly as possible.
This is probably more important than working with the right people: DO NOT WORK WITH THE WRONG PEOPLE.
Working with the wrong people makes hard times even more painful. When a team’s motivation suffers a small setback, they alone can bring the whole ship down. This brings me to the next lesson.
Your level of motivation is your team’s level of motivation, at scale
Another lesson I’ve learned is that a team’s level of motivation is a lagging measure of the leader’s. We all go through cycles of motivation. Though I’m usually a very highly motivated person, I can’t sprint 24/7/365.
In the past, I’ve let undesirable outcomes crush my motivation. When I let this affect me for an extended period of time, my team’s enthusiasm begins to fall through the floor too. And when team morale gets shattered, it’s very hard to put back together. Even when I picked myself back up, it took much longer to pull everyone else together.
Mindset is key
The above is why mindset is so important. Being able to find wins within a loss creates successes out of failures. This maintains momentum in the face of obstacles and is absolutely needed for long-term success.
Leading is learning
That’s it for today. These are the couple lessons I found myself inspired to write about this morning.
I’ll end with this. If you are given the chance to manage or lead a team, TAKE IT. It’s an opportunity to constantly learn. You take action, learn, calibrate, and repeat.
Your team’s blend of results, culture, and mindset are an external manifestation of your inner workings. Everything flows from you.
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