Identifying Your Team’s Leadership Expectations
All teams need direction, but the effective leader needs to understand the expectations of their team. Think about the driving lessons you received as a young adult. You likely got lots of hints and advice, but as you improved, the “leadership” you received changed to occasional tips to refine your driving skills. After driving for 30-plus years, if someone tried to “lead me” by giving me detailed tips on driving, I’d likely kick them out of the car!
Typical Team Leadership Requirements
Teams need clear direction, a delineation of individual roles, information, and tools to accomplish their responsibilities, administrative support, and when required, technical guidance. Often, they will also need “insulation” from management queries and politics that permeate many organizations.
Watching and listening to what is happening with your team—in addition to what you believe they need—is a great way to assess how you can provide leadership. However, it is important to note that you should only attempt to fulfill a leadership need that is within your experience level. For example, trying to provide technical leadership in an area where you have little practical experience is unlikely to be viewed positively.
Lead Where You Can
If you are the appointed team leader or manager, your highest priority should be to support your team so they can be successful. If they aren’t successful, you won’t be either. If you aren’t the team leader, being perceived as a leader requires you to:
• Get your personal work done first. Leaving your tasks undone to try to lead is likely to make your teammates angry and perceive that you are striving for a promotion while giving them a mess (your undone work) to complete.
• Seek advice from your manager before acting. You could harm someone’s ego if you start doing what they think is their work without first asking if you can help.
• Refrain from making assumptions. Ensure that you are leading based on verified facts, versus an opinion from one or two teammates. Validating the accuracy of things you hear is a worthwhile practice.
• Listen to the needs of the team and understand that they can change. What you did to help out last month may or may not be valid and well-received this month.
Help When Appreciated
I once worked with a manager who was a technical whiz kid and consistently gave advice to his team on how to best accomplish technical tasks. They hated his attempts at leadership! While they understood the technical prowess of their manager, his constant attempts to tell them how to do their jobs made them feel unappreciated and incompetent. They simply didn’t want the help he was providing, as it was delivered without asking if they had an issue or question regarding how to accomplish their work. When you think guidance may be helpful:
• Ask first, making sure any expectations you may have are validated with the team member (and the department manager, if applicable).
• Listen to the WHOLE story before assuming you know the answer. Sometimes the simple act of having your team member describe an issue can help clarify and solve the problem. Let the team member go through this process even if you think you know the issue and the solution.
• Ask if your attempts to help were appropriate and delivered in a way that was effective for your team member. Carefully listen to their answers and adjust your approach as necessary.
You are more than halfway through the course! In tomorrow’s email, I will explore communication habits that increase and reinforce your position as a leader in your organization.
Have a good day!
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