What do teams need from their Leader?

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What does a high performing team look like, in this challenging economy and volatile global backdrop?

A high performing team can’t be forged overnight, nor can it grow without its unique struggles and teething problems. 

You could argue that bumps in the road are what define a team’s success. The work of Brian Sholtes, Barbara Streibel, military leaders and even philosophers such as Sun Tzu, identify stages and strategies of team development, but what is it that really determines the success of a team?

In this blog, and in our next, we explore how a collection of individuals optimised and converted into a highly functioning team.

Speaking of bumps in the road, team leadership has undoubtedly been challenged during the Coronavirus pandemic. Aside from the obvious ambiguity and uncertainty of the state of the economy, there are seemingly countless obstacles in the way of efficient teamwork and management right now. Ripped from our social routines and human contact, one solution that has been very much at the forefront of adapting the way we work amid C-19 is Digitisation and the resulting speed of change.

We have grown in the face of adversity and in response adapted to new virtual, unfamiliar settings and ways of working: from home (or in the instance of many companies, a hybrid of office and home.) This uncharted territory is demanding significant change in leaders and their leadership styles. What is certain is that a distinct type of leader will be essential to pulling this off and maintaining successful output, or whatever that looks and feels like in 2021. Don’t worry, we’re actually not referring to some unicorn of a manager.

If you are willing to be forward-thinking and ready to adapt at what is truly a pivotal moment, you can be capable of being the leader your team wants and deserves. It’s also completely valid (and tragically common, in recent times) to feel inundated and unprepared for the pressures that the pandemic has created. This is exactly why we should be sharing resources, and giving each other that much needed leg-up on organisational management tips.

What is a team without their leader? How much of their success is determined by the leader and their leadership style?

Studies show 70% success comes from leaders. You already know it’s so much more than “leading” or “managing.” What about your staff? They need to be able to define what it is that you do, which in reality is an immensely powerful combination of the following:

  • Showing up for them as they do for you, providing their support and reassuring their confidence.
  • Setting the tone of the company, making your expectations clear whether it be performance, transparent communication, or customer service.
  • Coach the whole group in responding and adapting to external factors which will alter how you run the business, and feeding your ideas back to them.In other words, your role is paramount.

What makes a successful team leader?

Characteristically speaking, what else does a leader need to bring to the table (or better still, lay the table)? Consider the following a checklist or mini quiz to assess how well you are meeting the needs of your team.

Ingredients for a Successful Leader:

  • Vision – One that is articulated and can be clearly understood by all. Consider what direction is required to achieve this. Now, taking a step back, were your brand values designed with purpose? Are they reviewed regularly enough to ensure that you represent what your team is all about?
  • Role Model Quality – This could be summarised as the ability to express humility, vulnerability, and someone who can be their authentic selves. You must choose to stay accountable for your actions in a non-performative way, i.e. even when no one is watching.
  • High Scoring Trust – Think Patrick Lencioni’s ‘Cohesive Team’ model, wherein the base of the 5 tiered pyramid is Trust. Your team needs to know that they are allowed to fail under your watch, because they have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Give them room to grow, where they are challenged and stretched, but in a space that feels safe for their mental health as well as development.
  • No Ego, and a Language of “We,” not “I” – You have a collective accountability, and everyone is equal. Every member has a role to play and no-one is valued above another, which includes the leader. They are part of the team, not disassociated from it. There is something poetically simple about the exchange of ‘asking’ and ‘listening,’ that makes you realise what is at the heart of efficient teamwork.
  • Recognition – It is important to share what you and the team already have to be proud of, rather than constantly looking to what you want to achieve and what others are doing. This could be anything as integral as the diversity of your team, or the way that you behave as a community that uplifts one another, for example. Success will follow when you have this kind of strong, inter-connected foundation.
  • Mindfulness and Consideration – It’s crucial to be constantly aware of the individuality and differences of your team, be it physical capabilities, neurodiversity, gender identifiers, or ethnicities. It is up to you to champion an inclusive space with standards and language that are accepting, especially in connection with members whose identity affords them less privilege. An important example is normalising the use of the correct pronouns for each other. Imagine the sheer brilliance of your team if you could make a collective effort to be more educated about one another.

An example of Successful Leadership in 2021?

If you need any help in identifying an inspiring leader that provides all of the above, look no further than Gareth Southgate.

Over his tenure as England football manager, he has delivered for football fans throughout the country, and brought them to the final – achieving their best result at an international competition since 1966.There is a very apparent high level of belief from Southgate, which was reflected in way that he put trust in some of the younger and less experienced penalty takers in the Euros final, including Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka. There was no blame for any missed, not just from the manager, but the whole team embraced the loss as a shared experience and moment of collective accountability.

Let’s think back to our earlier point of ‘focussing on what you have to be proud of’

The England team are so grateful to have showcased their talents all the way to the end of the tournament, with the support of a Nation that have been able to come together and be excited about their victories this Summer (even people who are overtly not football fans, such as myself!)

His players have individual merits and interests off-field, which are actually celebrated and brought into work as they are encouraged to use their platform and reach to bring influence, and benefit important causes. Whether it be Marcus Rashford becoming an advocate and campaigner for ending child food poverty in the UK, or Joe Henderson who co-chairs Gay Gooners, Arsenal’s LGBT+ supporters group (described as “the first and largest LGBT+ fans group in England), they have made their country proud in so many more ways than you would expect from a football team.

At a time that the world could not be more polarised (especially their home country) the team also made their values and stance on racism inherently clear – by taking the knee at the start of each match. This is an ever pertinent topic when Britons are waking up to critique their country’s Colonial past, in light of the viral growth of the Black Lives Matter movement. In the terrifyingly increasing instances of cyberbullying, and other racially motivated attacks on their teammates, every member has come forward and stepped in to protect each other online.

Southgate models a prime example of inclusive leadership.

One moment that will stick with me from this final match specifically is the hug between Southgate and Saka after the last missed penalty. The genuine care and empathy that Southgate has for his team is so touching and inspiring, and those that remember the mirror-image take of him in Saka’s shoes in 1996, looking to his manager at the time for support (Terry Venables) will see that the heartbreak cuts deeper for Southgate than any of the fans could really imagine. It takes a successful leader to admit this, though: that they were not the best team, but they are growing.

Looking to what makes his team so unique, he said “I’ve seen lots of nations be knocked out of tournaments because the spirit has not been there like [our team]. It’s something very special that they’ve got to recognise.”

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