An Ounce of Prevention by Jim Johnson

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When is the best time to take care of your personal health? Right…practicing healthy habits on a consistent basis. The same goes for car care, house maintenance, etc. If we are in the habit of taking care of things, things can tend to take care of us.

The same is true for leadership and teams. Have you ever had this happen:

* A team member is caught in a lie that damages her credibility with you and the rest of the team. And you wonder, “Why didn’t she just come and talk with me instead of lie?”
* Two team members begin a feud that divides and destroys your team and your department’s reputation.
* A once high performing team member slowly mutates into an under-achieving, uncaring person.

“How did we get here?” you ask yourself.

While I’m not suggesting that you can completely stop these sort of things from happening (after all, people do have free will and will make choices – good or bad), there are some preventative things leaders/managers can do to promote a healthy team that consistently performs at higher levels.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU

How well do you know your team members? Do you know who their kids are? The name of their significant other? Are they facing some tough situations at home?

Leaders who know their team beyond the surface things have a better chance of connecting with them, understanding them, and coaching them far more effectively. As a result, the team will produce better results for a leader whom they feel cares about them.

In 2009, I had the honor of being on board the USS Nimitz – a nuclear aircraft carrier. I had the opportunity to meet the Captain of this magnificent ship that carried nearly 6,000 people. This Captain was passionate about getting to know the women and men who served under him. He engaged in conversations and asked about their families back home. And he remembered the conversations. I asked him why he thought that was so important to do. “The average age of my crew is around 19. I want them to trust me. I will put them through a lot of training and demand a lot out of them. But when it really counts, I want them to focus on their duties and not be thinking that their superior officers don’t care about them. I’m building a team that has to perform at a moment’s notice. Personally getting involved is my way of doing that.” And it showed as I watched him interact with his staff.

CONSISTENCY

One of the worse things a leader can do is be inconsistent. One day you say this, but the next day you change course and demand something else. An ineffective leader who is inconsistent unravels his/her team, department, and company. “I just keep ’em guessing” will not lead you down the path of success.

Your team has enough surprises in their lives. Even mundane work can change suddenly. You, as the leader, will set the tone based upon how you have been day in and day out with your team. They will look to you for answers, direction, and calm. Willy-nilly will not win the day. Consistency will.

HUMOR

Does your team see you smile? Can you joke with them? Do you laugh at yourself? Humor can break down barriers. The team would love to see you honestly look at yourself (as they do) and not take yourself so seriously. Everyday, you get to create and promote the environment you want on your team. Smiles and laughter create healthy environments.

RESULTS

You cannot become an effective leader if you are not getting results. And you get those results through people. Consistently inspecting what you expect, communicating progress, teaching and training your team to understand the story behind the numbers…all of this tells your team that you are serious about their performance. If you wait until an annual review to “surprise” a team member about his lack of performance, you’ve waited too long.

Regular coaching and weekly updates with everyone on your team will not only be appreciated but you will find you are building a team that will become proud of its achievements. And they will start creating innovative solutions themselves that perpetuate success over and over again.

I lead a team who handles loans – via our website, the phone, and via mobile/tablet devices. They have become very good at what they do. We have tried to connect with our customers (members to us, we’re a credit union) in new ways. One of my team members is developing an idea he came up with – a video signature on emails where we are “onboarding” this new relationship. He wants to make a connection with people that we rarely would actually see. I love this idea!

There are other things you can do as a leader to consistently build a healthy team. Job shadowing, observation coaching, lunch with the VP or CEO, self-development through a business book club, etc.

Don’t try to wait until there’s a crisis to build your team. It will be too late. Start today to create habits that will build up your team. They will be happier, more productive, and satisfied in their work. You will be less stressed and you will be recognized for leading an effective team.

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