For over 30 years, I have been privileged to lead great teams in various organizations. Together, we have pushed ourselves to continually become better. We have held each other accountable even if it became uncomfortable. We worked to have a one-mind approach to our success.
Over the years, I have learned some things about leading teams.
I connected better with my teams when I got to know them better personally. I truly care about the people I serve. I have listened as they shared about their children. I have seen them worry before certain tests were going to happen that would determine long-term care for a child.
I have attended weddings, visited them in the hospital, delivered meals to their homes, and attended their funerals. Caring makes leaders vulnerable, but it is such an authentic way to connect with teams.
Team members want to be coached. They want to improve when they know they are valued. Coaching can pinpoint areas needing improvement as well as celebrating with them when they overcome an obstacle. Coaching means asking great, probing questions to get to the core of issues.
Team members do not like uncertainty. I’ve learned to be available via email, Skype, phone, or personal meetings. The team has not taken advantage of this. But they know I’m open to invest time with them in order to keep our communication lines open. I’ve learned so much from my teams by encouraging open communication.
And I have learned to model open communication.
My teams have accomplished great things over the years. They banded together to make what seemed to be impossible possible. They have reached out to those in need in the community in order to make someone else’s children have a dream Christmas. They’ve shattered expectations in sales and service initiatives.
And in my coaching sessions, team meetings, and on performance reviews I celebrate them. They love the retelling of their story of success.
I have been a promoter of the organizations I have served. I have liked working there. But I have loved my teams. Watching them grow and develop, advance in their careers, and triumph in personal trials has been a privilege for me.
What have you learned about teams from your experience?
I just typed “leadership book” in the search bar on Amazon. I see there are at least 60,000 books I could purchase on this subject. I then just typed “follower book” and then “followership book”. Just over 10,000 results. Are you surprised? I’m not.
Here in the U.S., our culture places leaders on the pedestal. We flock to hear great leaders speak. Some of us purchase book after book to read what great leaders write. Podcasts abound from great leaders.
But what about being a great follower? Doesn’t that count for something? Shouldn’t it count? After all, every leader started as a follower.
“I bet we’d agree even the best leaders accomplish nothing without effective followers. If we agree followers are essential, why do so many people take being called a good follower as a criticism rather than as a compliment?” from Old School is Good School by Chief Master Sergeant Kevin Slater (U.S. Air Force).
A while ago, I was thinking about what it means to be a great follower. I have followed some great leaders. Cam taught me that there is always a way, an option, a solution – no matter what. That mindset has helped me more times in my life than I can count. From smuggling letters out of the former Soviet Union to helping my daughter with her history homework, I personally know that there is always a solution to big issues.
Chuck taught me that I can do anything I put my mind and my heart to. He gave me a shot in his company. I had zero experience, but he saw the potential. I learned and failed and kept on learning. I eventually took the job I had been given, whittled it from 40 hours/week to around 25-30 hours/week. I then was tasked to train my replacement who was given more responsibilities to fill that gap. Me? Oh, I was promoted to a management position.
Wayne taught me that anyone can conduct music. But a true conductor will get the most out of his musicians when he clearly communicates to pull from them their very best. I learned that it’s fun being a musician. But being a conductor allows you to create a musical experience and help others discover the beauty hidden beneath the notes and rests on the page.
None of these leaders coddled me in my developmental process. Far from it. They took me through what I now call the T.L.C. of being a great follower:
Think – Followers need to think, trouble-shoot, and solve problems. Most of the time, they are the closest to the action. You may not always get a “vote” in what goes on, but you certainly have a voice. Followers influence leaders!
Learn – Followers must learn new skills, learn how to communicate better with their teammates, learn what they are passionate about, and learn how their personal strengths add value to the team
Contribute – Followers must be active participants in their team’s/company’s success. There is no place for sideline observers on a winning team. Always look for ways to add value.
The leaders I named above expected this of me all the time. I’m glad they did. What I learned when I applied T.L.C. to my followership paved the path to my taking on leadership roles. I am forever grateful to these and other leaders who took me down this road.
Are you a follower? Great! Apply some T.L.C. to your journey. Who knows, perhaps you will soon be helping a follower under your leadership!
Much has been written about networking. There appears to be a change in how people view networking today. Let me be clear – I enjoy networking events. My brother and I started one that has grown to 3 major cities in 2 states! But it’s how we and those who participate in First Fridays Fort Wayne approach networking that makes the difference.
To many, networking is simply about meeting as many people as you can at an event and handing out business cards as if they were candy. Keep it upbeat. Keep it on the surface. High energy. This, in and of itself, is not bad. That approach may work.
But it doesn’t work for me. I want to encourage you to try a new approach.
How to Expand Your Relationship Reach
- Approach Networking Intentionally. Go to an event in order to seek out new relationships. That may result in exchanging business cards. Absolutely be upbeat. But make your goal to get to know someone better. Learn who they are, what drives them, how they impact the community, what leadership looks like to them in their current circumstance.
- Follow up & Follow through. Networking events should not become a one-and-done event. When you seek to get to know someone more, the networking event is only the start. After the event, follow up with an email or a LinkedIn message. Thank the person for their time. Thank them for sharing with you – allowing you into their world. Then invite them to coffee, breakfast, or lunch. Guess what? People will talk with you when you buy them a meal! They really will!
- Intentionally Prepare to Add Value. When you get together over coffee or a meal, come prepared with more questions to ask. Prior to this meeting, visit their website (personal or business). Review their LinkedIn profile and content. Your goal should be to have an engaging conversation that will lead to understanding the person better, understanding their business, and how you can help them connect with others, grow their business, and become better.
- Introduce Them to Other Leaders. Learn the skill of connecting people to people. You will help your community to become better and stronger when you become a connector of people.
- Continue the Connection. Share content you discover with new connections. Do this via email or on LinkedIn. Read content they’ve shared on LinkedIn and make positive comments. Share their content with other leaders who you know would find that information valuable. Drop them an encouraging email or text from time to time. Invite them to a ballgame. In other words, nurture the relationship.
The result of intentionally doing this has created so many meaningful relationships with leaders in my community. My 13 year old son constantly tells people, “my dad knows everyone.” That’s not true, but he recognizes that I have worked hard at building relationships, and we have talked about why I do this and why it is important.
I have found no down-side to developing relationships in my community. My life has been blessed by the people I’ve met:
- A seasoned leader who continues to impact emerging leaders, entrepreneurs, and a mentor to men and women who are growing their businesses. He is an author and a proud dad to 2 accomplished children.
- A leader who has served an Indiana Governor. She has been recognized with the highest award given to a citizen of our state. She continues to impact our community through her economic development work.
- A leader who influences young people through the arts. His choir has been a World Champion in a competition in China. His vision will impact at risk young people for decades to come.
- A leader who has served 2 Secretaries of Defense in Washington, D.C. He has shared what he has learned from world-class government leaders with local leaders here giving us a perspective few have had.
- A leader who was an award winning news anchor shared how to communicate like a pro. Her insights from her experience inspired many leaders in our area.
- A leader who recently shared his life story with me. From a high schooler who didn’t care about much to learn some hard lessons along his journey to an effective leader today who has fiercely decided he needed to self-develop for the good of his family, his company, and his community.
“So, should I go to a network event?” YES! There are so many events out there. I just want to encourage you to take a different approach to networking. Think about it…then take action.
You will not regret developing relationships. You will become better by doing this. You will help others become better. And, as a result, you will help your community become better.
(photo: my brother doing his thing. He’s a true connector!)
I’m conducting a very brief poll on the length of a podcast. I plan to launch one in conjunction with our local networking forum, First Fridays Fort Wayne. I would love to register your choice in podcast length. Follow this link to take the poll:
Thank you for your help!
A few years ago, I had the privilege of presenting to a group of team members a topic that was inspired by one of my own department’s team members. Stephanie and I had been talking about how to develop more confidence at a lunch we had weeks ago. She asked me if I could address how to have more confidence in the process of building our company’s culture. And that got me thinking…so, put together a presentation that I will be sharing here in a couple of posts.
I have been fascinated by confidence – who has it, how do I get more of it, how to temper it, why it is so important to have it in life, etc.
When thinking about a company’s culture, much of what I have read centers around the organization’s leadership and/or C-suite executives. But I believe a company’s culture can be built and developed by all team members regardless of their position in the company.
You see, there are moments, many moments, that occur where a member of senior leadership are no where to be found. If culture is left primarily to senior management, so many opportunities to build culture will be lost. That is why I want ALL of our team members to own culture-building.
In practical terms, we have all experienced times when we heard/see one team member gossiping about another team member who is not present – they are being talked about behind their back. And more times than not, the comments are not positive.
In THAT moment of observation, what can ANY employee do to turn that situation into a culture-building experience?
From my perspective, culture-building isn’t a mantra that we hear from leadership or see printed and framed on walls. That’s the easy part. Culture-building can be hard, messy, uncomfortable, risky – and it is WORTH IT!
So in the moment when we have to decide how we can build culture during a negative situation, we have 3 choices:
- Do Nothing. Building culture is easy to do. It is also easy NOT to do. And for many people, doing nothing is the easy thing. Say nothing. Just walk away. But this does not build a positive culture.
- Join In. A lot of us, unfortunately, join in on the negative conversation. We “gang up” on the person who is the subject of the gossip. Group gripe takes over. Is this a good thing to bolster your career path? Will the company become stronger with this sort of interaction? NO! There is a better way.
- Promote, Practice. Protect. I believe that every team member has the right and responsibility to do these 3 things.
- Promote. This is where we actively, intentionally promote the very best of our company. At our company, we have a way to give each other a digital “High 5” where we catch someone doing the right thing and then promote culture by sending them a High 5 which goes to that person directly as well as their supervisor. Promoting the culture also means getting involved in the community as a representative of the company. We offer many opportunities to serve in our communities and encourage volunteerism.
- Practice. The best way to promote a company’s culture is to practice it. Be a cheerleader for a project you’re involved in. Get results. Encourage others. Tell a team member that you appreciate them. Send a team member a thank you note on work they’ve been doing. Practicing a company’s culture helps build momentum towards the healthy and the positive.
- Protect. This is hard. I can’t candy-coat it. But this part of culture-building is vitally important and anyone in any position can practice this.
I’ll share more about how to protect your company’s culture in the next post.
Bottom line: your company is worth doing the 3 P’s. Your fellow team members are worth it. Your customers are worth it.
My 13 year old son had an assignment in a class this week. I was checking his homework online to be sure it was getting done. I came across this submission:
My favorite leader is my dad. He had the courage to influence others by creating a business where he helps everyday citizens become confident with what they do. The business is a non-profit and meets once every month. He brings in some of Fort Wayne’s top leaders and lets them help others.
He is fearless in meeting new people. A few months ago he went to Canada to speak at a university in front of hundreds of people. He has integrity, because he loves doing his job but, he also has the integrity to help others learn and grow as leaders.
He is amazing at communicating. He gets the message out to people, that no matter where they work, no matter if they don’t have a job, they can still be great leaders in their community. When they meet they talk about how to lead others to become leaders. He and my uncle came up with the idea at a coffee shop downtown. They were having a get together, and they said they wanted to have the community grow in leaders. They have been extremely successful and are still working hard to get new leaders in the community.
He has been very supportive of people when they feel they aren’t doing a good enough job at work. He ran the student counsel at Haverhill Elementary, and talked to us about how we can be leaders at school. He would also be glad to come in and talk to our class about leadership sometime. (I gave you his card)
This came at the right time for me. There are times when you can wonder if you make a difference. I was in that spot this week. Then I read this assignment. My son’s words reached not only my head but my heart.
I am grateful for my son, and I am humbled that he sees this in me. I am grateful for my great team at work. I am grateful for my brother and the work we are privileged to do together. I am grateful for a community of leaders here in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Photo: my son with our Romanian “daughter” (exchange student)
My interactions this morning with 2 young men that made my day.
“A new Think Tank session held at Hotelympia in London last week, hosted by EP Insights (www.epinsights.co.uk) and attended by leading CEOS, MDs and entrepreneurs from the hospitality industry as well as leading sports industry professionals from across the country revealed several major issues linked to the ongoing demise in leadership, productivity and culture in businesses today. Several factors were discussed at the event including a lack of trust in leadership today, the need to move from cost management to greater engagement and the mistakes businesses are making with emerging talent.”
Read the entire article here: Lack of Trust in Leadership is Impacting Performance and Culture
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