Stars and Teams

In all teams there are “star” players and there are “team” players. Both are essential to the success of a high performing team. Star players provide occasional moments of high intensity, energy and drive, where they can muster their single skills to overcome particularly difficult situations. The star players, however, are rarely “team” players. They are usually energized by the recognition of their individual accomplishments and usually have a hard time relinquishing control and delegating responsibility.

The “team” players, on the other hand, understand the value of collective strength and that the whole is, more often than not, greater than the sum of the parts. Team players will try to put everyone to work to achieve the best outcome. They are often overlooked as most attention is drawn to the star players, but are pivotal in consistently achieving results. They are usually the ones who create the conditions that allow star players to shine.

"I want employees who are ambitious, but not at the expense of everything else. It’s the ‘peacock’ issue: I don’t want 800 people saying, ‘Look at me.’ The employees I promote deliver results – and their colleagues want to work with them. An individual without the desire to enable colleagues is just that – an individual. Someone who’s passionate about helping others succeed is a leader."

Tracey Fellows, MD, Microsoft Australia

Here are a few of the personal characteristics I look for in candidates when I am building a team:

  • Reliable and accountable. Team players know that the team depends on each other, so they know that the other team members need to know they can count on them;
  • Committed. Team players are usually committed not only to their individual tasks but, most importantly, to the overall outcome;
  • Active Listener. Team players know how to listen. They know how to ask the right questions and how to engage in meaningful dialog without the need to “win” every argument;
  • Participative, shares openly and constructively. Team players intrinsically understand that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, so they proactively share knowledge and work constructively with others.
  • Cooperative, flexible. Team players easily adapt to changing conditions and usually take the initiative to cooperate with others to accomplish a task or help to solve problems;
  • Respectful and supportive. Above all, team players are respectful of other peoples’ opinions and of differing points of view not forcing their own ways or opinions on others. They influence, support and help to develop others. In time, I’ve seen many team members, who have exhibited several of these characteristics, take on bigger challenges and responsibilities and naturally become leadership figures within their own teams. The star players on those teams usually wanted to move on to become bigger and better star players on other teams.
    An interesting observation is that team players who excel at being team players, often become star players themselves,by exercising leadership skills like active listening or delegation, while still retaining their team player characteristics.My observations and personal experience suggest that people who are able to walk this fine line greatly accelerate their personal growth and career development.
    Consider, for a moment, how others see you and what behavior you exhibit in your relationships with co-workers and team mates. Are you a bright and shinning star on the rise or are you a solid and grounded team player? What do you value the most? The recognition of your individual accomplishments or the recognition of the accomplished job?

Powell’s Rules

“Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of  management says is possible.”

– Colin Powell

I have seen Colin Powell’s leadership lessons some time ago, but frankly can’t recall why I never posted them.

Although I think that the “lessons” are insightful and reflect a man who seems to have a very head-on and assertive approach to people and leadership, I actually prefer the shorter “rules” version, which are very compact and directive.

Powell’s Rules

  1. It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
  2. Get mad, then get over it.
  3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
  4. It can be done!
  5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
  6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
  7. You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.
  8. Check small things.
  9. Share credit.
  10. Remain calm. Be kind.
  11. Have a vision. Be demanding.
  12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
  13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

Leadership Lessons

The Leaders We Need…

Most books on leadership make it sound a lot like a gift or a personal trait one is borne with. I don’t particularly believe in this theory. I believe that Leadership comes from a collection of skills that one can learn to master. I admit some people might be more inclined to learn these skills. To some, they might even come naturally, but most of us can learn and use proficiently, if not all, at least some of these skills.

Leaders today face numerous challenges. One of the most fundamental challenges is how to inspire people. As a leader and an authority figure, it is easy to fall into the trap of using that authority to command and control others. This negative behavior can be avoided if the leader has the skills that enable him to influence and motivate others in achieving common (and clear) goals. Below are some of the core skills that leaders need to develop:

  • Communication skills – Speak and writing in a clear and persuasive tone is fundamental for inspiring others;
  • Interpersonal skills – Learn how to relate to others and listen to what they are really saying. People seldom come out and say exactly what they mean. Especially when communicating up;
  • Conflict-resolution skills – The ability to handle tension is paramount for a leader. A calm, collected, and rational leader, especially when there are high stakes and high emotions, inspires others;
  • Negotiation skills – Negotiation is about handling differences (different viewpoints, different goals) and looking for common ground and defining platforms for common understanding;
  • Motivational skills – Aligning all parties on a common goal is a fundamental trait for a leader;

The skills mentioned before are essentially soft skills. What so many managers fail to understand is that Management and Leadership are not the same thing. Being a manager doesn’t turn anyone into a leader. On the other hand people can be leaders and not be in any position of authority.

The table below shows the different set of skills required both in management and leadership positions. While the items on the left are key operational skills for managers, those who want to lead must also develop the the skills listed on the right.

While Managers… Leaders…
  • Plan
  • Budget
  • Envision
  • Organize
  • Manage Resources
  • Motivate
  • Inspire
  • Control
  • Solve problems
  • Negotiate
  • Resolve Conflicts

I’ve been inspired by similar comparisons, but the table above is my own (influenced and distilled) view on the major differences that I see in the behavior of managers and leaders.

Today, we are facing turbulent times, such as our generation has never seen. People with managerial skills are necessary, but those with leadership skills are fundamental.

Decision Process

Before making a decision, first decide on how to decide.

We often tend to forget many of the tools or frameworks available to us when we have to make decisions. We end up procrastinating decisions just because we haven’t defined what the decision making process is.

I was recently reminded of this point as I sat in a meeting where no one could reach a decision because it had to be consensual, so everyone ended up discussing small and irrelevant details that added absolutely nothing to the topic at hand and consensus was reached only after a lengthy and mostly unproductive discussion. Have you ever been on a meeting like this?

After the meeting I had to ask myself why was it necessary for the decision to be consensual? Was it that relevant for everyone involved? I don’t think so. Was there any other way to make a decision and move on? I believe there was.

Situations like this often happen because there is no clear understanding about how decisions are to be made. So, before you have to make a decision first decide on how you’re going to decide. There are basically four ways to make a decision:

Commanding – Having all the information you need you make the decision yourself and communicate what it is. You find this decision making process in law enforcement and in the military, for instance.

Consulting – You need additional information so you consult whomever you need to get it. After having all the information the responsibility of making the decision is still yours and yours alone.

Consensus – The topic is relevant to everyone involved so everyone has to agree before moving forward. This model is usually the most time consuming of the four.

Voting – The quintessential democratic method. Everyone votes on the topic and a decision is reached based on the ballot (there are many ways to tally the votes).

Leading Creative Teams

I deal with highly intelligent, motivated and creative individuals on a daily basis. Leading teams of creative individuals is both a privilege and a responsibility. Generally speaking, creative and intelligent individuals are used to question status quo and typically find creative ways around organizational obstacles, so I am constantly reminded of an insightful quote I read in an article in the Harvard Business Review:

Leading teams of creative, intelligent individuals requires an atmosphere where rules and norms are plainly and universally accepted. 

It has been my experience that for leadership to be accepted you have to create an atmosphere where the team members are valued individually, and feel committed with the overall goals. I believe that for rules and norms to be universally accepted, it’s important to communicate and get agreement on shared objectives.

I also think that creative and intelligent people need a fair amount of leeway in how to reach a given objective. However, it’s still up to the leader to set the goals and define the boundaries of the playing field.

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