No MBA mumbo-jumbo, just stuff that's worked through 30 years of team-building in business and the military.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How to Really Know Your Team

We all know that to lead well you have to know your people. Do you? Really? 

Most leaders think that means to know names of family members, birthdays, what work they like, what they're good at, what rewards and motivators they respond to. Those are good things, but they don't get at who people really are. 

Here's what you need to know: What they value, where their passion is, what really trips their trigger. And, as every good detective knows, you can find out what people really care about by looking at what they spend their money and time on. 

You can't ask them about money, but you can ask about time. "Got big plans for your weekend?" "What did you do over the holidays?" Mostly they'll give you generalities, but once in a while they'll mention something - a nonprofit, a cause, a hobby - that hints at their passion. Take note, and ask questions. Be genuinely interested. 

When you talk about what they really want to talk about, you make a connection. You show interest in him not for what he can do for you, but for who he is outside of work. By being interested, you communicate that he's an interesting person. That's a huge deposit in the relational bank account. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

When Not to Lead

Good leaders are like good salesmen: Good salesmen are always selling, and good leaders never stop leading. That can be a problem, though; sometimes you need to not lead. 

One of those times is when you're on a team that has a leader, and you aren't it. The old military axiom really is good advice: When in charge, take charge, when you're not, don't. As a leader you undoubtedly see things you'd do differently (I know, you're thinking "better") but a team can only have one leader and your best-intended efforts to lead will just be disruptive. 

The other time, though, and maybe more important, is when your team is moving itself. They caught your vision, they want to get to the same future state you do, and they see how. And now they're doing it, they're encouraging each other, they're pulling together, they're making it happen. Your job now is to not screw it up.

When you let them run, they energize themselves, they own the results, and they love the work. If you lead overtly at those times, you devalue what they're doing. So monitor, nudge, cheerlead, but stay out of the way. It's those times when you seem like you're not needed that are the proof of your team-building skills. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Evangelism: A Key Leader Skill

If you don’t have some missionary in you, you’ll probably struggle some days with leadership.

That’s because a critical skill for leaders is evangelizing. We think of that as a religious thing, and usually it is, but that’s not what I mean.

As leader, you have the vision. You can see, in your mind’s eye at least, what the future looks like. You know how life will get better if your team just listens and acts, if they just follow. But how do you get them to do that?

By evangelizing. You have to talk, to serve, to build relationships, to build trust. Those are the same things evangelists do. They persuade, they convince, they demonstrate in a thousand ways that they’re not in it for themselves, but for the good of others.

If you really believe in what you’re doing, you’ll naturally work to convince your team. It’s the best thing, it will make the work easier or better or more fun, it will be far better for the team than the current state. When you feel that way, you never stop trying to sell your vision. That’s evangelizing.

If you don’t ever have to persuade your team to strive for something, then they are probably leading you.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

One Job

You know that meme that's going around the Internet? "You had one job . . ." Actually, it's been around a while, and the cool people are probably on to something else by now. But the meme is tacked to pictures of people failing; implying that this one simple thing was too much for them.

Well, as a leader, you have one job. Oh, you do a lot more, but those parts of your job aren't leading. Those parts are supervising (making sure work gets done) or administering (keeping track of stuff) or managing (divvying out resources). 

Leaders only do one thing: They move people. That's your one job. Leading means taking people from where they are to a different place. You're Daniel Boone, showing your team how to make it through the mountains to a better life on the other side.

If your team doesn't need to go to anywhere, they don't need a leader; all those other jobs are enough. And if you're not taking them anywhere, you're not leading. You're a custodian, keeping the status quo nice and spiffy.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

An Easier Way Than Personal Branding

If you've been reading the past few days, you know how I feel about self-branding or self-promotion. One last point on the topic: It isn't necessary. There's a much more effective way to what you're after, and it's easier too.

I got some wise counsel as a young officer: Forget about promotion, just do my job like it's the most important thing in the whole Army. I did that, and I never got the chance to think about getting promoted. That's because as soon I as I hit minimum time-in-grade, I was recruited for every promotion I ever got.

Look around you. It's the guy who shows up and works all day, every day who stands out. It's the gal who never says, "That's not my job." It's the person who thinks about the team and not about personal credit. Those people are easy to spot in the herd of self-promoters and ladder-climbers. They're trusted, they have influence. And they get recruited.

So save all the energy it takes to wave your own flag. Instead, show up and do your job. Lead your team like it's the only team you ever want. Attack the work like you're saving the world. Give more than you get every single day. Live like you already have your dream job. 

If you do that, I promise it won't be long until some executive somewhere wants you on her team. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Self-Promotion is a Leadership Killer

It's a favorite quote, one I think you've heard before and maybe even in this blog, some famous words of Margaret Thatcher: "Being a leader is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you're one, you aren't." Or something to that effect.

That's the other problem I have with the idea of personal branding, which I wrote about earlier this week. Self-promotion just doesn't work. People are sick of being sold stuff, and they get turned off pretty quickly if you try to sell yourself. That's true for your bosses, and it's true for your team. And it's especially true for your peers; they're just as good as you and they don't want to hear you toot your own horn.

The fact is, if you're a good leader, your bosses are already talking about you, and so is your team. Your peers are probably already being influenced by you. Bragging is only going to damage the good reputation you've already built. If you're not a good leader, all the talk in the world won't help you. Because here's the problem: By turning people off, self-promotion destroys your ability to lead.

So focus on your team. Help them succeed. Help them grow. Move them from where they are to a better place. Do that, and you'll stand out in your organization like you're wearing a neon sign. There are lots of self-promoters and ladder-climbers. There aren't very many true leaders.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

There's Only One Reason to Care About Your Personal Brand

You hear a lot these days about your personal brand - that is, making your name valuable in the marketplace just like companies do with the brand names they sell under. I don't mean to be a Grinch on this, but for the true leader there's only one reason to care about your personal brand.

Basically the idea of personal branding is selfish - it's all about either personal glory or personal advancement. Those are bad motivators for a leader. If that's what you're after, then be honest, with yourself at least, and acknowledge that you don't want to lead, you want to climb on the backs of your people.

The one good thing your personal brand brings to the team is influence, which is just your ability to get others to trust you and agree with you. Influence is what lets you convince those outside your team to do things that will help your team.

So stop thinking of your personal brand and start thinking about your reputation. Reputation is like a brand without the price tag; it's wanting the same good name for purposes other than yourself.