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Mere Leadership: Directing Your Team
We’re going to pivot back to our leadership series titled, “Mere Leadership.” Today is Episode 5 and remember that we are highlighting the very basics for leadership. There is much more to leadership than this, but leadership is certainly not less than what we have shared. I’ve identified 4 descriptions of leaders, and 4 actions for leaders; or said another way: 4 things leaders are and 4 things leaders do. The four things that leaders are include: 1. Leaders are pace-setters who set the tone for those they lead. 2. Leaders are teachers who multiply themselves through those they lead. 3. Leaders are communicators who chart a path and coordinate forward movement. 4. Leaders are listeners who recognize there is something to learn from everyone. If you want to hear more about these 4 descriptions of leaders, you can go back and listen to episodes 2 and 3. In episode 4 we talked about the first thing that leaders do, that leaders understand their team. This is foundational and essential to take place before any of the other actions for leaders. You can’t effectively lead your team unless you first understand them. We talked about leaders understanding the gifts, desires, motivations, thinking style, needs, and opportunities of their team. We also discussed tools like the enneagram and the paper/people continuum to assist in this essential goal of understanding.
Today we’re going to discuss a second action of leaders, and that is that leaders direct their teams. This may seem obvious, but I’m sure you can think of some leaders who don’t direct anything. They have a position of leadership but do not engage in the activities of leadership. They may supervise you, but they don’t give you any direction or lead you. This is frustrating, isn’t it? A leader is supposed to lead. A leader is supposed to take you somewhere. I’m going to share 3 ways that a leader is able to direct their team.
The first is that a leader directs their team through clarifying their teammate’s roles. We used the football analogy in our last leadership episode, and we’ll go back to it again. There are certain recruits in football who come into a program who played multiple positions in high school. At that level, players often play on both sides of the ball, defense and offense, and can do a little bit of everything. Once you reach college, you begin to focus on a particular role on the field. These multitalented recruits are often referred to as “athletes” when they come in without a clear position. It is the coach’s job to understand this recruit’s ability and potential, to understand his team’s needs, and then to clarify what role they will play on the team. As a leader, you may have some teammates that are multi-talented and that have potential within your organization in multiple areas, but you must define for them what position they are playing for the team. People need to understand where their level of responsibility stops and where another teammate’s starts. This is the only way you can provide appropriate accountability – if people understand what they are there to do for the team. Although titles are helpful, roles are more than titles. Roles indicate responsibility and ownership. A leader’s job is to assess giftedness and then to create a role for that person that aligns with their giftedness.
So often if someone leaves an organization the automatic response is to find someone else to fill the role and give them the exact same job description. But I think a wiser strategy is to fit job descriptions around people rather than squeezing people into job descriptions. Do we have certain things in an organization that have to be done? Yes, there are certain needs that have to be met. Is it possible that the people who do those things change based on the gifts and abilities of the team at any given time? Absolutely. In some ways this leads to a fluidity among roles even while there is a clarity on the current state of those roles. Though those roles may change, as long as you communicate clearly what those roles are, there should be no confusion. From time to time there will be people on the team who are not succeeding in their roles. A leader must have mechanisms in place to be made aware of this (we’ll talk about this awareness component more in our next mere leadership episode). Once this lack of success has been identified, a leaders must ask whether or not another role would be a better fit. Not only do people sometimes not succeed in their current role, but at times they engage in role creep. They start stepping on the toes of other teammates’ roles or meddling with things outside of their responsibility. This also must be addressed by the leader, but you cannot identify role underperformance or role creep unless the teammate understands their role in the first place.
That leads me to a second way that leaders can direct their teams: Leaders direct their teams by creating goals. Now some personality types are more comfortable with goals than others – so let me use a different word that hopefully everyone can embrace. Creating goals is essentially helping define what a “win” looks like. What does success look like for this teammate? In sports, it’s pretty clear to determine success, because at the end of the game there is a winner and a looser. Wins are not always so easy to define in organizations, so this must be communicated by the leader so each teammate understands what they are aiming at. In our business of banking, one of our goals is to earn a strong profit. That is actually not our highest goal, but it is a goal. Profit is the lifeblood of our organization. If we don’t make a profit, we can’t aim for any other goals. For our organization then profit is essential, but it is not ultimate. What is another one of our goals? Another of our bank’s goals is our purpose statement – that we exist as a tool to invest in things that will outlive us. That means if we have made a positive impact in the life of someone else, whether that be a teammate or a client, we consider that a win. If we have successfully planted a tree under whose shade we may never sit, we consider that a win. What are your organization’s goals? Do your teammates understand how those goals apply to them and their role? What does success look like for each of your teammates and for your organization? It is a leader’s job to create these goals and to continually communicate them so that everyone understands how you define a win.
Lastly, leaders direct their teams by coordinating forward movement. Directing one person is a challenge, but synchronizing multiple people is an even bigger challenge. We talked about this some when we discussed the role of leaders as communicators, but we want to home in on some specific, practical ways that leaders can direct with forward movement. Practical suggestion #1 is to enable decision making at the lowest level possible in the organization. If every decision has to be approved by you as its leader, then that’s going to cause traffic jams in your email box and your front door. Instead, enable those who are capable to make those decision, and then review those decision on the back end. Forward movement suggestion #2 is to utilize deadlines wisely. Things will often sit and simmer unless there is a sense of urgency, but don’t give a deadline to everything or you will overwhelm your team. If everything is urgent, then nothing is urgent. Some projects can be moved along just as the team is able, but there are others that have a sense of urgency. Attach deadlines to those items that are truly urgent and important, but don’t be rigid in those deadlines. Use them as guardrails, but not as a cattle prod. Forward movement suggestion #3 is to coordinate through questions. “Can you give me an update on XYZ project?” is a great way to keep things moving forward. Open ended questions in particular can be very helpful in moving things forward. Forward movement suggestion #4 is to master the art of the gentle nudge. You don’t have to throw a fit about a project not moving along as quickly as you would like. Gentle nudges can be much more effective than an outright rebuke. There is a place for hard conversations, but only once disappointments or underperformance become consistent and regular. The fifth and final forward movement suggestion is to overlook unimportant disappointments. Your team is human. If you nit-pick them to death, they will leave. Choose wisely the items that are worth constructive criticism and the items that you just need to let go. Criticizing continually has diminishing returns. Treat others as you want to be treated and don’t be an unreasonable taskmaster, or you will exhaust your team.
At MBC / Foundation Bank we haven’t figured out how to put all of these leadership principles into place – but we’re trying. We’re learning from our mistakes and growing from our successes. If you want to be part of a team with an aspiring culture like this, we invite you to start a conversation with us today. If you’ve found these leadership principles helpful, we hope you’ll subscribe to the podcast and share it with your friends on social media. Until our next episode, God bless you.
-President Chad P. Wilson, CFP
Today’s episode of “Money Matters” was written and recorded by President Chad P. Wilson of McKenzie Banking Company / Foundation Bank on July 26, 2022. This episode does not constitute financial advice. Please consult a financial professional to discuss your specific needs. MBC/Foundation Bank is an Equal Housing Lender, Member FDIC.