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Mere Leadership: Understanding Your Team

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Mere Leadership: Understanding Your Team

It’s time to return to our leadership series. Today is Episode IV in our leadership series and we’re talking about what I call “Mere Leadership”. It is essentially the very basics for leadership. Is there more to leadership than this? Yes, and you can find a host of books with excellent insight into the characteristics of leaders that are going to be much more comprehensive than this series. At its most basic level, based on my experience leading an institution of 97 teammates and having the blessing of leading boards in multiple non-profit settings, I have put together 4 descriptions of leaders and 4 actions for leaders. The four descriptions that leaders are include: pace-setters who set the tone for those they lead, teachers who multiply themselves through those they lead, communicators who chart a path and coordinate forward movement, and 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 previous leadership episodes of our podcast. Today we’re going to transition to talk about 4 things that leaders do. These are actions that all leaders – regardless of who you are leading – should be doing. Today we are going to focus on only one thing, that leaders understand their teams. In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, habit #5 is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This is absolutely critical if you want to be an effective leader. You cannot understand the best way to lead until you understand the people that you lead. There are several particular things I’m going to commend that you understand about your team.

Seek to understand their gifts. In what ways do your teammates excel? What comes naturally to them? Do they have strong administrative and organizational gifts? Are they natural leaders who influence those around them? Do they excel in sympathizing and building relationships? Are they thinkers that have the incredible ability to analyze and solve? Just as you would never put someone who didn’t have a good arm at the position of quarterback, you would never put someone with the wrong set of gifts in the wrong position on your team. You must understand the gifts of your team to get them in the right position on the field.

Seek to understand their desires. It is not enough to know what your teammates are good at. What do they enjoy? Do they enjoy being out and about with people or do they enjoy papers and projects? One of the questions we have in our organization to determine people’s desires is to ask them to plot themselves on a paper/people continuum. This is a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 means they want to be around people all day and touch zero paper if possible while 1 means they would be content to be in an office with spreadsheets or processes all day long. Most people are somewhere in between. If they say they are a 5, that means their role in your organization needs to be a mixture of people and paper. If you isolate them with one or the other, then they will likely become discontent at some point. If they say they are an 8, that means that the bulk of their responsibility should be people oriented. Likewise, a 3 would need a large amount of process driven work and would probably avoid salesman type work. Fitting desires and duties together can save you from a great deal of frustration.

Seek to understand their motivations. The most helpful tool I’ve found to try and diagnose what motivates someone is the Enneagram. This personality profiling tool divides personalities into 9 types and many different subtypes or “wings”. These types tend to identify what motivates us to do what we do. Two people could have the same action, but their motivations could be completely different. I could talk about the Enneagram all day, but in this episode I’m only going to highlight the title and motivation of each personality type. A 1 is the perfectionist that is motivated by order. A 2 is the Helper. Helpers are motivated by meeting the needs of others.  A 3 is the Achiever. They are motivated by activity and accomplishment. A 4 is a Romantic, motivated by a desire to create. A 5 is an Observer, motivated by a desire to understand the world around them. A 6 is a Loyalist, motivated by a desire for safety. A 7 is an Adventurer and they are motivated by a desire to have fun. An 8 is the Challenger and they are motivated by the desire to fight and overcome. A 9 is a Peacemaker. They are motivated by a pursuit of harmony. Enneagrams can be incredibly helpful as a leader. We actually have our teammates at the bank take this test and use it regularly to understand our teammates. If it would be helpful for me to explore these personality types in detail in a future episode, let me know and I’ll be glad to dive in deeper.

Seek to understand their thinking style. The Enneagram breaks down its 9 personality types into 3 different ways that people process, make decisions, and think. Some personality types make decisions with their head, some make decisions with their heart, and others make decisions with their gut. If you are trying to lead someone who thinks with their head, preferring black and white data, making an emotional appeal is not going to move them. Stick to the facts and consider a pros and cons list instead of a motivational speech. For those who think with their heart, they may be moved by vision casting and emotion. Don’t throw them cold hard facts as they view it as impersonal and unhelpful. For those who think with their gut, you won’t be able to lead with pure quantitative factors. Those who rely on their gut move off of instinct – you’ll have to give them some measure of ability to make decisions with what they perceive qualitatively. If you can learn to adapt to your team’s thinking style, you’ll be heard so much more clearly.

Seek to understand their needs. What do they need to get the job done? So often we can give a challenge to our team without giving them the tools and resources necessary to fulfill and meet those challenges. Whether you agree that it is a need or not, if they perceive it as a need and they do not have it, they are not likely to be effective. You either must provide for the need, lead them to a mutual understanding that the need is actually not there, or show that it is being met in another way. If a teammate’s need is not being met for an extended period of time, they will look for someone else to follow where that need is being met. This could also be summarized as listening to their frustrations. Frustrations in a team normally develop because a need is not being met in some way. Understanding these frustrations and the underlying need that is not being met is critical for any great leader.

Lastly, seek to understand their opportunities. Teammates have a host of ideas that can help them be more effective and that can help the team. If you take the time to listen to their solutions for making things better, you may find them more engaged and effective team members. They also may have better ideas than you. Humbling yourself as a leader and recognizing that you don’t have all the answers can propel you in your own effectiveness and can allow you to harness your team’s potential.

Well, that’s enough on the first action for leaders to undertake, that leaders understand their team. We’ve taken a little more time to develop this idea of understanding your team, because I think it is the most neglected of the four actions of leaders. Leaders are often so hungry for results that they jump right to directing their teams without a good understanding of their team. Understanding must come first. We’ll discuss the other 3 actions of leaders as this series continues. 

Leading your small business is tough, and I know that first hand. That’s why, at Foundation Bank, we offer more than money to our small business clients – we also offer advice. Who couldn’t use a little objective help when it comes to running their business? If that sounds intriguing to you, we invite you to start your financial conversation with us today so we can help you meet your financial goals. We hope you have found this episode helpful, and if you have, we hope you will share it with your friends and family and on social media. Until next time, 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 May 24, 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.