From July 31, 2018 still on a high from my first trip to Los Angeles and first solo trip in a long time. I didn't have much time to relax as I was on edge the whole time about my first public speaking engagement. I wasn't sure how it would go but I knew my heart was in the right place and I wanted to share these experiences in hopes of helping somebody get clarity on what's holding them back at work. It went well and I felt so liberated afterward, meeting new people and hanging out afterward to answer questions about how to lead at work.
During my session called Lead & Be Led at the Accounting & Finance Show in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, I spoke about the importance of building and leading a winning team. Assessing talent and leveraging skillsets is the core of building the team. Leading on the other hand is driven by one’s ability to effectively communicate expectations while providing the guidance needed to meet those expectations.
Below is a recap and key takeaways from my session. Like many things in life (success, interviewing, relationships), leading is a mutually beneficial thing. Being a leader forces you to level up when it comes to soft skills. I personally have learned a lot about myself during my years as a manager. I’ve learned what actively listening really is, how to evaluate another person’s performance relative to a goal, and I must say I’ve created some pretty cool employee engagement activities as a first step towards shifting less-than-ideal corporate cultures. I’ve always had an affinity for mentoring others so this was an important topic for me. Here are three things a leader must do to build a winning team.
What even defines a great boss? One who lets you come to work whenever you want, take the heat for your mistakes, helps you get promoted, enhances your technical expertise? It can mean many things so as a leader the priority is to get clarity on what that means inside of YOUR organization. What is it that YOUR employees want and need? YOUR employees in the organization you work in today, not what you thought worked in the job you had 4 years ago. Being engaged allows you to define the phrase “great leadership” from the unique perspective of your organization because it’s a function of (or should be) the specific needs of your employees. Organizations have a leadership profile that works for their particular business. This could even be different for different divisions of the same business with opposing leadership styles, even though they are part of a larger culture. There are many transferable skills when it comes to being a leader but the engagement aspect changes constantly. When you hire a new person, you have to get to know them and how they best thrive. In my experience with large teams, I had to figure out how to first keep my own deliverables & priorities in check. I had to manage my time and be organized. Learning about my team was the catalyst to me enhancing some essential soft skills. Now that I’ve connected with with my team members and have a sense of their needs, I can work strategically towards meeting those needs.
Empower. I love that word. A few months back Forbes published an article called "8 Essential Qualities That Define Great Leadership." It mentioned integrity of course, competence, enthusiasm and decisiveness to name a few. One that especially stuck out to me was empowerment. Our team members sit on ideas that could be cost effective and time saving. They know something needs to be done and have a great solution but may feel like it’s out of line or they feel like they don’t have the proper authority to do so. This too, is a function of the culture within the organization. If the culture is such that feedback, suggestions are encouraged, then employees will be more vocal when it comes to process improvements. You’ve identified a problem so take it a step further and think through ways to fix it.
Empowerment is all about trust. When a team member comes to me and says “What do you think we should do?” My response is “What do YOU think we should do?” It’s not meant to be punitive at all; it’s empowerment, and your team may not get it or receive it at first. Create an environment conducive to thought sharing.
To empower them means you have to prepare yourself to take a few more hits for the team. If your team’s project produces lackluster results then the leader will be accountable. It’s about ownership and resiliency.
If you have high-potential talent on your team, cultivate that. It’s hard to find great people - I’d rather attract the talent and juxtapose their expertise with current deficiencies within the organization. I’ve seen a finance professional become the head honcho of marketing because of this phenomenon. If they’re making missteps, not performing at the highest level, be vocal about it. There’s a way to do so with tact. Along those same lines, it’s about hiring the right people. Given my management style, if I have to choose between the two, soft skills beat technical skills every time. I can teach you accounting concepts or financial analysis or how to write an SOP. I can’t teach someone to have a sense of urgency, or how to always work to exceed stakeholder’s expectations or to show up to work everyday.
Let’s be real, not everybody will be on board of your mission. Some people may already have 1 foot out the door. Work with them if there's potential or allow them to transition themselves out. No love lost, really. As a matter of fact, thank you. Leadership is very much a mutual effort. As I teach I learn. The more I learn about my team the more opportunities I have to hone my leadership skills. A great team makes my job easier. I can pivot and work on strategic, high level projects if I have the confidence and trust that my team is handling the transactional work. But again, that’s a function of great leadership - they don’t get there on their own.
I've seen leadership from both sides of the table - as the employee trying to figure it all out and as the manager working on developing the talent I hired onto my team.
What questions do you have about leadership? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.