It is not people, but the ability to manage people, that is an organisation’s greatest asset, says leadership expert Tony Wilson.
Wilson, a performance coach who has worked with elite athletes and corporate executives in Australia and the US, says leaders and their teams can be an employer’s greatest competitive advantage.
However, most employers spend relatively little time developing them.
It is “an unfortunate fact” that most leaders are unable to clearly and concisely answer fundamental questions about the vision, mission, values and strategy of their organisation and their team, he says.
And if the leader can’t see clearly, chances are their team won’t either.
Lead with clarity, accept responsibility
In his new book Jack and the team that couldn’t see, Wilson says clarity should be a team leader’s first priority.
In a busy workforce where people are “constantly bombarded by more requests”, clarity is essential to ensuring proper prioritisation.
Failure to prioritise can cause individuals to compromise their team’s immediate performance without even realising it, Wilson says.
“If you have 10 people in your team making a wrong decision 10 per cent of the entire time, how does that impact the team’s performance at the end of the day?”
It is also “imperative” that leaders accept responsibility for their team’s performance, he says. “When you assume that responsibility you can continually ask, ‘What can I change to fix this?’ You are now on your way to discovering effective ways to lead.”
Open and honest communication
In order to work effectively, the individual members of a team must communicate openly and honestly, engage in “constructive conflict”, and hold one another accountable, Wilson says.
Leaders should encourage every member of their team to say what they mean without holding back – everyone with an opinion should put it “on the table” and every individual should expect and be given honest feedback.
“The key is to highlight differences and make them OK,” he says.
Leaders must beware of allowing “gung-ho extroverts” to speak over the top of introverts. One tip is to give introverted people advanced warning of a discussion topic so they have time to think about what they wish to say before the meeting.
Trust is also essential. “There are many ice-breakers that can initiate openness and honesty,” Wilson says, “but a simple tactic of answering questions about yourself will get the ball rolling”.
He also suggests keeping a written list of expected behaviours on display, incorporating suggestions, and using it to keep people accountable.
Real collaboration and constructive conflict
Real collaboration involves “constructive conflict”, Wilson says.
“This is the debate and argument that occurs when teams genuinely search for the best outcome or solution. It may appear to be a lot like fighting, but it isn’t personal,” he says. The trick is to validate each idea, even if it is ultimately rejected.
Asking people why they don’t agree with an opinion, playing the devil’s advocate, and praising the team when conflict is constructive can promote healthy discussion.
Once a plan of action has been decided, the leader should assign tasks to those who originally disagreed, Wilson adds. “Immediately engaging them in action will help them to overcome any lingering feelings they may have about not getting their own way,” he says.
Self accountability and mutual accountability
Every member of a team should be willing to hold the others accountable, Wilson says. Then if anyone – including the leader – overlooks something, someone else will raise it.
If a member of a team approaches their leader with a problem that relates to another team member, the leader should encourage them to handle it themselves, and reward them if they handle it well.
When the team fails, or someone lets others down, it should be acknowledged. “Once you accept excuses from people, you give them permission to fail again,” Wilson says. “Empathise with failure, but don’t make it OK.”
Leaders should also follow failure with questions that initiate positive discussion, such as, “Why do you think that approach didn’t work?” and “What would you change about it next time?”, he says.
Leaders can also encourage accountability by resisting the urge to cancel meetings they can’t attend. “If you’re not there, allow the meeting to continue,” Wilson says. “[But] make sure you ask for a post-meeting briefing, and if there were things that were not addressed, ask why.”
Article courtesy of Tony Wilson and HR Daily