There was a point in my leadership journey when I felt like the whole world was on my shoulders. I believed it was up to me to make the best decisions, ensure the strategy was executed, and deliver on the outcomes I had promised. That pressure resulted in me feeling stressed, irritable, and overwhelmed. The people around me knew the pressure of my position at the time was getting to me, but it was hard for me to see it.
I was having lunch with a mentor one day where I shared with him what I was feeling. Secretly, I didn’t know if I was cut out for leadership. I just couldn’t imagine living at this pace for the rest of my professional life. He smiled at me and said two things that changed my perspective entirely.
He told me my experience was common among leaders, especially relatively new ones. And then he told me if I didn't learn to how to get better at developing and depending on the team around me, I would limit my success. He went on to explain that the larger the organization, the bigger the task, and the more complex the work that needs to be done, the more I must lean on the team around me.
A CRITICAL LEADERSHIP SHIFT
I’ve never forgotten that conversation. It changed my perspective on leadership. Everything up to that point had been about what I could complete and accomplish. While I didn’t have a huge team to support me at the time, I wasn’t utilizing the team around me like I needed to. I decided to make some commitments to myself:
· I decided to no longer do something someone else could do. I needed to focus on those things only I can do.
· I decided to no longer see myself as the source of all energy and ideas. I needed to invite my team into the ideation, strategy, and execution process.
· I decided to no longer only focus on what I could do, but who I could develop. I needed to see my priority as people development rather than execution.
These personal resolutions shifted my thinking and orientation to the team around me. I would like to say every piece fell immediately into place, but that wasn't what happened. Like anything else, it was a journey.
KEY INDICATORS YOU NEED TO CHANGE YOUR TEAM BUILDING HABITS
Now that I get to mentor other leaders, I recognize the pitfalls even before they sometimes do. Here are four indicators you’re not very good at building teams:
1. You are way too far into the details. If you know more about the intimate details of a situation than anyone else on the team, it’s a good indicator you haven’t invited the appropriate team members into a discovery process with you. The people around you can’t help you if you don’t give them the opportunity.
2. You believe collaboration is a waste of time. Yes, you will need to accept that you’ll go slower together than you can on your own. This is true in the beginning. But as time goes on, it should accelerate your capacity to take on more and more complexity. See collaboration as your goal rather than an obstacle to your goal.
3. No team member is stronger, smarter, or more successful than you in their area of responsibility. Good leaders need people on their team who are more skilled at their job than you would be. That’s because they are closer to the execution of a task or skill than you are. Find the best people and get them on your team. That is the magic of enduring leadership.
4. You don’t have a discipline of developing others. Invest in your team. Get to know them personally and professionally. The best leaders I know can give you a list of people who worked for them and then later went on to do bigger and better things. That’s not a black mark on you; it’s a compliment. I’ll never forget the leaders who invested in me and gave me the opportunity to try things I wasn’t necessarily ready to do or take on. Your team members are no different.
CHANGE YOUR THINKING, CHANGE YOUR LEADERSHIP
So, what do you do if you realize you’re not good at this team building thing? Let me make a few suggestions:
· Admit it to your team. (Hint: They already know this.) So, if you’re courageous enough to admit it, they’ll respect you for it.
· Ask them to hold you accountable. Invite them to point out opportunities to move things off your plate and onto theirs. Let them do it, even if that means you’ll need to budget some time to coach them through it.
· Read everything you can about building and leading great teams. I’m a big fan of reading books. If I were you, I would start with The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team and Leaders Eat Last. You won’t be disappointed.
· Practice, practice, practice. This is a skill anyone can learn. Be patient with yourself as you build new leadership muscles around building up the people on your team.
There is nothing more essential to your leadership success than building great teams. Whether you are a parent, teacher, entrepreneur, pastor, business executive, community leader, or politician, you must have a support system to help you accomplish what is before you. Don’t try to go it alone, and don’t sacrifice short-term speed for long-term endurance. As one of my friends is fond of saying, “The one who wins is simply the one who stays in the game longer than anyone else.”
Building up other people and leading successful teams is one of the privileges I have as a leader. I want you to experience that satisfaction, too. Don’t fool yourself into thinking the leader must be a superhero. That may read well in a comic book, but it is far different in real life. You are at your best when your team is at their best.
CHALLENGE: Are you focused on developing people and leading teams, or are you busy with getting boxes checked on your to-do list? In what ways have you grown the people around you? Can you name someone who worked for you who is better and stronger today because of you? What needs to change in you so you will make the time to develop and lead great teams?