In the age-old question about whether leaders are made or born, I continue to contend “both.” The one thing everyone must realize is that leadership skills can be learned. One of leadership’s key responsibilities is putting together a good leadership and management team. It means scouting, for sure, but it also means running that team in a way that brings results.
Here are a few tips for putting together a leadership team:
- Many highly regarded folks ranging from former CEO’s to researchers like Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, say that getting the right people on your team is first and foremost. But remember that getting the right people together does not mean being a charity – be willing to let go those who aren’t fitting or don’t show a passion for the company vision.
Collins equates this first tip with getting the right people on the bus. I like the analogy. It implies that some people ride the bus the whole route, while others get on later or get off sooner, which tells me you can expect the leadership team to change. It would be wonderful if the whole team could ride together the whole way, but that’s not always the best approach.
- Make sure everyone on the leadership team can teach as well as receive feedback. As quoted in the July 2003 edition of Business 2.0, Noel Tichy, formerly head of the management development institute at General Electric, says that when leaders teach and learn from their staff, and the staff in turn does the same for the next group, the company grows stronger. Tichy says companies that practice top-down one-way communication alienate their employees and “everyone becomes increasingly misaligned.” Misalignment leads to expensive redundant efforts and miscues. Communicate both ways and stay aligned for maximum productivity.
- When getting feedback, don’t punish people for being honest. The quickest way to kill communication is ask for feedback and then yell at people or cut them down because things aren’t going just right. This is a hard mindset to find – it’s too easy to convert your feedback session into a “fix that now” session, which kills trust and cooperation.
I’ve watched a leader “put people in their place” for giving answers he didn’t want to hear, and then wonder why his team doesn’t talk much during meetings. Until I saw it with my own eyes, I had no answer for him. All I had to do was sit in on one meeting and then I could give him the painful truth. At Leadership Development, we turn feedback into a game we call “good thing / bad thing.” Everyone gets to say what they liked about something as well as what they thought could have been better.
- Listen, listen, listen, and then make decisions. Leaders who continually put off making key decisions in a timely manner take a company down. This doesn’t mean bark orders – you’ll note that the first three phases here are “listen, listen, and listen.” Get the feedback. Consider the ripple effects. Listen to suggestions. Then, by all means, then move on it.
Still, while action is necessary, be sure to take actions in alignment with the company vision, mission, and the overarching strategic plan. A certain degree of filtering is necessary. Listening can put you in touch with good ideas that are not necessarily in the best interest of the company. As the axiom goes, good is often the enemy of best. Be careful not to get sidetracked into something good at the expense of what is best for the company.
There’s a lot more to leadership and building leadership teams than can be included here, but these tips ought to at least stimulate thought about your own leadership bus. Just remember that all buses need maintenance, so keep a regular schedule of “tune ups” and “inspections” to make sure your leadership bus stays reliable. Nothing is more frustrating than having a breakdown due to neglect.