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Teamwork: To Know Them is to Lead Them

Updated on May 7, 2017

In this post I want to discuss a specific and important professional relationship - your relationship with your direct reports. If you don't have direct reports, don't worry, you'll gain a ton of insight in how to have more influence with your manager too.

I meet a lot of brilliant leaders in my line of work. They're innovators and problem solvers, obstacle conquerers and barrier demolishers, but if there was one area where I would say they've all struggled at some point in their careers I would tell you that it's navigating the relationships with their direct reports.

Biggest Professional Struggle

It can be frustrating and demoralizing to think that no matter how complex the technical landscape, it's interpersonal relationships that cause the most stress and anxiety among technical leaders. This is, of course, because every relationship with every person we know is unique, just as every person we know is unique.

And layered atop our personalities we still have a varying number of influences and responses to internal and external stimuli. So, what's a leader to do?

The most common mistake I see technical leaders make is that they believe there's one single approach to rule all relationships, they focus on themselves and how they push out information as the key to successful leadership. In part they're right in focusing on their messaging, but they often use the wrong framework. Because the majority of successful role models are believed to have a special characteristic or technique, we are taught to model their behavior, but they key ingredient that is missing is: context.

I'm here with some good news: no matter the person, no matter the history, no matter the dynamic all employees can be can be mobilized and engaged effectively with a set of basic skills.

The first of which we're going to cover here today: know your team.

Sorry, but no matter how introverted you or your team are there's no way to get around the necessity to know one another, and as the leader it's your job to get this ball rolling.

Whether you do the following formally or informally - DO IT!

Personal Styles

Commitments - What are each person's aspirations? What are their personal and professional goals? What motivates them? What drives them crazy?

Values - What principles, norms, and behaviors are most important to them? How do these values fit within your group? Organization? Company?

Talents, gifts, and skills - What skills and talents does the employee possess? What aptitudes do they have? In what area do they show aptitude or interest?

Style - There are many ways to assess style. What type of learner are they? Do they learn by doing, collaborating, experimenting, or thinking? How do they communicate - by asserting, convincing, involving, or inspiring? Do they get right to the point or ramble on and on? Are they driven by analysis, the bottom line, a grand vision or power? What's their risk tolerance? How do they respond to change? What's their decision-making process like? Do they tend to focus on technical issues, business issues, or strategic issues? Do they often get wrapped up in office politics?

By knowing each person's style you can not only better customize your leadership approach to each individual, you can eliminate conflict before it even starts by formulating teams with complimentary members.

Trajectory - How far can this employee (in their current state) go in your organization? For instance, have they already reached a plateau? Or are they in over their head? Are they a potential superstar? Do they have room to grow, but perhaps at a moderate rate?

By understanding each individual's trajectory you can focus your efforts on the most immediate organizational needs and establish a developmental pipeline for your team.

Rinse and Repeat

Obviously, you'll want to revisit these profiles at some frequency. Recent studies by Gallup suggest 2-3 times per year is the minimum. Even that may vary from person to person, but do it nonetheless. Being aware of a particular employees' interests and professional goals will allow you to assign tasks to the most receptive member of the team and make your life as leader that much easier.

Aligning personal commitments, values, talents, gifts, skills, styles and trajectories with business needs are what separate leaders of good organizations from leaders of exponentially great organizations with loyal and engaged team members.

If you'd like a copy of the tracking sheet I share with my clients for they exercise just drop me a comment and I'll send you a Word or Pages copy right away.


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