Transitions have been a big theme in recent times, and getting back to work looms larger right now because the holidays are over, and the world is slowly moving to a post-COVID workplace. As leaders, the potential tension between “good for the company” and “good for the person” comes into play, and we have to consider whether our company culture cares about the whole person, or does leadership see members of the team as widgets (fungible working units). For most leaders, the balance leans heavily towards the former, but to truly test your (team) leadership, ask yourself these five questions.
- Is your company team centric?
A good business program will teach about the team approach using examples from Apple to Zappos to discuss an organization built around teams. A team approach in this context generally refers to the idea that company goals are not managed in a hierarchical structure; instead, they encourage a flattened, cross-department collaboration to achieve the purpose. But more than corporate outcomes, a team culture values the unique capabilities of each person in the company and encourages an environment that brings out the best performance from individuals. This isn’t always convenient for leadership, so it’s essential to look at the structures and expectations put on the team to see who benefits – team members, leaders, and/or the company. A good balance of the three is optimal.
- What’s your purpose as a leader?
It’s tempting to answer this question with the simple statement, “to lead,” but that evades the many nuances of leadership style, approach, goals, and outcomes. What does your team mean to you as a leader? Are they a means to an end or something more? Determining your purpose can clarify a great deal about your role and your relationship with your team.
- Are you investing in the talent pipeline?
A leader will have an evolving team over their career. Whether you stay in the same organization, see significant turnover or experience your own career transitions, you will have different teams along the way. Career development for your team assures that you can make your transitions with the right people in the right position wherever you go and wherever you’ve come from. Leadership development positions you to rise as you train your team to support you at each step. While “investment” is both concrete and a metaphor, understanding the importance of “people vs. profit” in your approach to your team will impact your priorities and resource allocation.
- Are you listening and learning?
Your team doesn’t simply exist to effectuate the goals set by you and the organization. It comprises people with insights, experiences, and perspectives that might be invaluable to the betterment of your team, your company, and your own development. As a team leader, you will be more likely to gain these benefits from your team if you have a systematic and intentional approach to listening and learning. Beginning with observing your team in action with an analytical eye, you also need to create opportunities for thoughtful feedback and communication with your team. You need to listen, and then you need to apply the lessons back into the group as well as share them with others.
- Are you corporate or community?
A leader in a corporation owes a duty to a variety of stakeholders. The most obvious would be the shareholders who have granted you the power to run the organization for their benefit. However, the “benefit” they derive does not need to be reduced to a dollar figure. Shareholders are only one part of your charge, and your team, customers, partners, and other stakeholders have interests and priorities. Meeting these might benefit the shareholders more than a solitary focus on corporate profit. After all, “givers gain,” and engaging these other stakeholders in the organization’s aims by meeting their needs will offer returns that increase the strength and performance of the company.
Leaders cannot exist without those they lead. It takes focus, intention, and commitment to make sure your team receives the right consideration to thrive and effectuate your mandate. As businesses face major issues like a return to in-person work, leaders need to be hyper-cognizant of the needs of their team to ensure long-term success.