Leadership: Protect the Team
This article, and the Leadership Quotes series of articles, are my opinions based on experience and learnings over the past 20 years.
There are literally thousands and thousands of leadership quotes (a basic internet search will show 1.700.000.000 results in less than a second) and no doubt you read them, nod and then…. then what? I would guess you do appreciate them, likely agree with them and sometimes even decide to “live them”. But how many leaders can honestly say they are the leader they want to be, the leader they imagined they would be or the leader they want to be led by? Unfortunately, it is too easy to get pulled back into the stress and obligations of day-to-day operations and back into old habits.
With this in mind I have created a series of blogs which collate some of these many quotes, elaborate on them and then hopefully provide some helpful hints on how to incorporate aspects into your daily life as a leader.
Firstly, I believe it is important to recognise that being a leader is not easy and there is no “right” way. Having said that, there are many “wrong” ways and honestly, if it is truly “wrong” then you are not being a leader at all, regardless of any position or title. As we all know being a leader is more about attitude and approach, than title. It’s about the team, or more precisely, the people in the team.
“Leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability
to empower others” (John Maxwell)
“Great leaders believe they work for their team, average leaders believe their
team works for them” (Alexander Den Heijer)
So what do some of these inspirational quotes really mean for your day-to-day? This first article will consider the topic of,
Protect the Team:
“Leaders put their own interests aside to protect us or to pull us into the future”
“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than
his share of the credit”
Firstly, let’s acknowledge that cross-functional teams, self-led teams and working without managers is a growing trend, especially in Agile technology environments. However, a leader is not always a manager and leadership is a role within a team. It may be that different team members are responsible for leadership in different domains, it may be a rotating leadership role or it may be a hierarchical and managerial role, but the same still applies. In the role of leader you need to protect your team.
As a leader in any organisation it is vital that you are there for your team, to protect them from the irrelevant and from the “noise”, to be a shield and to be a filter. This allows your team to focus on their roles and do the things they are good at. Sometimes this can be difficult, with games being played and politics in the workplace. It can sometimes feel even more tricky when you aim to be fully transparent with your team and yet you know that sharing absolutely everything will cause the team to lose their focus. Therefore as a leader you need to learn what benefits your team and what hinders your team. Although being transparent and honest is vitally important, it does not mean you tell your team everything. If you are discussing everything with your team then you are not only wasting their time, but the team will begin to question what value you add. If they are making your decisions for you, then what is your role?
Consider the following. If there are discussions on organisational structure changes, or a particular customer is dissatisfied with the product created by your team, then what, when and how do you tell the team?
1) If organisational changes are going to happen and these changes are inevitable, then YES talk to the team and listen to their opinions. However, if these changes and/or discussions are an inkling of an idea or one idea among many other ideas and so may never impact the company or the team, what benefit does it give the team to share with them? This is a discussion worth filtering.
Note, if your team hear rumours or speculation on this (as often happens in an office environment) then to further protect your team it is your responsibility to directly address the issue. Do not avoid difficult discussions with your team as speculation will grow, energy will be wasted and depending on the personalities in the team it could result in a lot of negativity and mistrust.
2) And if a particular customer is dissatisfied? Listen to the customer and agree to discuss with the team, but do not blame them. Take the opportunity to explore with your team, be interested and understand their perspective. Consider this a “blameless autopsy” as Jim Collins calls it in “Good to Great”. This type of discussion may result in learnings for you and/or the team, such as how to market to customers and set expectations, or it may be a misunderstanding to be discussed with the customer. The key is to avoid blame, to be curious, to understand and to learn wherever possible.
So, protecting your team from “noise” is part of your role as a leader.
However, recognising what is “noise” and what is information can take time to learn, so consider the following:
Is there a (in)direct impact to the team or a team around them?
How likely is this impact?
Is there something to learn from this?
Does the team want to know? (This can be a difficult question, but is worth asking)
Assess the situation and determine the likelihood and impact before taking up the time and energy of your team on potential “noise”. Be the leader that gives the team space to do the work they are there to do and protects them from the irrelevant. Play your role so other team members can play their roles. Each role in a team exists for a reason and if one role is not functioning, this will impact the others.
Look for the next blog on Empathy and Compassion in Leadership,
“The best leaders has a high consideration factor. They really care about their people.” (Brian Tracy)
Collins, J. C. (2001). "Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap ... and others don't." New York, NY: HarperBusiness.