As a leader, one of my main responsibilities is to define reality for my team.
It is one of the hardest things for new team leads to grasp. It is also one of the most fundamental functions that one must perform to make the team successful.
It is a leader’s duty to know and communicate the reality of a project’s goals, assumptions, constraints, and expectations.
It is even more important for a leader to know the reality of the people landscape in their organization. Are there relationships, which include your team members, that have soured and need to be considered? What are the unconscious biases of the people involved in a project; both on your team and outside of it? Are people going through trauma in their non-work lives?
These questions inform the actions and the hurdles that a team will have to handle on the path to successful project execution.
A great leader knows the significance of getting the lay of the emotional land and incorporating it into the team’s action plan.
Understanding the people landscape and knowing the appropriate coaching and mentoring strategies that one needs to mitigate those concerns is the difference between being a great leader and an okay leader, who is most likely ignorant of the societal forces at play.
I can easily count the number of times in my professional career that I have had the pleasure of working for a great leader. Unfortunately, having a great leader is the exception and not the rule in today’s world. This is how we change that.
Be An Ally
Everyone has unconscious bias. Whether you believe it or not, that is the state of the world.
People’s background, experiences, and the stereotypes that they learned from their parents, their community and the media have an impact on their actions and decisions. Being aware of this fact, knowing your own bias, and seeking to understand the biases of the key stakeholders and project participants is a natural part of great leadership.
A great leader not only has to know this landscape, but has to know the ramifications of those social dynamics on the team. A great leader creates their own personal tasks that enable the reduction of the frictions that arise from these dynamics.
A great leader is the biggest ally and supporter for their team and its members - ensuring that everyone is heard, trusted, valued and treated fairly.
Be An Unblocker
It is likely that there will be instances where team members face a blocker that they have not been able to resolve; despite multiple attempts.
A great leader is aware enough of the reality of organization to know when a blocker is one that they need to actively work on for their team.
Having a team member try, more than twice, to unblock an issue that is holding back progress on a project is counter-productive to team confidence and success.
A successful strategy for a great leader is to ensure that the team member with the issue is coached on how the leader resolved the concern. In the process, the team member learns about the realities behind the issue and will hopefully able to handle similar blockers more productively in the future.
Great leaders are great proactive unblockers and coaches.
Be A Model
Great leaders live the values and virtues that they want their team to exhibit. They also serve as the example of accepted and acceptable behavior. Whether you believe it or not, you are a role model and you set the tone for your team.
For example, if you preach openness and transparency to your team, but are guarded with information, then you are reducing your team’s trust in you and anything you say. They will learn to adopt techniques that account for your inconsistency and eventually you will have a team that is not cohesive, not trusting and not effective.
Great leaders understand that their behavior is a part of the social landscape that they must navigate and they use their behavior to positively impact the environment. They also understand that they provide critical signals that create a dynamic that will contribute to the team’s success or failure.
Each of us have it in us to be great leaders. For some, it will take more time than others. Nevertheless, we can all reach there.
Leading is not about having a grand title or immense power. It is about serving and enabling a higher mission to be achieved.
Irrespective of your level of introversion, your training, and your perception of your management and or technical abilities, you can lead.
Better yet, you can be a great leader.
The question before each of us is always “Do you want to put in the effort and self-work that it requires to be a great leader?”
This post is also published on GovLoop.
Dr Tyrone Grandison
Executive. Technologist. Change Agent. Computer Scientist. Data Nerd. Privacy and Security Geek.