A typical leadership team resembles a pyramid. The leader is at the top, and executive team members are at the base. It’s the power structure of most organizations in miniature. That hierarchy, however, doesn’t usually work for high performing teams. A high performing team’s structure more often resembles a circle. The leader does not occupy a place of prominence anywhere on the circle; he or she acts much like a member of the team. This kind of team leadership model is used at many levels of NASA (rated #1 for leadership of all American Federal agencies in 2012), and their engineering teams often have no leader at all.
Oftentimes leaders have to approach team members who are not performing at the appropriate level. Perhaps the leader has implemented changes in the way the team operates, or perhaps the individual has something going on in their personal life that is affecting their work performance. Whatever the reason, if a team member’s behaviour and performance are not where they should be, the leader needs to have a considerate conversation with them. It may seem like a difficult conversation to have, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s not about disciplining that person; it’s about being supportive, and reminding them that in this situation they have choices.
If everyone in your team is not working toward the same end, reaching any goals will be frustrated. Having a clearly defined direction, purpose, or objective is essential for high performing teams. As a leader, it is your job to help articulate that vision, bring everyone on board, and, when necessary, remind team members of their commitments and agreed upon goals. How can you help your team develop its goals? How do you ensure they stay on track?
It’s rare that leaders get to form their leadership team from scratch. More often than not, leaders inherit a team, with all of its history and habits. The team may already work quite well together. They may not be a high performing team, however, and that’s what leaders want. Often an outside consultant can help make the transition or assist in defining areas to increase performance.
Machiavelli wrote that, “It is better to be feared than loved (if you cannot be both),” an assertion that has not stood the test of time. Nowadays, effective leaders encourage their followers to challenge them. It is only a few leaders (mostly dictators) who try to rule through fear. Unfortunately, and somewhat ironically, many leaders are themselves ruled by fear. Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones, in their exemplary article for the Harvard Business Review, wrote that nothing terrifies executives more than the question, “Why should anyone be led by you?”