by Steve Adubato, PhD
Great team leaders promote leadership from within the group. We're talking about each team member having the opportunity to reach his or her potential. This requires that other people on the team step up in various situations and lead. To do that, the team leader must be a good judge of character and ability. It's too easy to say, "Mary, I'd like you to run the meeting today." But has Mary been provided the tools and skills she needs to lead? If she doesn't possess those skills and tools, she is going to fall flat on her face. When others on the team see that, it will discourage them from wanting to step up and take the lead because it is just too risky. Consider the following example.
Jim, a long time manager, asked a staff person on his team to put an agenda together and run an upcoming conference call where critical decisions had to be made. Linda, the staff person, was very hesitant about doing this, but Jim insisted that she take a shot. The problem was that Linda just wasn't ready to run the conference call and deal with the sensitive issues and combative personalities involved. The conference call rambled, lost focus and was just plain counterproductive. Linda was hesitant and clearly not in control. She was looking to her boss to step in and save her. Jim thought that he was doing her a favor by staying out of it and taking a "sink or swim" attitude. He thought he was promoting Linda as a leader but the fact is, letting others step up requires a lot more of a manager.
First, you have to communicate your expectations and be specific when you do it. Say something like, "Listen, Linda, you have been on the team for a long time and you know operations better than anyone else. Yes, this is a challenging situation, but I believe in you. Here's what I want you to do…" Jim has to provide Linda with a roadmap as well as offer her the benefit of his experience in running dicey conference calls. He also needs to make it clear that if things go wrong, she can turn to him for guidance and direction. That requires Jim to create a supportive environment by both his actions and his words.
The other thing that Jim and all managers have to remember is that things will go wrong when you give people room to grow and step up-but if you have the right people on your team playing in the right positions and you foster a supportive, positive environment, team members will reach their potential as leaders.
Keep in mind, when things do go wrong, great leaders see an opportunity to bring the team together and learn from the experience. Petty leaders become obsessed about assigning blame. We've all done it. If that becomes your pattern or MO, it will have a devastating effect on those around you. If they believe that you are consumed by playing the "blame game," they will become experts at avoiding taking the blame. They will also avoid taking risks and responsibility and ultimately leadership. Opportunities will be missed. Productivity and quality will suffer and your reputation as a leader will be tarnished.
Finally, remember in the end, it's not simply what happens, but more importantly how you handle the situation that matters.