Most of the leaders we get work with are pretty good leaders. They realise that they need to have a successful team to help them and their business succeed, and as such, invest time and effort in their team. This an honourable intent and typically means you are better than average at leading people. But kicking-off a few initial team development or team building sessions are never enough.
What we’ve noticed that separates an average or good leader from a great leader is that great leaders go well beyond these initial kick-off steps; they focus just as much effort on the follow. What we mean by this is that they do three things that average or poor leaders rarely do.
#1. They focus on ‘follow through’
That is, when they start a process to develop their team, they don’t drop the process when the first crisis comes along or things get busy. They use the first and every subsequent challenge as an opportunity for the team to respond in the new way. They become the role model and the cheerleader. They sustain focus for the time needed to allow the team to really change behaviours and work together a new way.
Average or poor leaders start these team building processes with a lot of fanfare, but usually fail to hold the team or themselves accountable to embed the new agreed ways of working once the first few team sessions are over and the excitement has waned. Team members get disillusioned and go back to the old and siloed ways of working.
#2. They focus on ‘follow up’
When individuals or sub-groups of team members are expected to complete work for the team, the leader makes sure they meet the agreed timeframe and the agreed quality. They do this by following up with team members long before the deadline, making sure that things are on track and making sure that team members know that they are accountable for delivering. Sometimes the leader has to help remove roadblocks or find assistance, but great leaders never go so far as to take over or take the work away from team members. And they never accept excuses for non-delivery.
The leader becomes the supporter, celebrator of success and at times the enforcer. Standards are set through team agreements, and the leader must make sure that they are lived up to.
Average or poor leaders often don’t follow up, or if they do, it’s often too late which can mean things aren’t completed as agreed. This sends the message that commitments to the team or completing the work of the team is not as important as other priorities.
#3. They focus on being a good ‘follower’
We watch great leaders find ways to take a back seat, even when they have views to contribute or may want to take over. They do this so that they are forced to listen to others, observe the team’s dynamic, and encourage the team to work things out without rescuing or taking over. They may even ask that other team members lead discussions or run entire meetings, even if they are present.
By holding back and becoming a ‘follower,’ leaders encourage others to contribute, find ways to collaborate and make decisions without having to rely on the leader. This may mean the team struggles and is less effective at times, but the great leader will encourage and help them see how to overcome their challenges themselves.
Lesser leaders tend to either contribute too early and too often or are absent from too many team meetings. When a leader contributes too early or too often, they may suppress or influence inadvertently (or intentionally) how or if others will contribute. When team members don’t have the opportunity to contribute or are forced to challenge the leader if they do, the value of the team is severely undermined. In the end, the team is likely to defer to, and become highly dependent on the presence and input of its leader.
When leaders don’t contribute enough or are mostly absent, the team is likely to feel it lacks direction and leadership. It may degrade into chaos and anarchy or simply stop operating. This can frustrate team members and undermine their eagerness to collaborate.
So great leaders focus as much on following as they do on leading. Follow through, follow up and following are three things we usually see in great leaders.