Give the gift of high expectations. Don’t be afraid to drive people, cajole them, and push them to find that last 1 percent of team performance. This motivates them far more than vague or easily met goals. When a team leader has high expectations, he or she is paying the team members a compliment. And when those expectations are met, the feeling of success not only becomes normative, it begins to grow and multiply. A virtuous cycle begins, and you institute a natural deterrent against the inertia that dooms so many companies and careers to mediocrity.
Be very clear about goals and boundaries. Don’t leave room for doubt. Don’t be passive-aggressive. When team leaders are as clear as possible in setting boundaries, people actually feel freer to express thoughts or make mistakes than when boundaries are vague.
Lead with real-world optimism. Great team leaders simultaneously drive and reassure people. Base this reassurance on the genuine belief that good things come from working hard and following a system. This kind of real-world optimism is more than hope—it’s the ability to approach your task as an opportunity. Let your team know that if they stay positive but alert and a touch paranoid—just a touch!—they’ll have a shot at achieving something bigger and better.
Keep a loose grip on the reins. Valuable team members will want some control over their own environments. If they have to run every detail by you, they’ll lose initiative. Provide support and mandate accountability, but leave the lion’s share of the decision-making with the people who will be eating those two pizzas. Don’t sacrifice productivity for the sake of bureaucracy.
Rich Karlgaard is the author of the new book The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success.