This week my travels find me … (say it with me) home. I’m virtually meeting with team members, taking conference calls and joining Zoom discussions with leaders around the world.
On the subject of leadership lessons, when the pandemic became widespread, I released a statement about the importance of industry leadership and in it wrote this:
A business is only as resilient as the leader who guides it; lead with conviction and confidence, focusing on solutions rather than what you can’t control.
That idea is still so applicable today as we continue navigating every challenge presented by the COVID-19 crisis. Strength in this new world is a dichotomous concept; we must be strong as leaders, but we also must instill strength in all those we lead. You become a more powerful leader when you give power away.
If you’re wondering how to build the internal strength of your team, here are a few ideas:
Provide opportunities for self-direction and decision-making. The more you empower your team members with the ability to make decisions, the more they’ll gain confidence and competence in the decisions they make. When team members can take ownership in their own initiatives and the implementation of their ideas, you create a climate where everyone is fully engaged. Your team knows that what they say and do critically matters to the success of the overall organization.
Understand that being in control is a basic human instinct. Power is not about greed or financial gain, it’s about the ability to direct and decide, to inspire and influence. People want responsibility and control. They want to know that the work they’re doing and the decisions they make will positively impact future outcomes.
Choice feeds power. A study by researchers at the Delgado Lab for Social and Affective Neuroscience at Rutgers University revealed that choice activates the reward-centric circuits of the brain, making people feel more confident and willing to explore options outside of their comfort zones.
Goals and commitments can create power. Just by allowing your team members to set their own goals and commitments without influence from a manager or leader, you’re empowering them to decide the trajectory of their success. You’re allowing them to take initiative and self-direct themselves toward excellence in execution.
Don’t worry about slackers. It could be argued that by giving your team autonomy, you’re also opening people up for laziness or an inability to execute because there’s no pressure influencing performance. However, slackers will self-select out of a work system with strong leadership and an empowered team. After a while, team members will get tired of doing the slacker’s work and the slacking member of the team will be forced to step it up or step out.
Invest in strengthening the knowledge and capacity of your team. I’ve long been an advocate for coaching and training and that has never been truer than it is today, when so many excellent mentors and coaches are providing incredible online resources for learning.
Think of yourself as a coach. Some of the best leadership examples come from the world of sports—Bill Walsh, Phil Jackson, Bill Belichick, Vince Lombardi and Don Shula. All these great coaches were actively engaged in building the strength—physical and mental—of their teams. Beyond building strength, another aspect of being a coach is the assessment of strength. A forward-thinking leader is constantly evaluating team members, asking how to best guide them toward greater competency and fortitude. As Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. once said: “Ask, don’t tell.”
So, what’s the message? Leadership is a mindset and a movement toward greater strength within an entire organization, creating empowered team members who feel motivated to perform at their very best. While we’re all at home figuring out how to keep business thriving, let’s remember to focus on helping our team members thrive, too.
This article is adapted from Blefari’s weekly, company-wide “Thoughts on Leadership” column from HomeServices of America.