A 30-something Captain driven by purpose defiantly leads his three-man bomb disposal squad in a war-ravaged Iraq. A little imagination and this script from the Oscar-winning Kathryn Bigelow movie ‘The Hurt Locker’, could easily be playing out in the safe confines of your air-conditioned, super-cooled, corporate board room. Only here:
The Captain = You (Leader)
The Squad = Your Team (An able bunch)
The Purpose = Team Objectives
War-ravaged Iraq = The Board Room (Since corporate offices are no less battle-weary)
Now, this story line falls flat when despite stating the objectives and with you in the lead, your qualified bunch still fails to rise up to a challenge. Here are a few thoughts on why this happens (or on why ‘things’ aren’t happening)
Failure to demonstrate the ‘Why’ of everything:
Everything living in this world is driven by a sense of purpose. Your failure to exhibit the ‘why’ behind the assigned tasks is one reason the team is unable to grasp the team objectives. Thus it often becomes obligatory for you to elucidate the importance of their role in the overall scheme of things. Let’s try understand this better with an example –
Say you work for Apple and your job is to manage a team that provides support to a now-not-so latest suite of products e.g. ipad2 or iphone4 for customers who still use those products. Now it becomes tough for you to convince your team about the present-day significance of the servicing of these products – the company contrived a few years back – when you yourself are not convinced about the same. This muddled attitude, though not verbally conveyed, reflects in your team. What you really need to do is to make your team understand that a marquee company like Apple didn’t build a cult following overnight by simply dumping users of a previous version. Instead, they did it by committing to a dedicated end-of-life support to these customers. Hence, it is unquestionably important for the ‘You’ to align yourself ‘first’ to the reasoning behind the company’s motives and then walk a self-assured team through it. Inner chaos first settled, the team will ‘Follow’ the lead.
Getting job done by means of ‘authority’, rather than ‘influence’:
Would you do something only because your boss asked you to do it? Initially, yes! But then ‘every’ ‘single’ time? Awaiting his instructions to give you the go ahead. Doesn’t sound much fun, right? Precisely the juncture at which one should assess his own style of work and observe how much authority is being used to get work done vs. how much time and effort goes in influencing one’s team to get things done. The ensuing revelation may surprise you but will eventually help you fix your managerial approach before it ends up being your default methodology.
Excessive use of quid pro quo:
Managers are often known to stick to the much hyped ‘Carrot and Stick’ policy of management. Whereas, I strongly feel that these techniques could only work in the short run but fall flat in an extended environment. Without focusing too much on ‘something for something’ the emphasis should more be on building trust in the team capabilities, setting the objectives loud and clear and then skilfully guiding the team get to it.
Another case in point that comes to my mind also incidentally, has something to do with the Army. As a kid, I was groomed at a Sainik School, one of the 24 today that have been preparing young minds for a distinguished career in the Indian Armed Forces. A year back I went back to campus to meet all my fellow batch mates on our silver jubilee anniversary.
Many of them have gone on to become very successful officers and lead an exemplary life full of challenges and adventure. One thing that struck me was the extraordinary level of ‘motivation’ still billowing in their interaction. The takeaway from that being the inspirational army motto that keeps them going as a leader… “Respect is commanded and not demanded”. Perhaps, the best leadership lesson we can learn from. Don’t you agree?