Leadership: How good was your first time?

© Petarneychev | Dreamstime.com

© Petarneychev | Dreamstime.com

For many of us, our first foray into team leadership comes on a small project team or perhaps a volunteer committee.  When this experience goes well, we seek additional, growing levels of leadership, which usually correspond to greater personal or professional success.  Our resume abounds with the kind of skills and experience that get hiring managers excited!

But what about when that first leadership foray goes wrong? Does that mean leadership is not for you?  Does that mean you will never see great success because you can’t (honestly) claim these skills on your resume?

While some people have a natural talent for leadership, that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t learn to be good leaders as well.  If you want to give it another go, I suggest taking these five basic principles of leadership to heart:

  1. Trust is not granted by a title. 
    Trust is the foundation on which successful teams are built, and it is earned through actions and communications.  A team with strong trust is more productive and more engaged (and if you want to know why, I recommend some reading).  You earn trust with your team (and external stakeholders, for that matter) through small actions every day, especially open, honest communications.
  2. Communicating is more important than doing. 
    It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that leading the team means doing like everyone else on the team.  The reality is that there is one task that only the team leader can do, and that is to gather and disseminate information about the team and its activities.  Open and frequent communication keeps things on track, demonstrates transparency and earns trust. Additionally, being at the center of communications will help you strategize for the tasks ahead.
  3. Planning is not a waste of time.
    “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” (John Wooden)
    In project management, the rule of thumb is to dedicate 10% of project time to planning.  Taking the time to plan before jumping into the activities will mean less wasted time for you and your teammates — another way to show appreciation and build trust —  so no matter how pressed you are, take some time to plan.
  4. Delegate everything except planning and communications. 
    There is a temptation to take things on yourself either because you think it will be faster, or because you think it sends a message to the team about being one of them.  The truth is that you are automatically the understudy (or designated hitter, if you prefer) for everyone on the team.  You need to keep yourself untethered as much as possible so you have the bandwidth to jump in and help a team member in need.
  5. Asking for a status report does not communicate mistrust.
    In fact, this is a great way to show team members that you care about them.  Find out if they are on track, and if they aren’t, ask how you can help (that’s why you delegated everything in the first place right?)  Communicate individual successes to the team to show appreciation and (you guessed it!) build trust.

Trust-building, communications, planning, delegation — those are the key skills of a leader.  If you’ve had a bad leadership experience, I encourage you to consider which of these areas might have fallen short, then get back in the game.  Great success lies ahead!

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