The boss called me in to tell me I was being transferred from a position I really enjoyed to one I certainly didn’t want. When I arrived at the new office I found that my predecessor had been fired and I had a strong feeling it was premature to start hanging pictures on the wall. The sign on my door seemed to be written in pencil: easily erased should I too not measure up. This was a real leadership challenge.
The team was small, too small really for our specialized global responsibilities. But what the team lacked in size they made up for in tremendous technical expertise and extensive experience. In fact, I found myself responsible for a team in which each member had probably forgotten more about the mission than I would ever know and yet our senior leader felt they were dysfunctional and ineffective. As I learned about this new team, two questions quickly became obvious.
Why did our senior leader not recognize this team’s amazing contribution?
How could I change that?
It wasn’t long before answers became clear. Although each member of the team was doing great work, there was a problem with communication; both within the team and with the senior leader. Each team member had a unique responsibility and tended to work alone. There wasn’t much cross-talk and opportunities for improvement were being missed. While I don’t like unnecessary meetings, I found that bringing the team together to keep me informed helped them work together more effectively.
The more serious problem was communication with the senior leader. The team didn’t really have a focus on what the senior leader expected. It didn’t take long to realize that was because the senior leader didn’t have a good handle on the team’s responsibilities and capabilities and was making demands that didn’t always make sense to the team.
I found my job as team leader was to provide that communication link. I didn’t need to tell the team members what to do or how to do it; they knew that better than I. What I did need to do was refocus them on what the senior leader felt was important while also making the senior leader more aware of the team’s capabilities and the great work they were accomplishing , which often kept small issues from becoming big problems.
Leadership isn’t always about directing. Sometimes coordinating, supporting, and communicating are more important.
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