How many times have you heard someone say, “I can’t work with that person”? In many cases, co-workers are able to defuse the situation by finding ways to avoid interaction with people in which they don’t get along with. But as a leader, you can’t pick and choose whom you will lead and whom you will not. You will be responsible for interacting and motivating each and every member. A leader must be capable of leading everyone on the team, if it is to be successful!
My thoughts on this issue remind me of my first opportunity to lead a group of about 100 individuals. This group consisted of individuals with different ages, skill sets, training, backgrounds and most importantly-personalities, yet they were placed together to support a single objective. When I was first asked to lead this disparate group of individuals, I know my first question was, “Can I lead everyone?” Here was the game plan I used to answer this question with an emphatic - YES.
The most important part of the plan was to make a concerted effort to get to know each and every member of the team, both personally and professionally. My first action was to talk to the outgoing leader and his staff. During these meetings, I asked for feedback on each person including strengths, weaknesses, experience and background. I also asked for an assessment of their followership skills, motivation for advancement and capability to lead. My next action was to corroborate this information by meeting with the department supervisors on the team. I sought this level of feedback because these were the people that had the clearest view of everyone’s daily performance and behavior. If there was any disparity at the two levels, I recognized there may be bias, misperception or incorrect assessments in play with certain individuals. I then reviewed each member’s performance reports to make sure the reports reflected the staff’s assessments and looked at each person’s job progression. Lastly, and most importantly, I sat down with each teammate to talk with them and make my own initial assessment of their capabilities, motivations, goals and personality. As expected, many people had different ideas, beliefs and experiences from mine; but by identifying what made each of us different, I was able to determine the best way to inspire, motivate, mentor and build rapport with each individual to maximize their daily performance and support the team’s objective.
At this point, you’re wondering how will you be able to complete such a thorough assessment for each member of the team. The game plan above definitely takes time and effort to accomplish. So, here’s how I suggest you fit this agenda into the first couple months of taking over the leadership responsibilities of the team. When you take the lead of the group, you will be faced with a myriad of other commitments to include: learning your new responsibilities, attending meetings with your new boss, devising your intent and updating the team’s near/far term goals (see my previous blogs). So, here’s how you include the task of getting to know your people; if possible, try to meet with the outgoing leader/staff/supervisors as soon as you are announced to be the successor and before you take on the extra duties as the leader. After you take over, have your support team block off an hour each day to complete the meetings with individuals on your team. With preparation, I could comfortably complete three interviews in the one-hour block. The day prior take home the performance reports and notes you accumulated from your staff meetings for the next day’s interviews. Develop a structured, but relaxed, agenda to include discussion of experience, current job, future aspirations and hobbies. I usually found the most telling information about someone was in what they did off the job. If you stick to the plan, you can get to know your team in your first two months on the job. Learning everything I could about each person was some of the most interesting and satisfying time at the office. I guarantee the time and effort you put into getting to know your people will pay huge dividends in forging a successful leadership experience. Give it a try!