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3 Team Essentials: Vision, Direction, and Contribution

As a leader, I have had the privilege of leading teams in different capacities. Teams help to share the workload. Teams bring multiple skill sets for a broader and more effective impact. Teams make accomplishing the mission more fun. Teams are essential—and they offer a great environment for leadership development.

It is critical that teams understand why they exist. They must comprehend what they are trying to do and how each person is vital to the cause. Three “whys” must be answered for every member of the team if you want to experience their ownership and best efforts.

Vision

Vision constitutes the mental image of a desirable future—with passion.

Leaders must paint a word picture that allows their team to see, touch, taste, and feel the future. Vision must describe a desirable future, a feasible future—a future that is full of meaning and constitutes real change. Vision is deeply personal. It is not a wordsmithed statement or credo. If shared enough, real vision will rub off on others. This mental image must illicit a “want to” determination among the team members that results in giving their best efforts.

But vision must do one more thing to be viable.

Vision must answer the question, “Why is it worth it?”

Worthy visions cost something. Teams pay a price for pursuing worthy visions. The pursuit of a worthy vision will cost team members time, energy, and sometimes relationship. There will be many sacrifices. The vision echoes in the ears of team members that the cost is worth it.

Direction

Direction is guidance and strategic conduct toward the fulfillment of the vision.

Leaders must provide clear steps to make sure that teams make significant progress toward the vision. Leaders talk about the critical elements—the most leveraged strategies—next things—focused things that will allow the team to fulfill the vision. Leaders mark progress along the way and they celebrate milestones. They measure the impact and they don’t lie to themselves or the team about the level of effectiveness.

But direction must do one more thing.

Direction must answer the question, “Why are we doing these things?”

Especially when things get difficult, a leader must remind team members why they committed themselves to a particular way of doing things—specific strategies. If the vision is worthy it will become difficult to achieve at some point. Leaders also help the team to stay adaptable when a better direction presents itself.

Contribution

Contribution is the act of giving something for a worthy vision. Contribution includes the act of giving as well as the thing that is given.

Leaders must ask teams, and every member of the team, for their best contribution toward the fulfillment of the vision. This is not a one-time request. This is not a request in a vacuum. This is a regular request that is made in the context of a compelling vision and clear direction. Generous contributions are made when team members understand “why it is worth it” and “why we are committed to doing these specific things to move toward the vision.”

Contribution must do one more thing.

Contribution must answer the question, “Why me?”

Another way to ask this question is “What’s my part?” Each member of the team must see that they are critical to the team and a necessary resource to fulfilling the vision. Each team member must understand their unique contribution and deeply feel that their contribution is important.

When you answer these three “why” questions you will get the best out of your team. And your team will help you make your best contribution as a leader. And you will make a difference.

Do You Have Soft Skills?

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Do you have soft skills?

Most leaders who have led for any length of time know something about strategic planning, problem-solving, vision-casting, or spreadsheets. Those qualities are often considered some of the “hard skills” of leading. But what about the soft skills?

Soft skills are defined by personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.

Soft skills include categories such as character traits, attitudes, and emotional intelligence. Largely, soft skills define your leadership presence.

Many leaders and employees used to ignore the “soft skills” aspect of work. Organizations would tolerate bad leadership behavior if the results were right. Not anymore.

A few months ago the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled, Hard to Find: Workers with Good Soft Skills. The writer, Kate Davidson, called soft skills the most sought-after skill set today. Most 21-st century organizations work collaboratively within and without. Employees must be able to work effectively in teams. Leaders must know how to lead teams. Sometimes these teams are co-located and at other times they are virtual. The need for a foundation comprised of character and a stabilizing emotional presence is critical to be able to relate well and share leadership.

According to Davidson’s article, Linkedin did a thorough analysis of what soft skills are most required today—here they are: the ability to communicate (and hold a conversation), the to ability to organize, a capacity for teamwork, punctuality, critical thinking, social savvy, creativity, and adaptability. By the way—the ability to communicate rose above all other desired traits. The article concludes by saying that the need for these skills are only going to increase—and employees are desperate for them.

Monster.com makes three recommendations for how to obtain soft skills: take a course—to gain an intellectual understanding of the skills you need, seek out mentors—on the specific skills you need to develop, and volunteer—working at or for a non-profit will always increase your soft skills experientially.

Where do you need to improve?

5 for Leadership-January 16th

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Maëlick on Flickr

This week we take a closer look at spiritual leadership for both men and women. There are topics related to the all important task of leading teams, dealing with fear, worrisome leadership profiles, and leadership discouragement. And you will be introduced to some new leadership blogs . . . take a strong look.

7 Questions That Measure Team Culture

“Do you know whether or not your team culture is healthy? Many churches don’t, and this eventually always comes at a great price. It’s pretty common for organizations to make plans for a new year without first gaining clarity and insight about the team that will actually be executing the vision. Churches can’t reach their full potential until they can positively answer the following questions . . .” See what else Jason Vernon has to say on the Tony Morgan Live web site.

5 Ways To Build Diverse, Inclusive Leadership Teams

“There is an increasing body of evidence that diverse teams of varying racial and ethnic makeup produce better results. They perform better financially, gain a competitive edge when recruiting top talent, experience less employee turnover, and offer greater benefits for those they serve. This is true in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, but is particularly important for nonprofits that serve communities of color, which is overwhelmingly the case in the education sector.” Molly Brennan gives us five practical ways to build diverse teams . . . and why it matters.

Stepping Out Of Your Fear Into Calling

“The non-denominational church I started wasn’t even a year old when a successful church-planter declared: ‘Your church will never make it!’ ‘Why do you say that?’ I asked, feeling instantly wounded.’Because you’re way too insecure!’ He thoughtlessly replied. Ouch. All these years later, I still feel the sting from his words.” Linda Wurzbacher describes a critical element of leadership through the lens of her own experience.

8 Questions Discouraged Leaders Need To Ask

“As leaders, we all face times when things are not going as well as we would like.  In those seasons, it’s important to remember that before we can ever re-energize the church we lead, we have to first be energized ourselves. ” Brandon Conner addresses this common leadership malaise head on.

15 Leaders Who Worry Me

“None of us is a perfect leader. I’m certainly not. For that reason, I’m always hesitant to critique leaders. Nevertheless, leadership is so important that I want to list fifteen types of leaders who worry me.” Chuck Lawless hits 15 leadership profiles to be aware of . . . may none of them be you.

There are the 5 for this week. Take some time to read more than one.

 

5 for Leadership-September 26th

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Tristan Martin on Flickr

Here is a fresh 5 with topics like the need for leadership rest, why teams fail, the power of truly listening, what VW missed about the nature of trust, and the need to rethink ministry calling. There is great variety here and something just for you!

8 Reasons Why Teams Fail

“We use the word team so often that it has almost become a garbage can word. Everything is a team. Because we use the word so frequently, we think we know how to work effectively with teams. Unfortunately we do not. Teams are complex dynamic systems that face many challenges. In fact 60% fail to reach their potential.” This comes from the Lead Change Blog and is worth the read.

When’s The Last Time You Rested?

“Why did I push rest to the back of my life? I never really did. I let it slip to the background and forgot about it. This is what so many people do. We get our projects. We get our hobbies. We get our busyness. And we forget to rest.” Joseph LaLonde highlights through his own experience our need for rest from the churn of leadership.

What Happens When We Really Listen

Karin Hurt shares some wonderful insights from one of her most popular blog posts ever! Take a few minutes and learn from her experience.

What VW Didn’t Understand About Trust

“The ripple effects of the Volkswagen scandal go well beyond the 11 million cars affected, the CEO’s resignation today, and the steep fines the company is facing. Though the story is still developing, there are a few big, interconnected lessons to be drawn from what we know so far.” This comes from Andrew Winston and the HBR.

Why Its Time To Rethink What It Means To Be Called To Ministry

“Chances are you’re likely struggling with the same issue almost every church leader is—a lack of truly great leaders for ministry. Whether I talk to megachurch leaders or leaders of churches of 50 people, they say the same thing: they just can’t find enough capable, gifted leaders who want to serve in a church staff role.” Carey Nieuwhof provides some great perspective and thoughtful principles for what it means to be called into ministry.

There are the 5 for this final week in September. It’s bound to get cooler here in Austin sometime.

 

5 for Leadership-September 5th

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Kelly Hackney on Flickr

This week in 5 for Leadership we have your Labor Day specials. There are posts on limiting leader beliefs, leadership strategy questions, the right ingredients for every team, biblical principles of work, and leadership vulnerability. There are some worthy topics for your extended weekend.

On Leadership and Vulnerability

“True leadership is achieved when a team identifies with their leader as a real human being, and that includes faults, fears, shortcomings, and of course, vulnerability.” This comes from Anil Saxena on the Linked2Leadership blog.

5 Strategy Questions Every Leader Should Make Time For

“If you can’t find time to think, it probably means that you haven’t organized your firm, unit, or team very well, and you are busy putting out little fires all the time. It also means that you are at risk of leading your company astray.” Freek Vermeulen offers this insightful post on the HBR blog.

Missing Ingredients: Finding the Right Team Recipe

“The dynamics and culture of a business are certainly different than what you might find in a government agency, a community organization, or a non-profit. But the elements that make a great team and create an environment for success are similar in all of these cases.” This comes from Robbie Bach on the Leading Blog.

Labor Day: 8 Biblical Principles of Work

“Some people hate to do it. Some love to do it. Some go to great lengths to avoid doing it. Some do it too much. While there are many different attitudes toward work, one thing remains constant: work must be done. Since the Garden of Eden everyone has worked or depended on someone else’s work for their survival. Work sets a person’s lifestyle—where you live, when you sleep and eat, the time with family, even your dress.” I wanted to share this perspective in light of Labor Day–from James Eckman–take a look.

5 Deadly Beliefs That Limit Leaders

“Action begins with belief. Wrong beliefs result in wasted effort. Ineffective leaders believe wrong things about themselves, others, situations, and organizations.” Dan Rockwell shares some very important perspectives that no leader can buy into.

There are the 5 for this Labor Day weekend. Time to watch some college football–right after you click on one or two of the links above.

Leading Up When Team Leaders Mess Up

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No team is perfect.

No team leader is perfect.

If you are part of a team you will encounter dysfunction at some point. But how should you respond as a team member when your team leader makes a significant mistake?

Let’s create a typical scenario that might aid our learning in leading up. Let’s say that your team leader makes a unilateral decision to add a new member to the team. (We will assume that if you are a team leader you would never do this!?!) And let’s also assume that this truly is a team–not a committee or a working group–but a bonafide team with an agreed upon team purpose, clear team roles, and a common objective. And to further this dilemma let’s also say that you found out about the addition third hand–some member of the constituency that you are striving to serve informs you about this new hire.

Got the picture?

Is your frustration factor rising just a little?

Is this calling anything to mind?

3 Important Aspects To Your Approach

  1. Assume the best in your leader.  It never does any good for you or your team leader if you approach the issue with suspicion and distrust. You will only add anger to your frustration and anxiety. Assume that the team leader had the team’s best interest at heart. Assume that the team leader saw value in this new member. Assume that this new team member has something valuable to add to the makeup and function of the team. Assume the best.
  2. Inquire, don’t condemn.  If you have already failed the first assumption you will probably fail the second one. These assumptions follow a logical progression. If you are able to gather yourself and assume the best, then you will be in a position to make inquiry rather than initiate by way of words of condemnation. You might use phrases like, “Would it be possible for us to revisit the decision-making process that led to this new hire?” Or, “Can you walk us through your thought process that led you to this decision to hire Susan?” It takes a good amount of courage to assume the best and make the inquiry. It takes nothing to explode and condemn. Worse yet, it will be severely damaging if you say nothing at all. Genuine questions raise pertinent issues and invite understanding and solutions. Condemnation creates further distrust and the possible loss of your credibility and role on the team.
  3. Be solution focused.  Don’t simply raise the problem at hand without thinking through possible remedies for next time. Anyone can complain and point out the problem at hand. It takes leadership thinking to propose alternatives to the mess. Reflect, consider, and choose to be solution oriented as you approach your team leader with the mess. You may not be able to remedy the current scenario, but you can set the stage for next time. Lessons can be learned and new principles applied.

3 Important Team Issues at Stake

  1. Team Communication.  Trust is the lifeblood of any well functioning team. Good communication is the foundation and guardian of trust. Discuss this as a team. Help the team leader and the whole team better understand that internal communication is essential. To be surprised by a third party constituent creates an awkward situation and does not allow you to defend the decision well. It can cause you as a team member to look ignorant and create a lack of credibility for the whole team. Every team member needs to be informed about important decisions to be able to represent those decisions well. Better yet, important decisions should be informed by the team for greater ownership and understanding. Leaders ignore internal communication and consensus decision making at their own peril.
  2. Team Dynamics.  Every time a person is added or subtracted from a team the team dynamics are significantly impacted. Team leaders must not be naive to this reality. You must not only assess the qualifications of the potential new member, but also the impact on the team and the collective effect toward those you are serving.
  3. Leader Motivation.  Ask the leader why they thought this person would be a good addition to the team. Ask them what value this new member will bring. Ask them what deficit they saw in the team that required an additional member. These are all relevant questions. Ask them with a genuine desire to understand–not simply in a backhanded way to dig at the leader. The team leader needs to realize that “why’s” matter.

All three of these team issues are important elements for teams and team leaders to consider and resolve when a poor decision has been made–or a good decision has been made poorly.

Team leaders, don’t simply act and inform. That only works well in time of crisis. Otherwise, be sure that every important stakeholder has been brought into the process.

Team members, learn to lead up well.

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5 for Leadership-July 18th

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Here is a fresh lineup of great leadership posts. This 5 for Leadership covers such topics as 10 great theological online resources, accountability in leadership, Phil Jackson on leadership, leadership conversations, and the beauty of networked teams. Take a few minutes and grow your leadership skills and understanding.

Phil Jackson’s 11 Principles of Leadership

“Few people would be more qualified to talk about leadership than Phil Jackson in the sports arena. Jackson is considered one of the greatest coaches in the history of the NBA clenching 11 championship titles as a coach. Phil Jackson shares 11 leadership principles that have propelled him to become a championship leader.” (Paul Sohn)

Providing Accountability (Leadership Practice 9)

“I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Servant Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works! The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context. This week we will take on the final of the 9 practices—Providing Accountability. (Justin Irving on Purpose in Leadership)

3 Conversations of a Leader

“At its core, leadership is about conversations. As a leader, the quality of the conversations that you have with your team, and those in your business circle, determines your outcome as a leader.” (Croft Edwards on General Leadership)

Make Your Team Less Hierarchal

“A company used to be able to dominate the competition if it focused on creating an effective group of verticals. But in today’s world, leaders using the network model can quickly outpace those who remain focused on winning individual battles.” (Chris Fussell in the HBR)

Online Theological Resources

“If you’re an avid online Bible student, you are probably already familiar with the ten resources I’ve listed below. But these are the ones that I find most helpful in my own personal study.” (Nathan Busenitz on Preachers and Preaching)

There are the 5 for this week. Now back to the British Open . . . if we ever get out of a weather delay.

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5 for Leadership-June 27th

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This week in 5 for Leadership we have two posts on leading teams, one on the importance of leadership development, one on the importance of leading yourself, and one on the top complaints followers have about their leaders. There is a good lineup this week–take advantage.

Leadership Development Investments  “A new U.S. study of nearly 400 organizations by Lee Hecht Harrison has identified that 54% of employers plan to increase investments in leadership development in 2015. Only 5% of employers plan to decrease investments, and a further 41% reported leadership development investments will stay the same.” This is a very insightful post that includes the top 10 leadership competencies to focus on.

Why a Leaders Must Lead Himself First  “Culture tells us that one does not need to lead himself before he can lead others.” Joseph Lalonde provides three great reasons to lead yourself first.

The Top Complaints from Employees About Their Leaders  “If you’re the kind of boss who fails to make genuine connections with your direct reports, take heed: 91% of employees say communication issues can drag executives down, according to results from our new Interact/Harris Poll, which was conducted online with roughly 1,000 U.S. workers.” This is a great post from the HBR that highlights both followers desires and seven steps to take to gain their confidence.

How To Develop A Great Ministry Team  “I first began to understand the importance of teams as a seminary student. I did a study of the 100 largest churches in the United States, and I asked them a series of questions related to staff and ministry. This may come as no surprise, but the study showed strong churches have a strong team spirit. They do this by combining two things: a common goal with good communication.” Rick Warren provides some very practical insights for success in leading teams.

5 Signs Your Leadership Team Is In Trouble  “I once heard John Maxwell say that “team work makes the dream work.” However, as I survey the leadership landscape, I believe the reason a lot of dreams are not working is because a lot of teams are way more dysfunctional than dedicated.” This is from Perry Noble back in March. This post serves as a great compliment to the one above it. Read both for a full perspective.

There is 5 for Leadership for this final weekend in June.

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What Makes Teams Great?

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In my current studies I have been exposed to a book entitled Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership by Lee Bolman and Terrence DealThe authors propose that the reason leaders often fail is that they fail to see their organizations through more than one lens. They create a construct that allows leaders to look at their leadership and their organizations through at least four different lenses.

Working groups and teams are an integral part of our daily leadership lives. These entities have become ubiquitous with flat organizational structures that seek to empower followers down the line. The hope is to arrive at better solutions, more effective strategies, and greater ownership. But that will only be true if certain tenets are in place among those working groups and teams. Bolman and Deal offer up the following characteristics of teams as part of the symbolic lens that is critical to a leader’s effectiveness.

  • How someone becomes a group member is important.

How people join a group or team is a mutual decision. If it is marked somehow by ritual it will elicit a “want to” aspect that can’t be bought through mere recruitment.

  • Diversity supports a team’s competitive advantage.

Recognizing and honoring group member’s unique talents and contributions will always help foster a competitive advantage and create value of the individual. This is unity through diversity.

  • Example, not command, holds a team together.

A leader’s presence and emulation of the organizational calling is more important than mere mandates. People want to follow . . . but they will follow authenticity and character much more readily and this provides the glue for a cohesive unit.

  • A specialized language fosters cohesion and commitment.

Groups and teams want to be known as special. Shared language in the form of words, phrases, and metaphors will create a unique culture that sets teams apart. A specialize language can also serve to reinforce a team’s values and beliefs.

  • Stories carry history and values and reinforce group identity.

There are certain stories and organizational legends that should always be told. They serve to keep tradition, calling and organizational DNA alive.

  • Humor and play reduce tension and encourage creativity.

Bolman and Deal state, “Effective teams balance seriousness with play and humor.” This type of balanced atmosphere can help spark innovation and team spirit.

  • Ritual and ceremony lifts spirits and reinforce values. 

Milestones should be celebrated. Individuals and teams should be honored. These types of rituals and ceremonies help raise spirits and undergird a shared mission. Progress celebrated, both at the team level and the individual level, is motivation towards team and group endurance.

  • Informal cultural players make contributions disproportionate to their formal role.

Many times the formal leader of a group or team is not the spiritual leader. Every group or team needs to elevate those individuals who deal with the human needs and emotions of the team. They are often the morale keepers. Their role is critical.

  • Soul is the secret of success. 

Every group or team needs to know and be reminded that their efforts matter. They need to know that there is a greater good that they are contributing towards. This is soul. Teams that have this aspect highlighted and supported usually achieve higher performance that those that don’t.

What do you think of Bolman and Deal’s criteria?

What would you add?

What has been your experience?

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5 for Leadership-May 23rd

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Here is a new 5 for Leadership for your Memorial Day Weekend. There are posts on leading teams, the practices of great leaders, the value of leadership fear, and how a leader truly earns the respect of his or her followers. There is something here for you!

12 Often Overlooked Practices Great Leaders Develop That Poor Leaders Don’t  “Ever wonder what separates great leaders from poor leaders? Ever wonder whether you’re developing the practices and qualities of great leadership?” This is a great post from Carey Nieuwhof and practical for any role of influence you may have.

How To Get Your New Team Off To A Strong Start  “If you’re a leader in your organization, there will be multiple times in your career when you have to get a new team off to a strong start. One of the critical steps in that process is when you bring the team members together for the first time. That’s a rare opportunity to define the purpose, build trust, establish the ground rules and set the priorities. Like they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression.” This comes from Scott Eblin and highlights four one-word questions that will help make you successful.

Measure Your Team’s Intellectual Diversity  “Inventive thinking in a team setting is fueled by a blend of talents, skills, and traits that rarely all exist in a single person—such as an ability to see problems through fresh eyes, a knack for understanding a frustrated customer’s complaints, or a flair for turning a creative idea into a profitable innova­tion. This kind of intellectual diversity is more likely to be present when individuals on the team come from different disciplines, backgrounds, and areas of expertise.” This is a very thoughtful piece our of the HBR.

On Leadership, Fear, and Weakness  “. . . show me a leader that has no fear and I will argue that this is a leader who is either not pushing him or herself or the organization forward, or is a leader that is failing to properly identify the inherent risks of their actions.” This is a thought provoking post by Elliot Begoun on the Linked2Leadership blog.

How To Earn Respect As A Leader  “Ask yourself if you command respect because people have to respect you or, rather, because you’ve truly earned respect. Many people aspire to titles because that forces others to respect them. But, to me, this is the lowest form of respect, especially if the person you’re receiving respect from is more junior than you or works at a lower rung in the bureaucracy. Respect has to be earned. It’s not about a title.” This post comes from Jim Whitehurst on the HBR web site. There are some great take aways here.

There are the 5 for this week. Take some time this Memorial Day weekend to remember those who served our county well in defense of our freedom.

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