Six Principles of Leadership & Team Building
The best leaders listen first, eat last, and say “thank you” a lot.
While there are very few universal truths in life, I would argue for two that can be applied from the most intense corporate settings all the way down to your Tuesday night trivia game:
- Life is best when you tackle challenges—and celebrate success—with other people.
- A great team can achieve much more and make far more lasting impact than an individual on their own.
I have been involved in countless teams thus far in my life, as we all have.
As the loud, Type A, energetic person I tend to be, I often find myself in positions of leadership within these team frameworks. Some of those have a formal, shiny title: Editor-in-chief, President, CEO, Director. Some are a bit less glamorous: “Guy who presents the PowerPoint” and “The one that takes care of the utilities bills” among them.
Regardless of the formal title, the challenge and responsibility of leading a team is something that I really thrive on, and will continue to embrace throughout my career.
On the other hand, some of my best team experiences have come when I’ve been in a specialized role, reporting to someone at a higher level. Through all these experiences, I have always had a keen interest in the success (or lack thereof) that certain teams experience, and the lessons I can draw in forming my own style of leadership.
The six principles below scratch the surface with some of the simple, striking truths I have observed from my team experiences:
TOP TO BOTTOM, AND BACK UP AGAIN
A team’s vision must come from the top and trickle its way down, but its execution stems, by example, from the bottom up.
- Setting big, ambitious goals is arguably the most important function of a team leader.
- At the same time, the team leader must do whatever it takes to execute on that vision and help the team reach its full potential.
- This means when a job needs to get done, a leader takes it upon themselves to get it done: carrying boxes, pouring coffee, and doing anything that they expect the rest of their team to do…not just barking out orders.
- As cliché as the expression has become, being the first one in and last one out (every day) makes an incredibly strong impression.
Creating a strong team culture begins with the first impression.
- Team leaders should spend a considerable amount of time with each new member right away to discuss new ideas, answer and raise questions, and get to know the new member’s motivations.
- The team leader should reserve their personal “great ideas” until they hear and dig into the new member’s ideas.
- The first impression sets the tone for the foreseeable future.
- Introductory meetings should be truthful and realistic: no unfair or unrealistic expectations or promises.
DEFINING CLEAR ROLES
The less time people wonder about “whose job” it is to complete a task, the more impact they can make doing things that matter.
- Defining clear roles and expectations within a team is key in avoiding confusion and friction, and putting each person in position to succeed.
- Team members not only need to be aware of their own role, but the rest of their teammates’ as well.
- Publicly listing each team member’s expectations/roles in some form (available to the full team at anytime) is key in clearing up questions that may emerge, particularly in stressful situations.
Work doesn’t get done without a deadline.
- Setting clear deadlines is especially important within teams that are not a person’s primary job/hustle.
- A deadline is only as stressful as the setter intends it to be. Clarifying the importance and context of the deadline is incredibly important.
- Once the team leader sets a deadline, they must respect it. Timely feedback and action is necessary in order to show gratitude for work that is completed inside a deadline-driven environment.
ABSENCE OF INTIMIDATION
Forget Machiavelli. It’s better to be loved than feared.
- My personal preference: Quickly create a sense of collaboration, rather than intimidation.
- Organizational hierarchy is important in knowing who has the final word on making a decision, but not in the way people are treated.
- Team members will perform better, contribute stronger ideas, and feel a sense of ownership when they are comfortable and friendly with the team leader.
People go the extra mile for those who genuinely appreciate them.
- Basic: People enjoy being appreciated, complimented, and thanked for their hard work.
- Team loyalty is best cultivated by true respect and well-intentioned outreach, not by quick gimmicks or perks.
- Expressing sincere thanks for completing tasks — small or large — is free, easy, and fast. The best team leaders do it often.