A leader, not a manager

June is Debugging Teams month on poseyblog! Brian Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman have great advice for leaders in their wonderful book on the importance of communication and collaboration.

They address the dangerous “anti-patterns” that can sink a leader, like hiring pushovers, ignoring low performers, treating your team like children. When you dive into this section on anti-patterns you’ll recognize your own mistakes and the mistakes of former bosses that drove you crazy.

Fitz and Ben’s distillation of leadership attributes is as strong as any I’ve read. There are a dozen great themes they address that resonate for new or experienced leaders. Here are just a couple highlights:

  • Fitz and Ben say: Be a zen master. “Mediating your reactions and maintaining your calm is more important as you lead more people, because your team will (both unconsciously and consciously) look to you for clues on how to act and react to whatever is going on around you.”
  • Shield your team from chaos. “When Fitz first became a manager he was taken aback by the sheer volume of uncertainty and organized chaos that was happening at his company. He asked another manager what had caused this sudden rockiness in an otherwise calm company, and the other manager laughed hysterically at Fitz’s naiveté: the chaos had always been present, but Fitz’s previous manager had shielded Fitz and the rest of the team from it.”

Here’s the thing. Nothing productive comes from your team being frightened. A spooked team is distracted. They gossip rather than meeting deadlines. They start looking for new jobs. You want your team to be filled with hope and purpose so they can focus on delivering. The truth is a well-executed product will often save the company no matter what mistakes the hapless executives have made! So unless and until things become critical, shield your team from the chaos and indecision at the top.

Fitz and Ben talk a lot about general care for your people — giving them air cover to defend them from frivolous demands; asking your team what they need to thrive; letting your team know when they’re doing well. In my own experience as a leader I can say there is no more powerful tool than positive reinforcement.

Ultimately, their message is clear. It’s not about you. It’s about them. When you are the leader, you do what’s good for your team. Servant leadership is the only kind of leadership that really works, because you can’t scale up if the people underneath you don’t have permission to soar.

Communication is the essential last mile in finding and motivating the right teams, acquiring strong allies, powerfully bonding with customers, and capturing mindshare with compelling stories. Nothing will serve you and your vision better than developing exceptional communication skills. If you’d enjoy finding pragmatic communications advice in your inbox every month, please click here to receive poseycorp’s newsletter.

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