In today’s organisational structures, leaders who are in the mid-management level are given teams to enable them to achieve a higher level of productivity as well as better quality of output. These leaders are entrusted with the role of nurturing and growing their teams via a set of team leads. These team leads have been picked to become champions of their own teams and their role is to motivate and educate their team members on the processes within their job scope while balancing between minimising mistakes and continuously encouraging learning on the job.
In my experience of coaching leaders in organisations, many leaders shared that they have expectations on their team leads to pick up the tasks assigned and execute them quickly. They felt that their team leads should have a good grasp of what is expected especially when minimal instructions are given or available. This is because they expect their team leads to having the cognitive capability to analyse and implement the required action steps with little hand-holding.
When a reality check is done, the leaders are generally disappointed, with a few exceptions to the case. The root cause of their disappointment is that these leaders feel their team leads fail to produce the expected outcome with their respective team’s support.
Some of the team leads tend to delay and miss the stipulated timelines of work projects. Some are seen to be over-stressed due to multiple priorities which they struggle to manage. Some lack the required skills to delegate tasks to their team members. Others fail to seek clarity over unclear tasks and outcomes.
All of these actions have an undesirable impact on the leaders. The leaders’ expectations are not met. The leader’s trust levels over their team lead to deliver the outcome is eroded. The leaders' stress levels sky-rocket which consequently impacts their frame of thinking and decision-making capabilities on how to move forward and respond.
Many leaders that I coach, approach this dilemma with a high level of frustration and disappointment. They have a fear of being seen as incompetent and want to avoid their bosses from discovering this undesirable outcome. Because they want to ‘save their face’, these leaders feel pressured to deliver results quickly as they sense the crunch time. Fuelled by these fears, they make ‘unwise’ decisions and choices. Hence, as a resolution, they tend to become overly involved in their team leads’ work, they start to fight fires for their team leads.
They take over the uncompleted tasks and complete them and show that they can get it ‘right’ the first time. They express their disappointment and make the team leads feel they are a failure as they are not able to execute an expected task. Because of their ‘unwise’ decisions, these leaders showcase their ‘heroic’ capability of ‘fixing’, ‘fire-fighting’, working in ‘silos’, being the ‘expert’, having the ‘authority’, and being ‘assertive’.
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By continuing this cycle of jumping into ‘fix-it’ for their team leads, they create a scenario where they have ‘one-hand tied behind their backs’ and they have very little time to approach their own expected role of thinking and acting strategically, rather they are only able to work at a tactical level and make incremental improvements.
In my coaching experience, by exploring their deep-rooted fears and enabling the leaders to ‘deep-dive’ into their ‘un-wise’ decisions, they begin to understand the impact of their decisions on themselves, their team leads as well as to the whole organisation.
A shift from the ‘heroic’ leader needs to happen. They willingly accept and gravitate towards the ‘partner’ leader where they adopt a new mindset around building a culture within their team where mistakes are not seen as a failure, rather as sources of growth.
They shift their behaviours towards nurturing and empowering their teams by using the coaching methodology of ‘partnering’.
A simple and effective ‘Partnering – P.C.C.A’ model is shared with the leaders. Let me share and explain the key steps of the P.C.C.A below:
P – Page
Here the leader ensures that his team leads have clarity on their assigned tasks, i.e. they are on the same page as he is. The leader can check the quality of clarity by asking them questions and encouraging them to ask questions so that both parties have a similar understanding of what the task entails, the required timelines, the identity of the stakeholders, the roles each party plays, the resources needed as well as the need for any cross-functional intervention, among others.
By brainstorming a set of questions to gain a deeper level of understanding, unnecessary assumptions are eliminated, participation is being endorsed and partnering takes place.
C – Check-in
Here the leader ensures that he checks in with his team on an intermittent basis. This process helps to build a two-way open communication channel. This helps the team leads to build their trust in themselves, in the task they are doing as well as in their leader.
The team leads are encouraged to use this platform to continuously keep their leaders updated on the progress as well as share and seek ideas on areas where they are stuck. The quality of trust between the leader and his team is strengthened.
The leader uses this opportunity to showcase his level of empathy towards his team leads. The team starts to feel that their leader treats them as humans, cares about the quality of their output, and is continuously supportive. Again partnering is advocated.
C – Challenge
Here the leader challenges his team leads to craft ways to make improvements to the work quality, the speed of the progress, the quantity of their output, the cost of their initiatives, etc.
This step of partnering forces the team leads to create a new way of solving problems by thinking out of the box, by assuming they work in ‘laboratories’ where they can design new processes/products, create prototypes, consult and collaborate with their stakeholders, get incisive feedback, among others.
The leader continuously encourages them to become comfortable and courageous when the environment is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. He shows his creative and collaborative mindset of embracing multiple ideas from them.
He pioneers them towards a culture of being agile, resourceful, and prepared for the future. Again partnering is promoted.
A – Awareness
Here the leader encourages his team leads to harvest their learnings from each project they are working on. This process of reflection helps the team leads to learn and grow from their experiences, which is a great teacher.
Some of these learnings include – how well they worked with each other, the quality of trust they built between each other, the level of creative energy that was nurtured, how they responded to moments when they were stuck, the quality of communication between their team and with their leader, the change in their level of courage to try out new things, the value of being empowered, etc.
The leader partners with them to solidify their learnings and encourages them to leverage on them, in the future. This key step in this partnering model encapsulates the shift from the ‘heroic’ leader to the ‘partner’ leader.
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By embracing this high quality of partnering, leaders and their team leads move towards a level of preparedness for the ever-changing future. The renewed energy within teams in organisations will enable the building of a culture where teams feel empowered, creative, courageous and motivated to step out of their comfort zone and think differently for the future.
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