09 Apr Your Company: Real Teamwork or Fantasy Football?
I spend a lot of my time examining leadership and teamwork, looking at what makes them both great, and where the pitfalls lie. For a talented few, leadership is a trait that comes naturally, and it’s seemingly effortless for them to bring a team together.
For many, many others, leadership is a skill that is developed over time, and the hardest thing for most people to do is lead by getting out of the way. There’s a common theme I’ve found in conversations with hundreds of human beings that I like to call the “fantasy football of leadership.”
It looks like this: You decide to lead a project or start a company. You pull together a talented team of people who have all the skills required to make this a hit. They’re excited to get started, so you kick things off, have a few calls or meetings, and it seems, on the surface, that things are moving along splendidly. However, after a few weeks you notice that communication and progress seem to be stalled; you start to wonder if maybe these people aren’t as talented as you thought they were. Why aren’t things getting done? What’s the malfunction? You start to point fingers at the areas and people that seem to be stuck.
The real problem, however, is that you’re pointing at the wrong thing. So since we’re in the realm of football, imagine you’re wearing a great big foam finger. Now point that thing back at yourself instead of at your team members. Because I’ll let you in on a little secret: If things aren’t moving forward, you might want to check in with how you’ve set things up with your “team”. A great deal of the time — I’d even venture to say 80% of the time — your team is awaiting your instructions. That means you’re doing it wrong. You’ve put together a team, but haven’t in reality empowered them to do anything, and have become the bottleneck. You might think your expectations were clear, but expectations are a clear path to failure. You must be explicit in making requests of people to do things, or they don’t know to do them, and you are living over there in your fantasy world.
A lot of the time the objection to empowering a team in this way is “But I don’t know what the next six months looks like! What am I supposed to tell them?” My response? “Perfect! It’s a good thing you have a team, because they can help you figure that out and create it. Instead of telling them, ask them!”
You don’t have to have all the answers. Not as a leader, not as a founder, CEO, troop leader, team captain, or anything else. The best leaders look to their people to provide the ideas, and they listen for how to create the mechanisms to bring those ideas to life. In order to do that, you have to stop thinking you need all the answers before you even get started. Life and work is an act of creation. Teamwork makes that infinitely better. So no more fantasy football – leverage the knowledge and talent of the people around you and watch what happens.
Photo: Jon Fravel