Big personalities can be so much fun! Or they can be really tough to navigate. Here are two steps to make working together easier and more productive.
Let’s suppose you’re you are (or want to be) both a popular leader and a good one. Being a good leader means sometimes your good decisions are unpopular. You knew it was inevitable, and now it’s happening - your teammates are not happy with your decision. And that’s ok because you are ready for this situation.
One reason hard decisions are hard is because they might negatively impact people around you. Tough decisions might actually hurt people, their feelings, their relationship with you, their life path - through no fault of their own. Avoiding hard decisions or passing the buck doesn’t actually help. (Nor does ramping up your energy to blame others, the circumstances, the state of the world, the fates, your teammates, the past...)
In my time cultivating oodles of leaders and leadership teams, it was repeatedly reinforced that paying attention to creating team culture is worth the effort. I’ve seen so many teams latch onto the quirks, foibles or neuroses of their leadership team, for better or for worse - generally for worse.
Classic models of organizational discipline policy damage work relationships and create a toxic work environment. And, I have yet to meet a leader who is stoked to be the disciplinarian for their team. If you hate how discipline works (or, more likely, how it doesn’t work) at your organization, it’s time to take a look at your discipline policy and come up with something better.
I’ve noticed a fascinating theme lately of leaders rebelling against the expectations of capitalist culture. They are not against participating in commerce (they are making money); they are fighting the currents of toxic systems that create toxic organizational culture.
It can be lonely in a challenging work environment. When you know things can be better and you have ideas for making that change happen, trying to do it alone is enough to make many people not even bother to try.
I have been fascinated with the book Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away by Annie Duke. It is clear to me now that great leaders need to be good at quitting.
I frequently hear from people in organizations (particularly nonprofit organizations) who want to cultivate more leaders from within but are struggling to get people to step into leadership roles. One huge barrier to people stepping up is that they see and hear (and maybe are repeatedly told) that leaders in the organization are not appreciated.
There are only so many spaces for people with official leadership titles, but there is infinite room for informal leaders to make an impact. Teammates look to informal leaders to learn team culture and how things work. They influence the team and are respected teammates.
There was a heartbreaking moment at a recent webinar where I was co-presenting. One leader told the group about how the changing and ambiguous future was affecting her team. Specifically, someone was angry with every decision and every step forward. Really angry.
Leadership experiments give you a structure to develop your skills by trying new things. Not every experiment is an amazing life-changing success, but a well-constructed experiment will give you useful information and insights you can’t get any other way. The actual experience of carrying out an experiment builds your adaptability while giving you insights.
Most people are fine with the idea of firing someone for egregiously terrible work or when they’re discovered to be lying about their qualifications. The well-situated dictators out there are often in a position to enact their mercurial tempers and bully people around with the threat and maybe actualization of “off with their head” style firings. Back in the real world, I’ve seen leaders struggle with how to deal with team members who have problematic behavior that doesn’t align with the organization’s culture or more subtle signs that someone needs to go.
I talk with leaders who are on the struggle bus about wanting something from their people and not getting it. It could be something simple like a weekly update or more involved like engaging in positive communication with the team. Whatever the thing is, the leader is getting frustrated and usually asks “why can’t they just do this simple thing?”. There are two basic reasons.
Have you ever been frustrated or mystified by someone telling you “I had no choice” when it seemed pretty obvious that they made about 100 choices leading up to that moment? Or how do you feel about hearing the old saw: there just are no good options? If there truly were no choices to be made life would be quite a bummer and evaporating motivation would be understandable and unavoidable. Choice can be a powerful motivator.