Workplace Wisdom

Leaders’ Work Is Never Done

Team development never ends — not if you want a well-functioning, effective team.

Sometimes when a team has recently averted a crisis or resolved a significant problem, they exclaim in a kind of relief: “We dodged a bullet!” Or there’s a sense of satisfaction: “Hooray! We made it! We beat the obstacle course!”

The respite after a period of difficulty, though, can be a dangerous time for a successful team. That’s because feelings of triumph and relief can seduce leaders into relaxing their guard and sitting back too far from the action.

No Rest for the Best

No team is static, especially not a successful one. Just when you think it’s finally in great shape and running the way you want it, there’s new work to be done. The leader can never rest. Any organization will always be confronting new challenges and uncertainties, which can range from a competitor’s market moves to a large customer’s buying shifts. And there can be numerous internal variations too. For instance:

  • You may develop your team members so well that they become attractive to external recruiters. Whether or not they decide to leave, they may experience a new sense of themselves as special and sought-after in ways that contradict true teamwork.
  • Intra-team cliques or rivalries can surface and harm the work — because we’re all human, after all.
  • Emerging high-potential employees might start feeling their oats and trying to run their own rackets.
  • As the work changes over time, some members cannot carry the newly required levels of skill and responsibility.
  • And of course, you must prepare the team for the day when you won’t be the leader. That doesn’t mean you’re abandoning them, but as their sponsor, you should be teaching them what they need to know and helping them develop the practices they need to keep moving forward when you’re not available, or when the day comes that they’re under new leadership.

If You’re Not Going Forward, You’re Falling Back

It can feel excessive and unnecessary to keep providing development, discussing what could be better, and rallying people when they seem to be working at top form already. But even when everyone is at the top of their game, you should still seek opportunities for individual and group development. Any of the points listed above can be a topic in and of itself.

Good leadership has many subtle aspects and these subtleties or refinements become even more important in the period that follows a triumph or a disaster averted. For example, it’s standard practice to criticize in private and praise in public. But when things are going well, it’s also important to find opportunities to praise in private, in greater detail, so that employees see clearly which behaviors are most successful and how they can perfect their own performance even further.

Avoid Leadership Disaffective Disorder

Instead of staying actively involved, some leaders fall into the trap of letting the team appear to self-manage, partially because they don’t want to play the heavy when things seem to be so successful. And other leaders might inadvertently undercut people by telling them negative things that teammates have said about them, rather than conveying their own direct critique and recommendations.

Some leaders hope that they’ve come to the end of having to deliver what feels like bad news and that the team’s success means they’ll no longer need to encourage individual improvement or explain how the team will be served by their learning to work together differently. Every leader has bad news to deliver — not necessarily because there’s a crisis, but because there is always something to improve and another hill to climb.

Leaders who maintain focus, on the other hand, not only keep their teams at their best, but continue to sharpen their own skills. After all, they may need to confront new challenges and new opportunities themselves.

Onward and upward,

LK

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