Leading Teams: The First Taste of Leadership

The 5 Levels of Leadership

Generally the very first time we get given a leadership role it is leading a small business team. If we are lucky we may experience the dynamics leading a sports team, or in a senior leadership role at school or in a group outside of work. In general I find that it just happens suddenly as a natural progression in the work environment. There is no training…..one day you are a senior member of the team, the next you are leading it.

No one prepares you for the change. Friends and peers are now working for you & suddenly you are expected to achieve team goals, manage performance and too often deal with conflict. Working with newly promoted team leaders and first time managers/leaders we find the biggest challenge they face is (bar none) is that of confronting issues that arise within the team. Those tough conversations with one time peers when confronting behaviour that impacts on the team achieving goals. Eight Common Pitfalls for New Managers is a document that we put together (at The Results Group) which has helped many to understand what has “changed” since they were promoted to lead their first team. In fact it has served to remind even long time leaders of some of the things they need to be aware of.

Supporting first time leaders to make the jump, to be aware of the pitfalls and to be able to confront challenging issues is the role of a mentor & senior Manager/Leader in the business and whilst not costly in terms of time or money, is often simply not prioritised.

How are you preparing your people to lead? How are you supporting them to make the jump? Is your Business culture a high performing one that guides, supports and develops leaders to take care of your most important asset…..your people?

How to Get Good: Focus on What You Do

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I have recently spent a lot of time with our clients. In particular really listening to understand what they expect from us. We officially launched the Executive Leadership Programme.  This programme is already becoming a significant part of their business. In a little over six months we have 26 CEOs and five “Emerging Leadership development teams” on the programme.

Over the last week I spent a long time with my friend and meet with John Spence. I’ve worked with him  as he delivered workshops to my senior team, a large event at the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch and within a number of CEO leadership forums.

Reinforced to me: you become like those you spend time with and what you focus on.  It’s not about what great ideas you have it’s about what you execute and actually do.

The secret to success is extreme focus & being excellent what you do.

Note to self: do more of that!

Team Mates

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Great team mates are the key to any culture and business. No one person is a team and no one person can manage the complexity of leading in modern business. Team and culture are the outcome of good leadership, clear communication and honest robust conversations. They are the result of a conscious decision to invest in people and to work together collaboratively.

Too often this critical aspect of business is left to chance and stagnates at a certain level. The reality of business today is that really the only significant point of difference and Company can have is it team culture. Everything else can be copied, reverse engineered or improved upon. Competitors can take individuals but they cannot take nor easily replicate your team culture. If you get the team culture right then client service and great products innovation will follow.

Pride, Passion And Excellence: Leighs Construction CEO – Anthony Leighs

Last week we were lucky enough to have the CEO (and Founder) of Leighs Construction Ltd (Link here) speak at our CEO Leadership Group in Christchurch. Every two months the group gets together for breakfast to hear a Business Leader tell their personal story in Business, to tell their Leadership journey.

It is fantastic to hear someones journey in both Business and Leadership and to take a few things away to think about. What did I learn from Anthony? A lot actually;

  • His journey from school into the Construction Industry. A near brush with being an Officer in the NZ Army did threaten to take him in another direction & Leadership role.
  • He qualified as a QS, Project & Construction Manager and worked for a large Construction Company.
  • In his first role he was influenced by a strong leader who taught him a lot about Leading and running a Business.
  • He started his own Company.
  • Leighs Construction had to be smart, innovative and deliver great results to initially compete with larger, better established Christchurch Construction Companies.
  • Some early wins and awards made a big difference.
  • Being different is a way of building a brand. Leighs took construction to Antarctica, East timor and the Islands. This required innovation, flexibility and taught a culture of partnerships and close relationships. This ability to create and work in partnerships has been a major contributor to the Company growth.
  • His leadership philosophy is “Great people, Good equipment and sharing success”. The company has 3 stated Values – Pride, Passion, Excellence (PPE). The team keep this as centre to all they do and deliver. It is a way of doing business.
  • Anthony has tried to build a culture of performance. With PPE central in all they do, everyone is expected to perform.
  • Good robust Governance keeps the Business strong. Anthony wished he had formed a board earlier and gets invaluable direction, guidance and support from the Board of Directors he currently has.
  • Leading leaders is the challenge of the future a the company grows. How do you lead clever people well and develop them? Leadership is a key focus for the Company moving forward.
  • Anthony is passionate about what he does and his industry. He readily gives back through his role as Chairman of The NZ Masterbuilders Federation and by his numerous leadership roles in related groups, committees and Business relationships. He is an influencer.

Thank you for sharing your story. I learnt a lot and so did those attending the breakfast.

Other Leadership Blogs I have published:

Average Doesn’t work in Any Part of Life (lInk Here)

Feedback from 200 CEO’s: What They Learnt in 2013 (Link here)

Managing Director and Founder of Leigh Construction, Anthony Leighs speaks about Leadership at a Christchurch breakfast hosted by The Results group.
Managing Director and Founder of Leigh Construction, Anthony Leighs speaks about Leadership at a Christchurch breakfast hosted by The Results group.

Leaders: The Genius Of Simple

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When I saw this Richard Branson quote I immediately sent it to several CEO’s that I have been working with over the past week. The reality of business today is that it is complex, fast paced and full on. The change, technology, innovation and changing global market place adds to complexity. The role of a leader is to constantly make the complex simple. To break things down into bite size chunks, to clearly identify the issues in amongst the “fog of war” so they can then be addressed.

One recent example. This week I was working with a leading NZ company, one that is very successful, growing fast, a Senior Leadership Team at the top of its game, working in the technical space. These guys can do amazing things in their field, professionally and are academically at the top of their game. As part of their strategy it became important to measure “users”. The conversation and debate around what a user is, how the various users could be measured, their usage weighted, the definition etc could have raged for hours. A real life example of a simple concept i.e. a user is someone who uses their product or service whether they pay for it or not, being made into a complex matter that could have stopped them doing something very simple and important.

The role of any leader is to quickly take the conversation the other way. To cut through the complexity and ensure the team understands the real issue. To quickly bring things to a logical and executable decision point. Time and time again businesses feel they are different or special so therefore the principles of research based best practice won’t apply to them.

Recently I was speaking to a group representing 15 Law firms. A mix of senior partners and their General Managers. I was discussing Target Markets and how any business needs to be able to identify their Target Market and design their products and services specifically for that market (not that they don’t do business with those outside that target market, they just don’t actively target them).

One said to me “Kendall you have to realise that we do things a little differently”, meaning that this stuff is all very well and good but it doesn’t apply to them because their work is different/complex/multifaceted/high trust with clients/very important etc. When I openly challenged this point we went on to have a great discussion and in actual fact this thinking not only absolutely applied to their industry it was badly lacking. To the point whereby most Law firms cannot even differentiate their point of difference. Most simply are “Great service, trusted, client focussed”. I’m not saying it is easy to have a defendable point of difference, but when you get one clearly defined it is of high value. It allows you to stand out and demonstrate to your market that you add a massive return on investment to them. Otherwise you compete on price…….and that sucks. Sadly most Companies and Industries think they are little bit different and therefore don’t apply some of the simple principles.

Leaders at the top of their game keep things simple, force clarity and help their people to make the complex simple. Ironically some of these skills are the least talked about, trained for and invested in.

Other Things You Might Find of Interest;

Listening Very Hard: The Voice of Your Customer (Link here)

Making Your Business Better (Link Here)

Leadership Lessons from 200 CEO’s (Link Here)

High Performance Culture & Teams: What I learnt from Todd Blackadder

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One of the best things about my role is that as I work with high performance CEO’s and their teams I get to learn from them & those they know and work with. Last week I facilitated the annual conference for a Christchurch based client and all their staff. It was the third such conference I had facilitated for them and looking back over what they have achieved as they have set their Vision & Strategy and over as number of years engaged their team and actively executed the plan has been amazing. They are actively focussing on building a high performance team.

Todd Blackadder came into the conference and spoke candidly about how High Performance sports teams (in particular the Crusaders) set and build their culture and how it can be applied into Business teams. What did I learn or have reinforced from his workshop? A number of things. Namely;

1.  The importance of Culture: Culture is really measured by the way the team responds to your challenges. The very first time the team faces a major challenge is where you will truly see what you team culture is. Their reaction is your culture. Makes perfect sense when you think about that but I like the way he articulated it. Culture is a response you get back from people in relation to the challenge you pose.

2. Teams cannot be highly engaged all the time. There are times that engagement levels need to be really high and teams need to discuss and decide when they need to be highly engaged. It is natural for there to be highs and lows but when high levels of engagement are needed everyone needs to focus.

3. MIsaligned culture is your first competitor. This means that the process of alignment, having discussions and getting buy in across the team is fundamentally important to success. It is your first true competitor to overcome and comes before external competition.

4. Culture turns a person into a people. If you get the team or company culture right people will identify as a team or part of a bigger organisation.

5. Language is the lifeblood of any culture. This ties in with the previous point. Having a common language is part of building identity and “one people”. There is high value in having a common language.

6. Accountability starts with the leader. In this case it is the coach, but high levels of accountability means that leaders at each level own failure and also learn from it. Once a problem is owned and accepted then the team can work to overcome it.

7. High performance teams do not have “lifestylers”. Nothing kills a high performance culture faster than accepting mediocrity. Hard discussions around performance rather than making it personal (or about the individual not performing) allows a team to address problems fast. Play the ball not the man and you will find conversations get easier to have.

8. The good of the team comes before any one individual. This is regardless of what position or role you hold. Park the ego and focus on what the team needs to do to succeed and overcome problems, failures and blockages.

9. Train hard. Train, up skill, guide, mentor, coach and develop talent. This is the role a the modern leader. To be authentic and to walk the talk.

10. Celebrate the small wins as they happen. Take a moment to acknowledge all the small steps that start to feed into the bigger wins. Park up reflections that might ruin a small celebration until the best time to address it. Don’t be such a tough task master that you send the message of never being satisfied. Have some fun! Enjoy being with your people.

11. Trust is everything. It all starts with high levels of trust. This means getting to know people, what motivates them, how they live their lives, what formed their values, what experiences have shaped their lives. Get to know them, get to know their families. See the person. This is the anchor of a high performance team and a base for this is the work of Patrick Lencioni in his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a team.”

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I learnt a lot about how a high performance professional sports team sets about planning and training to win. How the team builds trust and how it develops the resilience to deal with defeats and blockages that are inevitable in the world of both professional sport and in turn the modern competitive world of business.

There are some subtle differences that separate business from sport too which need to be acknowledged. Things such as business having longer and less defined seasons meaning teams are together longer. The fact that professional sport has no second place whereas in business there is more “grey area” in terms of how success is defined. Strategy and tactics in business do not have to change as fast as in professional sport where it may change week to week.

There are however many similarities and it is possible to really look at how to build a culture that turns individuals into a people with both a common language, aligned goals and values. A team that reacts to challenges in a positive way and overcomes the big hits that temporary failure can deliver.

Some great learnings. Thanks Todd.

High Performance Teams: Foundations

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High performance teams…….great buzz words, a great aspiration, we’d all love to be a member of one and to lead one, but how do you actually achieve it? How do you take the concept and turn it into reality? I am lucky enough to be a part of one and to lead several. I also work day to day supporting and coaching High Performance CEO’s to develop, lead and enable their Senior Leadership Teams. There is a link to high performance sports teams and to tight military combat teams and there is no shortage of information on the subject. What are the foundations of a High Performance Business Leadership Teams? Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” is a great read and outlines some great concepts. But how do you really do it? Here are the 12 foundation stones of developing a High Performance Business Team;

1.  Lead yourself well. It all starts with a team leader being prepared to be vulnerable. To be self aware, open to change, being comfortable with their own strengths and weaknesses and to have the desire to change and get incrementally better as a leader. They admit mistakes and learn constantly from them. They model behavior for their team.

2. High Trust is key. High performance teams trust each other. In fact I believe they actually like each other and hang out together. They know how the team works, their part in it and constantly get to play to their strengths. Constantly communicate.

3. Set the Culture. High performance teams train and practice together. The leaders create the space for high quality conversations to occur, for high quality thinking to occur which in turn leads to high quality decisions be consistently made. The highest priority is placed on Strategic planning, team time, training and measuring success. During busy times more time is spent in planning and supporting the team.

4. Take the wins. Celebrate success as it occurs. Big and small it is important to recognize the wins, to see the first signs a strategy or initiative is starting to deliver results. Have fun, reward your team, say thank you and make your team members the hero.

5. Embrace failure. If things are not working, constantly iterate the plan and involving the team in capturing the lessons learnt. At Stanford Design school we had it drummed into us to “Go early, fail fast and iterate”.

6. Coach and Mentor. High Performance Teams have the best coaches and a network of mentors that keep them at the top of their game. A High Performance Leader guides, develops, mentors and grows their people or recruits their replacements. Investing heavily in developing the team and the individuals in it is a big job. The best leaders are the best coaches. those in the team are unable to grow or are not willing to engage they need to be removed before they hold the team back. It may be they are not in the right seat on the bus or even that they are on the wrong bus. Addressing poor performance fast is more about protecting your “A players” than anything else. No one at the top of their game wants to be in a team that includes non performers. Remember that everyone in a team knows who is and who is not performing and they are watching the leader to see what they will do about it.

7. Measure and Manage. Measure the right things to keep it on track. Building high levels of engagement and buy in is key to being able to hold people accountable. Check in every week on reality vs targets. Support your team to get and keep things on track. Set stretch goals that inspire and challenge your people.

8. Have a Bias for Action. Be more focussed on getting started and making things happen than talking about it. High Performance Teams make things happen. They love action, challenges and what they do.

9. Authenticity Rules. Be open, transparent and honest. Articulating the Vision, Purpose and Values and bringing them to life is the basis for the teams existence. Good authentic Values align and guide behaviors and allow for scaleable and consistent decision making. Walk the walk and do the hard yards.

10. Be Consistent. High performance Teams are consistent in all they do. Do the basics right and build on them. Tell stories and manage by walking around. Build on consistency by basing decisions on the reality of your people.

11. Hire slow. Have a team that is hard to get into and easy to get out of. Recruit for fit, train for skill and induct those joining the team.

12. Lead from the Front. The best leaders are the best managers. Lead, accept responsibility and genuinely care about those in your team. Perception is reality, which means if you are feeling it your team will be too. Constantly look over the fence at what others are doing because often the best solutions and ideas come from other industries and when applied to your own become a game changer.

There are many things that make a team perform at a high level. Many are very easy to do but require the right attitude, approach and the passion to not only start the journey but to continue on through tough times and periods of change and uncertainty. Leadership is the ultimate challenge and leading a team of people who are smarter, better and more capable is very rewarding.

How do you develop your team?

The Art Of Making Excuses

The Art Of Making Excuses

The important things in life tend to be easy to do but also easy not to do. Excuse making is something I come across on a daily basis. Often after deciding that something is really important to do for the business is made a priority it is then not actioned. Often there is a blockage, a story, a reason but the fact remains it does not get done. The most effective leaders I know just “make things happen”. They tend to be the busiest people who time and time again do what needs to be done. They are focussed, committed and consistent.

Meanwhile the excuse makers tend to have that pattern in their life of not doing what they set out to do. Whatever the excuse they just don’t nail it. Often it is someone elses fault or because they ran out of time. They are the victim. In my mind it was either not important, they are not committed or they don’t know how to do it so never start.

Give me someone with a penchant for action over talking about it any day. Give me someone who gives it a go, starts the journey, takes the first step, makes some mistakes, asks for help anyday. They are the ones who will learn, accept responsibility and they will make it happen.

If it is important you will find away or you will find an excuse.

What are your thoughts?