When it comes to leading teams, the common focus in the leadership literature tends to be on team building; on answering the question of how do we rally people and get them on board and aligned with our company’s vision or long-term goals.
Of course, this makes a lot of sense when we realize that our chances to succeed in pushing forth a new initiative or change mandate is dependent on how much our employees are genuinely invested in bringing their best efforts to transforming this idea into our new reality.
But what about when we’re months – or even years – into the process of implementing our vision or long-term goals for our organization? How do we help our employees to not only sustain their drive and interest, but help them to stay the course in face of the inevitable obstacles, unexpected changes, and unpopular decisions we need to make along the way?
While the specifics will understandably vary from one team to another – and from one situation to another – there are nonetheless three critical factors that every leader should be employing to ensure that their leadership is serving to help their employees to stay the course over the long run.
1. Encourage your employees to ask ‘what is our purpose?’
Perhaps one of the stranger ironies of the modern workplace is the fact that the further you move towards achieving your goal, the easier it becomes to lose sight of it.
Consider, for example, the faster-pace by which we not only have to operate, but by which decisions have to be made in light of new information or new realities. The consequences of this new reality is that many leaders are now working within a reactive state – of simply responding to the things that are demanding their attention without considering which issues are truly important to achieving their long-term goals.
And if those in leadership positions are having a hard time keeping their focus on what matters, it shouldn’t be surprising to find employees being disengaged in their work because they no longer can see the connection between what they do and the purpose behind their organization’s collective efforts.
By openly encouraging your employees to ask ‘what is our purpose’, you allow them to find the answer that best resonates with them; of finding the context that defines the value of their contributions to the overall vision of your organization.
While it’s important for leaders to communicate that value and importance to their employees, it’s equally important that employees themselves can see and understand why their efforts matter and how its making a difference in the long-term goals for their organization. To put it simply, we need to know the purpose behind our efforts if we are to truly care about bringing our best [Share on Twitter].
2. Be mindful of the impact your decisions have on those you lead
When it comes to communicating a message or an idea, there’s a common understanding that people typically tend to remember only 2 or 3 points about that idea or message. As such, when communicating something new or different, it’s important that you draw attention to those critical points you want your audience to take hold of and remember.
Now this is something that is pretty easy to adhere to at the start of a new organizational initiative or change process. But as the months and years go by, that original message can very quickly get buried by changing needs, looming deadlines, and a growing focus on hitting short-term targets.
So while leaders have the opportunity to take into account the bigger picture – of connecting the dots between the various decisions and choices they make and the long-term goals they hope to attain – for their employees, their field of view is limited to what they see and experience in their daily work lives, and what those in charge expect them to achieve under those conditions.
And if we’re not careful about how we go about making those decisions, it can leave our employees feeling as though those choices are being done to them, as opposed to for them, so that they might achieve success over the long run.
Indeed, in the current climate where so many organizations are focusing more and more on near and short-term goals, it’s very easy for employees to feel more like cogs in a wheel serving to help their leaders look good than being a part of something bigger than themselves. Something important and meaningful for everyone involved.
That’s why in looking at the long view, we need to remind ourselves that leading a team is about being in service of others as opposed to others simply serving you [Share on Twitter]. That being an effective leader means we have to be aware and mindful of how our employees are impacted by the decisions we make, as well as by what we communicate as being what we value and care about.
3. Allow your employees to see your human side
At the beginning of any new long-term vision or series of goals, it’s easy to have a clear sense of direction and of which decisions will lead to the desired outcome. Of course, as the months and years go by, what was once a clear line of sight to our target goal becomes obstructed by the day-to-day realities our employees have to grapple with in helping us to achieve those goals.
The growing complexity and difficulty to anticipate the best route to take inevitably will lead to mistakes being made on our part – of directing our employees to head in one direction only to turn around and tell them to head in another.
Of course, while making mistakes is an inherent aspect of being human, making a mistake through your leadership can lead to troubling consequences for your organization, which is why so many leaders opt to make the safest choices for their leadership over what’s best for their team and organization.
But this is where the span of time that it takes for us to achieve these long-term goals can work to our advantage because this presents us with the opportunity to build relationships with those we lead; to let our employees see and understand what drives our leadership, and of our willingness to learn and grow into the kind of leader they need us to be.
It’s what we mean when we talk about bringing more humility to today’s leadership. Namely, that humility in leadership allows us to not only acknowledge our mistakes, but to learn from them [Share on Twitter].
It shows our employees that we’re not driven by our ego and our need to protect the perceptions others might have about our leadership. Rather, our focus is on being the kind of leader our employees need us to be – one that will own up to our inevitable missteps and bad judgments so that we can learn from them in order to be better equipped to lead going forward.
Demonstrating humility in our leadership lets our employees know that we care about them and that we’re driven to help them improve by working to be better than we are today.
Again, these three critical factors are not comprehensive and certainly there are other approaches we need to take if we are to keep our employees engaged and invested not just at the starting gate, but when we’re only half-way towards reaching the finish line.
But what these measures help us to understand is what we need to keep doing each and every day to ensure that we are creating those necessary conditions where our employees are self-driven to bring their best efforts to the table.
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