Dan Stones

By Dan Stones

Struggling to Lead Your Team to the Promised Land?

Struggling to Lead Your Team to the Promised Land? 150 150 Dan Stones

As someone who speaks, trains and writes about teams every day, I am always amused at how quick people are to steer conversations about culture teams and people, back to leadership.

Often when I meet new clients, I inevitably hear about their latest attempt to build organizational culture described in terms of new leadership development programs they have put in place. Most other times, I am asked whether we can train only the leaders in order to make them more accountable for results, (BTW – the answer is always ‘no’). I have been told, on many occasions, that working with whole teams of people is just too damn hard and, as long as a few good leaders are in the pipeline, the business should be ok.

No matter where in the world it might be, no matter what industry or size of the organization, there is no denying it, people are obsessed with leadership.

As a business leader yourself, you’ve likely had your share of leadership ‘crises’. Maybe you are struggling to find the next generation of leaders to take your organization forward? Perhaps the team is floundering and failing to deliver results? Understandably, both situations have you concerned. Did this mean you haven’t got the right people at the top? Are they not ready to be leaders? Why is the message not getting through to the rest of the team?

The problem I have with these sorts of conversations is that they always tend to view leadership as a separate component and somehow frozen in time. The conventional thinking is, “if only we could get the right person at the top,” (an isolated problem), “then everything would be different! And our problems would be gone forever”, (frozen in time).

However, would they really?

Does a change in leadership, really alter any of the problems currently facing your team? Would the goals of the business be any different? Would the team suddenly be more capable of overcoming those problems they are currently experiencing?

When you begin to look beyond leadership and consider team dynamics and the challenges of the environment in which people are working every day, it quickly becomes apparent that there are a lot more moving parts than just that one person to whom everyone reports.

In my early management career, I thought, like many of my clients today, that there were simply not that many options. It seemed everything revolved around extensive (and expensive) training to up-skill the capabilities of the leaders in question or, I simply had no choice but to redouble efforts, cast a wider net and get better at hiring the right people.

What I have since come to understand and appreciate is the best way to improve the immediate effects of any struggling leader is to refocus their efforts through the adoption of a simple 4-word mantra; “be a better teammate”.

After working with teams all over the world, I have discovered an almost universal tendency for leaders to detach themselves from the very teams they lead. Over time, the team morphs into something external, something else to be managed and controlled, or worst of all, something to be tolerated.

These days, whenever leadership effectiveness is in question, (and let’s face it, when is it not?), I have found that beautiful mantra to be a priceless way to help reset leaders and quickly get them moving in the right direction.

No lengthy and expensive training programs, no messy restructures necessary. You’re welcome.

As soon as you start to remind yourself to “be a better teammate”, almost immediately you find yourself reconnecting with your team. You have more conversations. You begin to see and take advantage of opportunities to make a more positive contribution. Most importantly (and profoundly), in a relatively short space of time you will also find the idea of asking your team to help you become a better leader, much more comfortable.

The, “be a better teammate” strategy, also stops the struggling leader from continuing on a downward spiral. The reason for this is that almost immediately you go from being conscious of your individual performance and instead, put the spotlight firmly back on your team and what they need from you in this given moment.

Let’s walk through a quick scenario:

Sam (a team leader) knows that people are beginning to question her ability to lead the team. Team members are unhappy, productivity is suffering, and sales are low.

In this scenario, Sam can either retreat into her shell and work day and night trying to find a solution to these problems by herself. Exactly what many driven and capable leaders will do. Or she will revert to the other common tactics such as creating an incentive to motivate the team to find a solution, seek out additional resources to get sales up, or perhaps she might find a new sales course or a brand new sales strategy to train up her underperforming staff.

Over time, if she doesn’t get lucky with one, she will inevitably try all three, and although she gets some positive results, it remains a bumpy ride. Over time, Sam feels like she is a prisoner on a never-ending roller coaster, unsure of what’s going to happen from one week to the next.

Alternatively, Sam could do a self-reset and start reminding himself to “be a better teammate”.

In this frame of mind, Sam will most likely commit to having a conversation with each team member to find out where each team member is at, what they need and to ask her team how she could be a better teammate.

“It’s mind-blowing to me how much time and money business owners and HR professionals are spending in an attempt to inject more humility and empathy into the workplace. The simple mantra of  ‘BE A BETTER TEAMMATE’ demands more of both right out of the gate! “ – Dan Stones

As a result of her shift in focus, Sam quickly finds out that the team already has several fresh ideas, but they are frustrated and have grown disillusioned because Sam doesn’t seem to want to listen. They are also concerned about a lack of feedback, with little visibility on sales numbers until the accounting period is over.

Armed with this information, Sam tables fresh ideas to the marketing team and works with accounting to provide more timely reporting of the sales figures across the product range.

In this example, it’s not Sam’s skills or ability that gets the team back on track – it’s her mindset.

Once a leader remembers they are part of the team they lead, it’s incredible to see how quickly they begin to find ‘new’ opportunities to make a positive contribution toward the teams’ success.

Now it might turn out that you have a leader who does struggle in some areas of management— maybe they are challenged when it comes to an understanding of financial reporting or perhaps they do need some training on how to delegate more effectively. Those are skills that can easily be identified and trained.

However in my experience, most of the time they just forgot that being the leader doesn’t mean you are no longer part of the team.

This is a simple way to address this very situation, and figure out what the team needs next.

More often than not, teammates will look after each other. Inside a team, you find people willingly offer help and will check-in when something isn’t going right. Perhaps most importantly, there is the common recognition on almost every team, that the team exists to do a job and that like it or not, “we are all in it together”.

At my training company Shifting Peers, we are blessed to see this scenario play out all the time. That’s because we only ever train whole teams and as such we require the leader of the team to be present in training as well. For many groups, this is the first time (or the first time in a long time), that the leader has participated as an equal team member within the group.

What then transpires is often quite powerful. The leader will usually start out a little self-conscious and unsure of their place in the team. The team, on the other hand, comes out all guns blazing and ready to show “the boss” precisely what they are capable of!

Invariably, over the course of the training, we reach a point where the leader is no longer watching from the sidelines. In fact, it is recognized that the leaders’ skills, attitude, and energy are all very much needed if the team is to stand a chance of success. Likewise, the team is no longer playing in spite of (or without) the leader being present. Instead, everyone rediscovers what it is like to operate as the whole team and gets to learn the critical skills of how to work better together.

I always remind people in these training sessions, that to overcome challenges, no one instantly has to become “the best” at what they do, no one needs to receive magic powers, and no one has to “step up” by doing something extraordinary to save the day. Usually, all that needs to happen is for everyone to be the best teammate they can be in that moment.

And that’s when everything changes.

The bottom line: if you’ve got any concerns with your effectiveness as a leader, it’s a great practice to remind yourself to “be a better teammate”. You might also use this tactic any time you find yourself around other people and struggling to get the results you desire. I will often use it on myself around the house with my wife and kids. Every time I do it will always clear my mind and quickly bring into focus the people around me and any of their immediate needs I might have overlooked.

As a business leader, it just might result in you quickly being able to re-set people’s views, expectations and behavior — without the usual upheaval, politics, and turmoil that typically seems to happen along the way.


DAN STONES is a speaker, trainer, and writer focused on the topic of culture, collaboration, and team dynamics. Businesses have engaged his company Shifting Peers all over the world, from the United Kingdom and the United States to India, South Africa, New Zealand and his home country Australia. Dan’s previous articles have appeared in Foundr Magazine, and he has been featured in HR Director Magazine as well as being a guest on many different podcasts.

SHIFTING PEERS is the premier training consultancy for any organization or team interested in learning how to work better together.

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