My worst idea for leading a team (and how I’m getting rid of it)

I’m always sceptical of epiphanies and you should be too. Nevertheless, I’m very hopeful that my latest revelation will permanently improve the way I lead the team and the way that you lead yours.

When I started the CEO role in December 2016, I thought that I already had all the answers. After all, the board appointed me for having certain skills, not asking others how to do my job. Strong leaders don’t pass the buck, they provide an answer to everything. Stronger leaders are the best performers in the organisation and responsible for coaching the team on what they did wrong and how to improve. And the strongest leaders don’t need the team’s advice on how they can improve because they’re exactly the right person for the job from day one. If leaders don’t have what’s required, there was probably a recruiting error and they will eventually be replaced by someone that does.

Nonsense.

My team is 60+ incredibly motivated and skilled people. They excel at their day jobs and somehow find time to volunteer for a very ambitious not-for-profit.

So my epiphany: None of us know the answers, but all of us do.

So we surveyed our volunteers where each of us spent about 30 minutes writing down what works, what doesn’t work, how we can improve, and why they do what they do.

Crucially, that survey including personal feedback on my performance. Honestly, that was scary. What if I get negative, jarring, awkward feedback? What if the team thinks we’re going in completely the wrong direction?

Of course, the answer is simple: leaders must know the good and the bad of their performance, come high praise or hurt feelings.

So acknowledging my limited expertise in performance management but in hope of contributing to make other teams stronger, here’s 3 reasons that I think you should ask your team to rate you:

 

1 – Enjoy the quick wins

This is the most motivating part of your first team survey: small changes you can make now that dramatically improve your performance and your team.

One of our star performers told me that I need to delegate more on a current project. Feeling a little overwhelmed by the project, that was music to my ears! I quickly gave that person and others several important parts of the project which they delivered more effectively and with greater enthusiasm than I ever could have.

I also received feedback that I needed to explain who does what in the organisation. Another easy fix of 15 minutes updating our organisational chart and 15 minutes recording a video explaining who does what!

2 – Learn about your blind spots

Some people refer to it as the Dunning-Kruger Effect, but simply put: “you’re not good at this and you don’t know that you’re not good at this.” No amount of meditation or solitary contemplation will ever fix this. You can practice the piano for 10 hours a day for 10 years, but without an expert ear to stop the errors, your Rachmaninoff will always sound rusty (see also this amazing podcast on deliberate practice with quality feedback).

My blind spot (now hopefully brought into focus)? Active listening. Spending more time understanding and less time talking and telling. The rest of my blind spots are yet to be discovered!

 

3 – Leverage skills you don’t have and didn’t think you needed

I have recently been asking friends who is the best non-profit leader you know?Their answers (and introductions) have produced some of the best conversations I’ve ever had.

But it’s not just the great leaders that improve you; everyone has an incredible area of expertise that they probably don’t know they have. What can a stellar real estate agent tell you about selling your message? What can the duty manager at McDonald’s tell you about consistency in every product? What can your personal trainer tell you about looking alert and alive at 6am in the morning!? Suddenly your team expands exponentially, and if you can help people with your own expertise, you have a powerful team of advisers meeting over beers and coffees!

How do you seek feedback from your team? Have you read any good articles on “360 degree feedback” or similar? Comment below or drop me a line and I’d love to hear about it.

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