Some of the great thrills (and challenges) of life are when we have the chance to take on an important piece of work or a project. The feeling of responsibility and the trust others have extended toward you are very gratifying. Sometimes out of a genuine passion or excitement, however, I’ve seen well-intentioned new leaders very quickly lose their team’s support. A critical skill every leader has to learn is how to succeed with a team of others. A diverse and talented group is likely to produce richer project results than someone who operates as a loner. Additionally there simply is a limit to what any one person can do well on one’s own. Bottom line: leading collaboratively is a key skill toward long-term leadership and influence success. Here are a few mentalities I’ve observed that will trip you up in taking the reigns of a new project team or large piece of work.
Differences of opinions don’t kill effective teamwork; not being able to negotiate through them in a non-divisive manner however certainly will.
“Like it or lump it” Anytime new leadership comes into place there likely is someone around who would have like to have had the position. That can create a real tension. The wrong approach is to be heavy-handed and project you are in charge and if you don’t like it then move on elsewhere. Remember, having a team with people on it who think differently than you isn’t a bad thing. In fact, one of the worst outcomes would be to intentionally try to build a team who thinks just like you do. Differences of opinions don’t kill effective teamwork; not being able to negotiate through them in a non-divisive manner however certainly will. There will be matters on which you can bend and others which you simply cannot without risking the success of the project. This is one of the hardest discernments a leader must make. Seek to come alongside team members who may not be thrilled you are the leader. Talk to them, hear their concerns, and patiently look for ways to get them invested. You are much more likely to succeed as their leader by working with them than against them. Your team will pick up on your work to lay a healthy foundation for success.
“There’s a new sheriff in town.” One of the biggest temptations of being in charge is looking to change the things that you don’t like or drive you crazy. In fact, you very well may have come into the position because you had some new ideas that could be implemented. Be careful, however, of tearing out every system and way of doing things that you don’t agree with. There is a key discernment between things that change and things that change. Are the things you want to change critical success factors? Are they currently presenting un-needed barriers or challenges in the organization? Or are the things you want to change coming out of a simple preference you have? That’s one of the tricks to leading one has to figure out. People expect change from a leader, but not too much change too quickly. You will need to carefully weigh how much and how quickly you wish to bring changes or risk losing the support of your team.
A leader cannot become hostage to the emotional needs of the team.
I’m your new best friend!” Look, everyone wants to be a well-liked leader. There’s nothing wrong with that. It is, however, something you can try too hard to do. If one is not careful one can subtlety find themselves seeking to make the team happy over making the team successful. You can have both but if you end up only making them happy you risk losing sight of the goal of your work. When you are put in charge of something you are given a responsibility for it to succeed. The reality likely is not every single action and decision in the process will make everyone on your team happy. If you are going to lead you have to learn to live with that. This doesn’t give you the right to be rude or to step on people but it does mean that you have to willing to risk someone’s temporary dissatisfaction if it is key to the work being done. A leader cannot become hostage to the emotional needs of the team without compromising the prospects for success. In the end the team will forget aspects they may not have agreed with if the goal is achieved satisfactorily.
The reality is likely not every single action and decision in the process will make everyone on your team happy.
Leading others is complicated work. It has it’s rewards as well as it’s unique disappointments. Time, thought, and energy has to be given to finding the right balance between the relational aspects of the work and the results you are being asked to produce. Trust me, you won’t get every one of these decisions right. Being willing to learn, however, and keeping a high
priority on the fact that all people are image-bearers of God and are to be treated as such will help you successfully negotiate the often tricky waters of leading a team and seeking results.