Tips for Team Leadership: Be Realistic and Give Hope

“The role of the leader is to define reality and give hope.” – Kenneth Chenault, CEO American Express

As the economy sputters along amid reports of lower job creation and fiscal uncertainty, team leaders at all levels struggle to survive the ups and downs of navigating adversity and disruption. More so than ever, innovative solutions are needed for business turn-arounds or to exploit a new lane of business, bring a new product to market, or re-invent and redirect the business for survival. The margin for error remains limited at best and the need for speed and accuracy while producing more and better results with less resources and fewer people is increasing. 

So what’s a team leader to do?

Take time to write down the top 3 things you and your team need to achieve in the next 30 days and keep in mind the following team development techniques: 

  1. Start by being realistic. It’s not time for over-promising and under-delivering. People expect their team leadership to develop goals that help stretch the team but not to the point of breaking.
  2. Establish the relevance of the top 3 goals. Tell your team why you are focusing on these 3 goals. Make sure they know their role and what you are asking of them. 
  3. Make it visible to all your team members. Over-communicate the results and celebrate the success. When something breaks down and is not working, help team members problem solve and get back on track. Track results weekly, share at staff meetings. 
  4. Recognize each team member for their efforts in the attainment of the goals. Nothing motivate others like knowing they contributed to the success of a project or initiative. 
  5. Always offer hope for the future. Whether you complete the goal or you recognize there is a problem that will prohibit success with the direction you are headed as a team, it is always essential that you build a future where success is possible. Nothing takes the wind out of a team’s sails like the feeling that success is not possible.

Sometimes the business disruption can be extreme…

I can still remember the challenge of leading at team at Burdine’s during the onslaught of Hurricane Andrew. South Florida was devastated when this Category 5 storm came ashore. Andrew was the 5th costliest storm in U.S. history with $26.5 billion in damage. The retail landscape was in shambles. People were not heading to the mall to shop, they were interested in basic needs like food, water and shelter. Many of our employees lost their homes, and many people in South Florida died. Keeping the team motivated was difficult and the need for simple attainable goals was paramount.

While one of the more challenging times for me as a leader, it was also one of the most rewarding. Our senior retail leadership was amazing; they set the tone and modeled the way. It was the vision of Howard Socol, then CEO of Burdines that each merchandising team leader would help the effort to restore South Florida by building a house for someone who had lost one. For months, our men’s team toiled in the heat with Habitat for Humanity to help bring a new subdivision of homes to the Cutler Ridge Area of Miami. I still have goose bumps when homeowners taking possession of their new home.