Tips for Team Leadership: Take Time to Reflect

“The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.” John Sculley

One of our clients, new to her role as a team leader, asked for a set of effective team leadership tips, something that could accelerate her practice as a new team leader. So we invented “21 Days to Accelerate Team Leadership Success.”

Often we leap into action in our new leadership role, when taking a moment to reflect would serve us very well in the long run. But that is counter to our habit and our nature. In some literature, the magic number for shifting from one set of behaviors to another appears to be 21 – the number of days one practices a behavior to engrain it in memory and habit. Neuroscientists have documented that it is possible to change brain pathways to create new connections between synapses, which build practical behaviors like creativity, discipline, insight, expression, and communication.

So for 21 days, our new Team Leader decided to take 15 minutes each morning to practice focusing on building leadership skills. Each day prompts a new action which builds a platform for success. By the end of a month she expects to have a strategic plan to work from, refer to, and provide her with a foundation for her team leadership and her team’s development. Follow along and let us know what works for you and what else you’d like to see covered.“A leader has the vision and conviction that a dream can be achieved. He inspires the power and energy to get it done.” Ralph Lauren 

Day #1: Reflect

Perhaps this is counterintuitive, but the way to start is to stop. Close your door. Silence your smart phone. Give yourself 15 minutes to ponder these five questions – be honest.

The point isn’t to write a thesis but to engage your brain in thinking about questions that stretch your current view, that help you gain a fresh perspective on what’s possible. If you have an executive coach, the questions provide good fodder for a discussion with him or her. Start a notebook and make notes on your answers to the questions below.

1. How clear are you about where you’re leading the team, your vision for their success and your vision for your success? How can you tell if your message has landed?

No one is going to be perfectly clear on their vision the first day, week, or month they take over a team leadership role, but you have a sense of it. On the one hand, if you are not clear at all, acknowledge this as an opportunity to lean into the Discovery phase of what is possible. If you are very clear, try avoiding the propensity to draft long lists of initiatives that quickly overwhelm you team because a loss of energy and focus ensue. Less truly is better (more on that later).

Write a short paragraph on what success looks like for this team.“Leadership is having a vision, being able to articulate it so people around you can understand it, and getting consensus around a common vision.” Steve Jobs

2. What’s the greatest strength you see on your team? Is is expertise, acumen, social skills, intellectual skills, relationships, or team alliances? What criterion would you use to assess those strengths? How proud are you of those capabilities? We get what we expect. So what are your expectations for your team?

List the names of your team members and identify one strength of each person.

3. What appears to be a challenge that if tackled head on and with insight could change the situation for the positive?

List three challenges that appear to be spoiling the work of your team. Rank them. We’ll revisit this list later.

4. What do you know about yourself that will serve you well as a team leader? And conversely, which strength could be overused?

For example, are you direct, ambitious and energetic? Or are you cautious, thoughtful and analytical? If you’re direct, people know where you stand. If you overuse that approach, you may be perceived as arrogant, bossy or dismissive. If you are cautious, your natural tendency may be to understand all the pieces before making a decision, but when overused that trait may very well slow down the innovative process. What situations might start to tilt your natural strengths into behaviors that push others away?  

Question: what assessment are you using to profile your team?

5. Why is this work meaningful for you? We rarely ask ourselves this question. What do you truly care about? What motivates you? What excites you? What thrills you about this new role? We so often focus on the action required to succeed— what we need to do in order to get certain results. Science and leadership development research continues to point to purpose and passion as motivators of great work, even above financial reward.

List three things that excite you about your team leadership role. Or, list something you already find rewarding, looking forward to being challenged by, or that you find meaningful.

Self-reflection is the first step in developing your 21 Day Team Leadership Success habits. We unconsciously bring our past experiences and expectations to new environments and then are surprised when the same dynamics surface time and time again. So for day one, reflect on what you’re bringing in and what you WANT to create, even in general terms. Perhaps it’s creating an environment that encourages pioneering initiatives and innovation. Or maybe it’s building talent that can step up even more fully into their roles as the team evolves. Perhaps it’s simply recognizing the leadership role you play in fostering a high-functioning team that is aligned, committed, and built on trust.“You want to set a goal that is big enough that in the process of achieving it you become someone worth becoming.” Jim Rohn