Great Leadership is Building an Interdependent Team
A good leader understands that the key to effective leadership is finding the balance between opposing views and ideas. Having the ability to execute in the short-term and maintain a long-term strategy, implementing tactical details while holding onto the overall vision and direction-setting. Balancing efficiency and conservation with growth and expansion. Creating stability and reliability while simultaneously innovating and adapting. And that’s just looking at it from an organizational standpoint.
When it comes to actually leading a team, things become even more difficult. You must be able to take charge and initiative while empowering team members and delegating. Being decisive but inclusive. Having high expectations and accountability while remaining considerate and supportive. A leader sets the tone of the organization, and the decisions made on where to sit on these lines certainly presents an intellectual challenge.
Teams are the most powerful aspect of doing business, but can be also the most challenging. No individual is an island, and while it is natural to think about things in terms of our own objectives and agenda, it is the job of the leader to guide members of their organization to recognize that vulnerability and dependency are not inherently negative. What makes a great team is when people help each other to do great things, going beyond solving a problem or being there for others when they need it and actually being aware of what it would take for your team members to be great.
This is one of the biggest dichotomies a leader must reconcile within their organization’s culture: individualism vs. collectivism. While unity and collaboration are certainly important traits for a team to have, it would be naive to ignore they are still ultimately composed of individuals with their own unique goals and obstacles in reaching them. Having worked in a number of executive positions and most recently as CEO of an organization, I have had an incredibly powerful experience creating a culture in which people are talking about where they are in terms of their objectives and challenges.
The whole definition of a problem can be different when individuals feel they can turn to their team members for guidance and support not only in collective company-wide goals, but also individual ones. We are much more dependent on our team members than we want to recognize or concede, and in creating a safe environment in which individualism and collectivism are balanced team members are able to see that vulnerability as positive rather than negative. The best teams are the ones that acknowledge and celebrate their interdependence.
It is impossible for a team to achieve interdependence without a strong leader guiding them in the right direction. Poor leadership can simultaneously create division and stoke codependency, but effective leadership has the ability to encourage teams to work together seamlessly toward shared and individual goals. Whether you are an executive, business owner, manager or simply head of a project, when you take on the responsibility of leading a team it becomes your responsibility to create a caring culture and interdependent environment.
Leadership strategies that promote interdependence
When you are leading a team, you are inevitably leading a group of cross-functional people. Each person brings something individual and unique to the table, and their responsibilities (hopefully) reflect these talents. However, when an environment has been created in which team members don’t feel comfortable speaking up, you lose the opportunity to receive those unique insights. In particular, I have noticed in my time in leadership that executive teams in particular feel uncomfortable sharing their vulnerabilities, fears or disappointments.
However, I believe that the last place you want ideas or opinions discussed is in hushed tones by the water cooler. Of course, in some situations a leader must be the one to make swift choices, but more often than not by walking the walk and seeking to get the opinions of those you lead, you are in turn fostering a sense of both belonging and independence amongst team members. By teaching them that their input is valued in the decision-making process, team members develop a sense of responsibility to the goals of both the organization and to their teammates, both of which are necessary for a strong interdependent business.
Holding people accountable
Accountability lets those you lead know that you take the values you have set in place seriously. Early in my time as CEO, we held a company-wide meeting in which we discussed the values that were currently in place and how we could improve on them moving forward. Together, we ended up adding two more values to the five that had already been in place: trust and respect. While this in and of itself was a wonderful step in encouraging an interdependent team, we put teeth behind it by making sure these new values were implemented into our collective company language and also added them as markers in our performance reviews and feedback.
By turning words into actions, leaders can help team members understand what they can expect to be held accountable for. Organizations with a pattern of setting values and backing them up through consistent emphasis and feedback create a caring culture that lets each individual know what areas they can improve on to best benefit the company and themselves. While it may seem that a loose set of values would create more flexibility for workers, without clear expectations they cannot be expected to be open to vulnerability or depending on others, because they lack the knowledge of what to expect of each other.
Push the purpose
One of my least favorite misconceptions about business is that people are ultimately motivated by money. In my two decades leading teams, I have never found financial targets to be a broad enough motivational tool. A team is inevitably greater than the sum of its parts — if it weren’t there would be no need for them in the first place — but by bringing together people of varying expertise you run the risk of each person looking right in front of themselves and defining what they do right with the work they do.
A singular purpose has the ability to unite everyone on a team behind a compelling mission. Whatever an individual is bringing to the table, whether that be financial expertise or technical knowledge, a shared vision brings them together with others to a greater purpose. It is perfectly natural for people to have individual goals — in fact that should also be encouraged — but a grand idea is what inspires people to not only achieve their own goals, but help others achieve theirs as well.
Search the internet for leadership tips and you will find a myriad of hyperbolic statements about the best way to create results. Unfortunately, practicing any extreme will ultimately do more harm than good. Great leadership requires finesse and subtlety, an understanding that organizations and the people within them are complex and cannot be reduced to simple quick-fix solutions. You must be able to find the balance between a number of seemingly opposing issues, as with individualism and collectivism. However, doing so will ultimately lead to a stronger team or organization, when a leader works to set the tone and change mindsets for the better.