Cornerstone: February 2013

Leading your team to excellence
February 01, 2013
Written by Lyle Quan
Since my last column on building high-performing teams, I have not only been invited to talk on this topic at several conferences, I have also been doing quite a bit of research about teamwork and the role leaders play in developing their groups to their potential.

Time and time again, whether it’s in sports or at the workplace, we see that the teams that support and trust in each other’s abilities and dedication are the ones that excel at what they do. To me, teamwork is the ability for members not only to acknowledge each other’s strengths but also to help fill any gaps where these strengths may be lacking.

The two books that I am introducing are Speaking as a Leader, by Judith Humphrey (2012), and The Secret of Teams, by Mark Miller (2011). The first book identifies the role of a leader and, perhaps even more importantly, explains how to speak like a leader. The second book offers readers a better understanding of how to tap into the strengths and energies of a highly effective team.

Whether I’m writing my own columns or co-writing with my friend, Fire Chief Les Karpluk, I always try to emphasize communicating openly and honestly. In the book, Speaking as a Leader, the author notes that “when people fail to communicate, they fail to lead.” You can have all the great ideas in the world, but if you don’t know how to communicate these ideas to your team, then you will have an uphill climb when it comes to getting buy-in from your fellow teammates.

Humphrey notes that the leadership model consists of four steps:
  1. Think like a leader – Before you can be a leader, you need to think like a leader. You need to understand your audience, and their needs and expectations.
  2. Create a leader’s script – What is it that you want to convey to your audience or staff? What is your message? Your message is the most important element of the goal and vision of the team.
  3. Use the language of leadership – As a leader you need to use the right type of language. You need to be positive and sincere. If you fail to portray your message clearly and concisely, then you risk losing the support of your team.
  4. Achieve a leader’s presence – Bring a strong sense of enthusiasm with you and convey this through eye contact, gestures and your voice. One of the most positive and effective ways leaders can demonstrate their presence is by supporting their people – even when they make mistakes.
Think for a minute about a leader you not only trust but also want to emulate. What is it that that leader brings to the conversation and to the team? I can tell you that the leaders who have had the greatest impact in my life understood these four steps, whether they had read about them or not.

Humphrey’s book goes into greater detail about the four steps listed above, and even discusses the value of how you organize PowerPoint presentations in order to properly make a point to the audience: the key, he says, is to capture the audience in the first couple of slides so they are thinking about the important messages and points during the presentation.

In the second book, Miller uses a parable to lead readers through the steps to find and understand the secrets to creating a great team. Debbie, the heroine of the story, and her team discover the three key concepts to developing a successful team.

These concepts are:
  1. Talent – This is the first element to creating a high-performing team because your people need to be a good fit with each other. Each person’s desire and ability to learn and grow should, in some way, complement the team’s overall goals.
  2. Skills – Miller writes: “Without skills, a team cannot add significant value. As skills improve, results improve.” When building your team, you need to identify the skills that will be required for the project.
  3. Community – A high-functioning team has a true community feel. There is a willingness to work with and support each other. Each member sincerely cares about the others and wants to achieve the goal of the team.

These two books complement each other by demonstrating that open and honest communication is the key to leading and developing a high-performing team.

I know you will enjoy these books and find them of true value. 

Speaking as a Leader, by Judith Humphrey, was published by Jossey-Bass in 2012, and The Secret of Teams, by Mark Miller, was published by Berrett-Koehler in 2011. Both books can both be purchased online through Chapters and Amazon.

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