There is no “I” in team, but teams are made up of individuals. Those individuals have individual needs, hopes, wants, dreams and desires. They are at different levels of maturity and differing levels of experience, skills and knowledge. Some are brand new to the team, but have a wealth of experience and knowledge. Others are new to the team and new to the profession and come with limited direct experience. Some have a newborn at home and others are empty nesters. Others are also caregivers for aging parents or an ailing spouse or family member. Some want to pursue promotion and advancement and others want to stay in their current position and advance their skills in that area to make them better at their job and contribute at a higher level to the team and organization from that role. Some have a lot of experience working in teams and others are accustomed to working on their own. Some like to collaborate and some want to be left alone to get their work done. They all have different upbringings and life stories. They have experience differing levels of hardship, struggle and trauma.
One of your leadership challenges is to bring together all those individuals into a high functioning team, which embraces a culture of diversity, inclusion and belonging.
It is easy as a leader, especially a new leader, to think you have to treat everyone the same. You do not. You need to treat everyone fairly. You need to treat everyone with dignity and respect, but you do not have to, and should not treat them all the same. As we have already discussed, each person on your team is a unique individual. You need to provide equal opportunities for the people on your team, but not everyone is going to be willing to take advantage of those opportunities or put in the necessary work.
I recently listened to an interview on Michael Gervais’ Finding Mastery podcast with Dr. Marv Dunphy, who is widely recognized as one of the premier coaches in the history of the sport of volleyball. There were a lot of great takeaways from this interview, and one of the nuggets that jumped out at me was when he said, “People never get tired of being treated as individuals.“ This is a man who coached a team sport at the NCAA Division 1 level for 34 years and was part of 7 Olympics with USA volleyball talking about the importance of treating each athlete as an individual.
Earlier this week I had the pleasure of interviewing George Reed for The Excellence in Training Academy. George is a retired Colonel from the US Army where he served for 27 years. His last assignment was as professor and Director of Command and Leadership Studies and the US Army War College. He is currently the Dean of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs and is the author of the book Tarnished: Toxic Leadership in the US Military. He says that the best leadership style is the one that is appropriate to the situation and meets the needs of the followers. Leaders need to adapt to the situation ands the followers, not the reverse. George talked about the fact that people need different things at different times and so leaders need to be attuned to the needs of the individual.
One of the keys to building a high performing team is to pay attention to and value the individuals on that team. When they feel valued as individuals, rather than just a face or a number, they will be more willing to contribute to the success of the team.
Remember that leadership is a choice and a journey and it starts with you. Choose well, keep learning and enjoy the journey. The Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading online workshop was created for aspiring leaders and frontline leaders to help you on your leadership journey.