It isn’t a secret that great companies are made from a great workforce. What makes or breaks an organization is its people. And while it’s obvious that being in management requires leadership skills, it’s not always so clear as to what those skills look like on a day-to-day basis, or in fact, how and when those skills are used in the long term as employees come and go, organizations rise and fall, and as decisions are made on the daily. What actually makes a great leader? You got it. Your people.
What I’ve come to learn over the course of my career and as I have more team members reporting to me, is that leadership goes beyond being a subject matter expert (SME) in your field and having all the answers. You also need soft skills to know how to bring out each of your team member’s strengths in order to accomplish overall business goals. Without applying your leadership skills to shape each of your team members, you’re likely to run into struggles.
Here are seven ingredients you need to elevate your leadership skills and build your best team.
1. Outstanding Talent
We’ll start with the obvious: to build your best team, you need people! Not just any people, though. You want the best you can get to make the biggest impact. My first piece of advice is to hire slowly. That might seem counter-intuitive if you need top talent right away for a pressing or mission-critical position but the best things take time. Hiring slowly allows you to find not just any person for the job but the right person for the job. At Iron Bow, I have a four-part interview process that I have found works best. I pay attention to who the applicant is, not just what their resume says. I need their technical aptitude but also someone that will mesh well and contribute to the company culture. I try to discern their leadership not by their title but by their character. Look for an applicant that is coachable and teachable. Even if you’re hiring a seasoned leader, everyone has something to improve upon and if that person isn’t willing to learn something new, they might not be a great fit for your organization. Getting to know a person instead of their resume makes a big difference in the hiring process.
Don’t forget to utilize the resources available, too. Human Resources are the experts at researching candidates day in and day out. Do not hesitate to partner with HR if appropriate. They can help with training, onboarding, culture acclimation and even disciplinary correction if applicable. HR can be a great resource in finding or developing a right fit for your team.
One of the things I support and try to foster as much as possible is encouraging team members to accept greater roles. I feel it is my responsibility as a leader to help people become better leaders themselves and as such, knowing when and how to push them outside their comfort zones or encouraging them to explore different avenues of skills they may not have before is crucial to helping your organization grow and stay healthy.
2. Outstanding leadership
Like I mentioned earlier, being a good leader is much more than being an expert in your field or having a long history at your company. I believe soft skills make the difference between a good leader and a great leader. While things like competence in your job is of course important, it’s also important that you know how to coach others to do their jobs to the best of their ability, as well. Confidence combined with communication skills can help you do this. Being good at simplifying messages can go a long way with communication when you pair it with the confidence you have in your team.
Insecurity is the demise of leadership. Confidence and boldness are the opposite of insecurity – it allows you to make decisions that are in the best interest of your staff and to bring about unity and growth. Being insecure with yourself or your skills can cripple your leadership but I’ve found that serving with heart can help foster that humility you need to lead. Serving with heart means to try to understand where everyone is coming from, knowing that everyone is human and makes mistakes. As a leader, you should go the extra mile to understand your team members and make decisions that lead them to a brighter future.
Another skill I have long believed in but is becoming more top of mind thankfully is cultivating a diverse team. And I’m not just talking about race but also gender, religion and age. The best ideas simply come from diverse teams. Along with that, as a leader, you are responsible for creating an environment in which everyone feels comfortable being themselves and contributing to the team. It’s not always easy but that’s our job as their leader.
3. Commitment and passion
Upon first glance, you might think these two things are disparate but I say they go hand in hand. Being passionate about your job, your team, your company culture and the organizational goals not only opens the door for you to be committed to these objectives but it also carries across to your team. If you are serving with heart, putting the best interest of your team first, and genuinely care about what you do, then passion and commitment are easy byproducts you – and your team – will realize.
4. Less me, more we
No man is an island. We need each other to accomplish bigger goals in less time. This is especially true in a business sense when you’re trying to build a team that functions at its best. Working together compounds efforts so that people are doing their part but are accomplishing more because the weight of the effort is distributed across the team. As the saying goes, team work makes the dream work.
Now that we’ve discussed the importance of cultivating a team mentality via leadership, we can touch on small things you can do as a leader that will make big differences to those who look up to you. Having a condescending or untouchable boss is no one’s ideal working situation. Getting in the game and on the same playing field with your team members builds trust, confidence and loyalty. One specific way I like to do this is by giving my team a sense of empowerment. Recognition from your superiors can make a big difference in an employee’s performance. I know I could have lived all day on one compliment from my manager when I was starting out. It’s the same for the people that work for you. Remember where you came from and try to reach out and connect to each team member, the effort will not go unnoticed.
Respect shouldn’t have to be one of these critical ingredients but unfortunately it is too often overlooked or forgotten. Respect everyone you work with. Take a minute and brainstorm what this looks like within your work context. If it helps, things like respect are also tied to trust, loyalty, love and friendship. Disagreements happen and I’m sure we all have different points of views on things but part of being a professional, and a leader, is to put those aside and focus on the common ground and shared goals. I think you’ll find productivity and respect are directly proportional.
Character is one trait or skill that I believe ties everything together. Character is what allows you to do all of the other six things we’ve discussed. Having a backbone to stand up and challenge a decision that isn’t in the best interest of your team, or being a genuine coworker to every single employee, or even apologizing when you were the one who made a poor decision. All of these things are what makes the difference between someone who holds a title and being the genuine leader that your team deserves.
While all of these things are ingredients you can practice every day of your career, it has become especially important to demonstrate these abilities since the COVID-19 pandemic has crippled our nation. Having employees work from home and keeping us distanced makes building a culture and fostering team spirit harder today than it ever has been before. But don’t let that stop you. We have an obligation as our organization’s leaders to step up and be more intentional about the example we demonstrate. Your company’s culture is generated by its people and it all starts with us, the leaders.
About Vennard Wright
Vennard Wright (PMP, ITIL v3 Practitioner) is currently the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Vice President (VP) of Operations for Iron Bow Technologies. As CIO/VP of Operations, he provides the requisite leadership to transform the management of business technology capabilities and transformative services to support Iron Bow’s operations by ensuring that service delivery is in full alignment with senior leadership’s strategic goals and objectives. Vennard Wright holds a number of industry certifications and resides in Clinton, MD with his wife, Janelle, and four children.