The Connected Leader, Part V: Sponsoring Persistent Progress

Let’s say your team feels deeply connected to you, and all of its members are committed to the same things you’re committed to.

Your team feels comfortable enough with you to express disagreement not only with the organization’s stated policies or work processes, but also directly with you and your opinions. They know you count on them to let you know when they think something’s wrong, or when they can see something that you don’t see. They trust that you expect them to share a future.

But it’s not enough to have a beautiful, solid relationship with each one of your subordinates. It’s too much work to manage an organization dyad by dyad, which typically leads to uncoordinated and even dysfunctional behavior among teammates as they vie for your attention and ignore their interdependence.

If you’re managing as if you’re the center of the organizational universe and each team member is rotating around you, you also create the assumption — as well as the risk — that your personality, not your leadership, is serving as the guiding force for your team.

Don’t Just Follow the Leader

The Connected Leader serves as a kind of sponsor for the team, making sure that resources are in place, the right experiences occur in the right sequence, and everyone achieves a productive outcome. Part of the leader’s responsibility is ensuring that team members are equally connected to each other, not just to the leader, and that successes belong to the team, not to the leader alone.

Sponsoring this kind of progress means being willing to have outcomes and growth that supersede your own. It’s about helping others bring their ideas forward and make them real.

One of your responsibilities as a Connected Leader is to hire people who are smarter or more skilled than you are, and to encourage and nurture their efforts to make the team truly successful. When direction can come from the team itself and not just always from you, think of the relief! You can actually have a bad day, not feel well, take a real break — and your team can carry on!

Leader’s Intent

Western military organizations refer to “commander’s intent” as an expression of a desired outcome. The saying is used to guide the team to make decisions and take action, whether or not the commander is present and particularly if the team is operating in the face of threat and chaos.

Commander’s intent encourages team members to persist and adjust in the face of changing conditions. They’re prepared to take on this responsibility because they understand the group’s mission and feel that they share in it — that it has become their own and not just the commander’s.

Can you be excited about the possibility that your team could succeed without you? If you were really the only one who mattered to success, you wouldn’t be a Connected Leader. Instead, you might be a sage on a hill, making pronouncements, or an autocrat issuing dictates. Today’s truly Connected Leader was described 2,500 years ago by Lao Tse, the Taoist philosopher: “When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they [the people] will say: we did it ourselves.”

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