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musings on leaders

News that a certain sporting manager has been fired amid allegations that he had lost the confidence of his team comes as no surprise; leaders who have no followers are no longer leaders.

Self-belief, or at least the ability to appear to have it, is a crucial element of leadership and the individual that has sparked these musings had that in spades, but he also had a track record to back it up having led various teams to sporting honours over a sustained period. You don’t succeed to that level without being able to motivate people time after time, so what could have gone wrong?

People follow people that they can trust and trust, like respect, needs to be earned. Some of it can come with reputation, but trust has to be built up and it can be lost in an instant. It is rarely lost quickly through a poor decision; more likely it will be because of the way someone is treated or in the way that the leader handles themselves. A good leader will not countenance a blame culture for example; they will deal with individual failures by taking responsibility in public themselves and handling the individual privately. Success though will always be the teams and the leader will never take the credit.

A new leader coming in will bring their reputation with them and, if they are smart, they will impose their will without losing the goodwill of their team, but it can be a hard path and they need to win some battles for their people if they are to get them all onside. Once in my sales and marketing days we were summoned to a two day conference, an unusual arrangement and we were looking forward to getting to grips with a few issues, especially when we heard that a much vaunted sales manager from a sister company in the group would be joining us. The first day set the tone though when the man himself put our sales figures up on the screen and tore into them. Then he started singling out individuals and critiquing their performance in fron of the team. Now we all knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and worked as a team to help each other out. Nothing that he said was necessarily untrue, but his approach demolished any sense of awe that we had in his reputation and he lost us before the first break for coffee. The only thing of any benefit that came out of the two days was that the one or two fractures in our team unity were repaired as we joined up in our loathing and opposition.

But I have seen it done well and in a case where the existing performance of the team was less successful than the one just mentioned and morale was low too. Here the new boss, again joining with a highly successful track record, took time to find good things and to build on them. They coached the team in things that would make us better and they found the budget to spend on a few things that we wanted, if didn’t necessarily need, but where having them made us feel better.

Where a leader starts to run into trouble and has one or two prima donnas who begin to make trouble the answer is to prune out the diseased wood and to do it quickly before the poison starts to spread. It doesn’t have to be done in a nasty way, but if it isn’t done then the rest of the team will see that people are getting away with poor behaviour and they will start to lose trust in the leadership. It doesn’t matter how big a start performer the individual might be, if they become trouble they have to be managed or got rid of; there is no middle ground.

Leading isn’t easy, but if you can get a team flying it is one of the best feelings you can have. If getting there is hard staying there is a real test, but if you keep doing the things that make people trust you then you can instil a belief in them that nothing is beyond the team’s grasp. Good leaders understand that they are nothing without their team.

 

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