A Proven strategy for enabling your people to excel
What does it take to move a team from being ordinary to extraordinary, to perform at the highest levels? We have found that in today’s environment, where organizations are complex, change is rapid, and customer needs are shifting, there is one element without which an extraordinary team will fall apart. That element is leadership.
Leaders Create a Sense of Psychological Safety
When we think about leadership, we don’t necessarily think of it in hierarchical terms. Nor do we not advocate the idea that leadership is synonymous with power, authority, or fear-based manipulation such as bullying, controlling, or shaming.
Instead, we believe that it is the role of the leader to create a sense of “psychological safety” for everyone on the team. This has been proven by several recent research projects, including those carried out by Google’s People Analytics group. They found that while all high performing teams share attributes such as feeling that their work is important, personally meaningful, with clear goals, the most important attribute is “psychological safety,” a term coined by Amy Edmondson in her dissertation on organizational behavior at Harvard. To us, the term psychological safety is simply: feeling that your leader has your back.
Leaders Manage Team Energy
One of the most important ways that a leader can create an environment in which everyone feels safe is to manage the team’s “energy.” In many business situations, there are peaks and valleys of work. When people know that they are going to have to push really hard at some times and less so at other times, they can be prepared to expend different amounts of physical and mental energy. And as individuals, different people carry different types and amounts of energy, which can affect the dynamics of the entire group.
An effective leader manages a team’s energy across different settings: within a team, one on one, and across the process. Because there is no one formula for energy management, the leader needs to navigate each of those settings and provide different aspects of trust or psychological safety as needed.
Therefore, an effective leader sets up environments where people can show up, share their thoughts, disagree with something, or offer a different point of view and be heard. The leader or manager is there to deescalate energy when it rises, or allow it to get intense if it’s needed – and always brings it back to a place of productivity. This is important if you don’t want your people to burn out, but instead, maintain a consistently high rate of quality outputs and high outcomes. Think of it as related to exercise. If you decide on an hour-long workout but give 100% of your energy at the beginning of the workout, you might have trouble finishing. But if you manage the major exertions of energy, and take time to rest in between intervals, then it’s much more likely you’ll maintain a good output level where you don’t want to quit. With teams at work, it’s the same type of management.
Strategies for Managing Energy Across the Team
Effective leaders manage energy across a team by doing the following:
They model the behaviors and the interpersonal code of conduct that is expected of the team. They set clear codes of conduct – “this is how we act” and “this is how we don’t act” – and then they do just that. Great leaders do not declare one thing as valued but then act against it. The consistency of their actions greatly influences how the team shows up, and how much management the leader is required to do.
They provide clear, positive, specific guidance and context. Leaders must constantly reinforce the outcomes and goals for the group. They are responsible for articulating the WHY behind an initiative, and also connecting it to reality for the team. They set the context and expectations for how people will work together.
Effective leaders figure out stuff with people, versus for them. They bring the team together and do the work together, asking questions, making suggestions, listening to others, and in order to come up with solutions that will best serve the outcome. By modeling this behavior, it will continue when the leader is not there.
The best leaders show respect and discretion for each team member. When talking to one team member, they never blame or talk poorly about another team member. Instead, they remain calm, listen, evaluate and reflect on what they have been told. They weigh it against the values or code of conduct, then make a decision in accordance with the code of conduct. And then they keep moving forward.
One-on-One Energy Management
Great leaders must also keep the energy intensity at a level that works across all individuals of the team. It’s invisible work in many ways, and crucial to maintaining productivity. They do this by:
- Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals on the team, and by connecting an individual’s strengths with his or her core responsibilities. They don’t put people in a position where their weaknesses will be detrimental to the outcome.
- Providing care for the team members who need it. If a team member has a personal issue, the leader helps with that as well. For example, if someone is stressed about a situation, the leader helps to find a solution and brings the intensity of the individual’s energy back to something that is more even. The problem is solved together so that the team member returns to a productive mindset.
Energy Management Across The Process
Energy management is also reliant on having a process that people know. Process is incredibly important. Unfortunately, we’ve seen many an over-engineered process – meaning that people attempted to predict and prescribe so many details and actions that the process became more paralyzing than it was helpful. As one leader we interviewed said, “You have to have enough structure in the process to manage it, but enough flexibility to do what makes sense.”
Leaders Must Be Self-Aware
All of these leadership behaviors require awareness of the Self. If you have an issue or a personal demon that causes you to lose your cool in front of a team, or lash out, you need to understand where that comes from and deal with it. Leaders don’t get to drop the ball on these types of things – they always have to show up, even on the bad days. Sometimes this can be incredibly difficult – but it’s part of what it truly means to be a leader.
Juliana Stancampiano, author of “Radical Outcomes: How to Create Extraordinary Teams That Get Tangible Results,” is an entrepreneur and the CEO of Oxygen. For more than 15 years, she has worked with Fortune 500 companies, both in them and for them. Her firm’s clients include Microsoft, DXC, Delta Dental (of WA), Starbucks, F5 Networks, Avaya, and Western Digital, among others. Her in-depth experience, along with the research that Oxygen conducts and the articles she has published, has helped to shape the perspective that Oxygen embraces.