A nine-person team at an educational institution had recently gotten a new leader, after several years of working for the same, beloved manager. The new boss called in Carol Henry help make the group gel.
“He knew he had fabulous people [who] had been working there for a very long time” explains Henry, a Lumina Spark Affiliate who spent 25 years in the Ontario college system, with a focus on professional development. “But he also knew that they were extremely attached to how things used to be done with their old leader.”
Henry met with the team on one of the organization’s professional development days. The team responded well, she says. “They were so ecstatic, because all of a sudden it became very light-hearted,” she remembers. Henry soon had them talking openly about the differences between the old and new leaders, what they were expecting, and how each wanted to contribute to the team. So successful was the interaction that the institution’s director of HR hired Henry to work with the organization’s administrators, and then with the Board of Directors.
Here’s what Henry has learned about professional development and leadership in her decades coaching and working in teams.
You can’t be an effective leader unless you understand who you are and what drives you according to Henry. “Awareness—both of self and of others—is the foundation for great leaders, and it’s a cornerstone of great communicating and great teamwork,” she says.
Henry uses the Lumina method, a personality assessment consisting of 144 questions used to measure 24 personal qualities. “You can really get a sense of where you are strong, where you have blind spots, where you avoid,” she claims. The tool measures takers in three different settings: the private self, where the subject is relaxed and no demands are being made of him or her; the public self, where the subject is at work or in social situations; and under stress.
That last one is particularly important, because it’s not enough to know how you react under normal circumstances. The true test of a leader is how her or she performs under trying conditions, and knowing your own personality will go a long way to helping you handle challenges better. “It is absolutely incredible how much stress will impact how you are choosing to behave,” says Henry.
There’s no such thing as too much communication. “You rarely hear a complaint that The senior management is telling us too much. They’re walking around talking to us too much. Please go back to your office!” notes Henry. Most organizations in fact have the opposite problem—not communicating enough, or in a way that leaves employees unsure of exactly what’s going on at the company.
The consequences of insufficient communication can be dire. Employees who think things are being kept from them will be prone to speculate, and their assumptions are unlikely to be positive. Head off that potential gossip spiral by being transparent with them.
Find others unlike you
The educational institution was an unbalanced organization, Henry says. “There was so much similarity in those admin teams, because they had been unknowingly and repeatedly hiring themselves, over and over again,” she explains.
The instinct to add someone to the team who’s like you rather than someone who can fill a skills gap or someone with complementary abilities is common among entrepreneurs and managers. You know how great you are, so it seems obvious that you need more people like yourself to make the organization better. But a self-cloning hiring strategy leads to a team that’s very good at one thing, and one thing only.
Identify what each person in your group is good at, and whether their second- or third-best skills could be used to fill gaps. “It is very important that we see the diversity that each member brings to the team and help them express themselves fully in that team role in an effective way,” Henry says. “This will create an opportunity for not you just having great talent on your team, but for that team to become synergistic and for it to gel.”
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