Stop doing the work
To create stability down the chain of command, shift your focus from doing the work to leading the work. Shift from maker to manager.
As a leader, it’s no longer your job to ‘do’ the work for your team. Yes, you probably earned your promotions because you’re exceptional or technically skilled or hard-working than many people on your team. True, there are times you could step in and do a task much better than someone else. Yet, despite the short-term benefit from swooping in, you’re probably causing more long-term damage than good.
“When you do the work, the capacity of your team never scales beyond you. You’re training your team to defer to you instead of letting it grow to its potential. Once you assume a leadership role, your performance is no longer measured by your personal accomplishments. Instead, your job is to unleash the creative potential in others.”
They broke it, you bought it
To create freedom down the chain of command, shift your focus from control to influence and from personal to total accountability.
When you’re a team member, you only have to worry about what’s on your list. But when you become a leader, you’re responsible for more things than any individual. If something seems broken, whether it’s a relationship or a system, it becomes your problem. There are no fingers to point except the one aimed at your own chest.
“You’re responsible not just for things you see, also for things you don’t. The culture of the team – parts you created and parts you inherited – are all yours as well.”
When you try to control bright, talented, creative individuals, they’ll eventually seek better horizons because they’ll get tired of running into your overly constrictive ceiling. For creative work, influence scales. Control does not. Influence is about spreading praise. Control is about claiming credit.
To create stability down the chain of command, you need to distance yourself a bit from the team.
The workplace is unfair. It’s almost impossible to understand why some average people or ideas rise to the top while other, more deserving ones get ignored. That’s why perception of your objectivity is important when leading creative work. They need to know the reality without being clouded by personal relationships or prejudices. You can be both liked and effective but you can’t chase both at the same time. When you fail to establish clear boundaries with your coworkers, it’ll affect their willingness to trust you.
“Your team is not a family. Make sure you set appropriate boundaries in place while striving to maintain your good relationships.”
To challenge your team, you need to help people see those aspects of their abilities to which they are blind. Shift your focus from peer to coach.
Are you coaching your team about what to do or are you educating them why it works? This seemingly subtle tweak makes a huge difference in their growth and development and can also help your team scale in capacity much more quickly. Great leaders are committed to having their team members understand their strength and motivations on their own and then position themselves to take full advantage of what they have.
“A friend listens to you, then offers advice. A coach sets the stage and helps you arrive at the answer yourself.”
Earn the right
To provide stability down the chain of command, you must earn, manage and strive to maintain your team’s trust.
Trust is not static. Trust is not stored up like money in a bank account where you spend some a little fishy and you still have some left in the account. Trust is more like a water balloon. You can fill up the balloon over time but as you puncture it once, even a tiny hole, you lose everything you have almost immediately. If you prove yourself to be untrustworthy just in one situation, people tend to generalize that lack of trustworthiness in other areas as well.
“Never borrow future trust to reap immediate return. Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.”
To create stability down the chain of command, you have to actively grow a healthy culture.
Dee Hock, founder and former CEO of Visa, once said “Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behavior.”
You cannot impose a culture on a team. Great cultures are built from the ground up. Because cultures are grown you must treat yours like a garden. Just like a diligent gardener, you aggressively fertilize the aspects of your team’s culture that you want in abundance and carefully prune the things you want to get rid of. With clear ground rules and a stable culture around, creative people know they have the support they need to take risks.
“As a leader, when you signal tacit acceptance of a deviant behavior, you’re playing a dangerous game.”
Stay on target
To challenge your team, boldly and effectively channel its collective attention.
At the heart of all creative work are problems to be solved. How well you define those problems is critical to how likely you’re going to solve. It’s easy to become distracted by attention drains and noises that draw you away from the main problem. As Stephen Covey famously said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Be specific with your team members about what you want them to focus on as well as what you do not want.
“Just because team members have the right to offer input doesn’t mean they’ve earned the right to decide. Make sure your team understands the difference between permission and authority.”
Defend their space
To create stability, manage your team’s margin by aggressively protecting ‘white space’.
Brilliant ideas emerge in the white space. They happen when you and your team take a step back, spot patterns and connect the dots that might otherwise go overlooked because of the overwhelming pressures of the on-demand world.
“If you treat a team like a machine, that’s exactly what it will become. It will crank out unpredictable, uninspired work.”
Be the muse
To challenge your team members, push them outside their comfort zone.
Many people think that the best ideas are out there somewhere. However, the best ideas often emerge by paying attention to our pain points and by making connections between seemingly disparate ideas that are already under our noses. Your team cannot produce brilliant work without brilliant ideas. It’s your job to provide the creative spark they’re after and foster the environment in which good ideas become brilliant ideas.
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” – John Steinbeck
To create stability down the chain of command, recognize that conflict isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a sign of a healthy and productive team.
Great leaders embrace healthy conflict and use it to sharpen the team. Poor leaders try to prematurely resolve it. Great leaders fight over ideas. Poor leaders fight over personality. You must be secure enough as a leader to allow some productive disagreement but what you can never tolerate is the disrespect.
“No one like conflict although it’s necessary for creativity. If we all agree, it probably means we’re setting for the safest answer which means settling for the mediocrity at best.”
Be a leader worth following
Your greatest impact comes not from the work you do. It comes from changing lives, including your own.
Enough about your team. It’s now about you. Take a brief moment bright now, just a handful of seconds, to answer “When I envision success, what do I see?”. Most people don’t take time to define success in their own mind and so they spend their entire life chasing the wrong things.
In chasing what matters to you, never violate your personal ethics in order to achieve temporal gain. It is not worth it. The most successful (and happiest) people live their life around a vision that extends beyond their pay or prestige. Conduct yourself in a manner that you’ll be proud of in ten years, not in whatever lets you score arbitrary points here and now. The greatest impact you’ll make on this world won’t be the things you sell or the company you build. The greatest impact you’ll ever make will be the lives you transformed through your leadership.
“Integrity means very simple. Your life is integrated. What’s on the inside is plainly visible on the outside. There’s no disparity in what you do and what you say you do. Your external actions and your internal beliefs are perfectly aligned.”