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Why Leaders Should Always Make People Feel Like They’re on a Winning Team

Posted by | August 14, 2015 | Leadership, Workplace

Via LinkedIn : Why Leaders Should Always Make People Feel Like They’re on a Winning Team

Earlier in my career, I was asked to take over a team of portfolio managers and analysts whose funds had been underperforming. The previous lead portfolio manager had left the firm and those who remained in the group were feeling downtrodden about their past record.

When I had my initial meeting with the group, I told them, “The past doesn’t matter now. I have some ideas about portfolio construction that I think we need to implement, but from this moment forward you are all part of a winning team.”

Together, we were able to turn around the performance of the portfolios we managed. While I don’t consider myself a guru on business leadership, I do think that initial meeting exemplified some of the qualities that I have found a leader must demonstrate to manage a team through a challenging period.

1. Be honest about the challenges and inspire confidence.

When you’re in the midst of turmoil, or even experiencing tremendous growth, which is its own form of crisis, you will lose people if you try to understate the scope of the issues. You have to be honest about the challenges you’re facing, while being steadfast in declaring that there is a way through to the other side. You have to remind people that, in any crisis, there are opportunities that can be seized.

It is critical that you, as the leader, believe those things to be true. People can see through insincerity in a heartbeat. You can’t go overboard and always be rosy and optimistic either, because people see through that as well. But you can’t lead people through a crisis unless they see their leader is confident things will turn around.

In the extreme case, you must be prepared to redefine what success means. People will rally to a new vision for success before they will stick with a losing plan that is clearly unachievable, irrespective of what the boss declares.

2. Have a plan and stick to it.

When facing a major challenge, the first thing you obviously need to do is develop a course of action. When I came in as the new lead manager of that portfolio team, I had some specific ideas about how to construct portfolios in ways that could manage risk and maximize opportunities. A number of years later, when I became the Chief Investment Officer at my firm, it was in the midst of the financial crisis of 2008 to 2009. I had thoughts about what we needed to do, but I knew to develop an effective plan, I had to tap the best minds of our organization and plan the way forward together.

However you arrive at your action, you need to declare it firmly, relentlessly and repetitively until you have won the hearts and minds of the team you need to implement it. People want to know their leader has a plan. Even if they disagree with or even resist the steps you think are necessary to follow, you need to demonstrate your conviction that the path you’re asking them to take will lead to success.

Of course, you can’t close yourself off to suggestions about how to modify or improve the plan, but you must have the courage of your convictions to stick with the plan that you believe will turn things around.

Along the way, you will naturally experience your own frustrations and doubts. But it’s best to have those moments privately and keep them out of the workplace. The old adage to “Never let them see you sweat” is apt because you don’t want your team to see any wavering in your belief that the plan will work.

3. Make people feel they’re on a winning team.

People want to feel they’re on a winning team and that the path you’re taking together is the right one. Of course, they also want to know that they’re part of the solution and their individual contributions are valued.

When I took over that investment team, even though I brought my own ideas about how we’d change things, I still let each member of the team know that the contribution they made to our collective effort was critically important. They were still going to apply the analysis they’d always done on individual securities, but we were going to change how we used that analysis to build portfolios.

4. Value expertise – and hire right.

When I became President, CEO, and then Chairman of my firm, I faced a new challenge because I was now leading people whose area of expertise was far removed from the field in which I had technical expertise.

Leading sales, marketing, and accounting and finance teams is far different from managing investment professionals. I now have an even deeper appreciation for how important listening skills are for a leader.

You have to challenge your teams. I ask questions about whether there are ways to do things that are different from how we’ve always tackled challenges in the past. When I do that, it’s not just to encourage my team to see things in a different way. Just as often, it’s so that I can learn why they address issues the way they do.

Sometimes, I discover that there are very good reasons why we do things a certain way. Other times, we uncover opportunities for changing how we operate. As a leader, you have to find that delicate balance between trusting your team to do their jobs and not being intimidated by their expertise, so that you still challenge them to consider approaches that could improve the way business gets done.

Of course, to have a team you can trust you need to make sure you hire the right people. If you don’t already have people on your staff with the right technical expertise in their field, a capacity to collaborate effectively and the ability to listen to others, then you may need to adjust your team and ensure you have a hiring process that uncovers those skills.

Ultimately, the most critical component of effective leadership is having a good team around you.

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