Improve the effectiveness of your team leadership with this high-impact 12-week challenge. The challenge is designed specifically for team leaders and managers to deliver better results, motivation and teamwork.
In today’s hyper-competitive, complex, and fast-changing environment, leaders can’t be superheroes or all-rounders. Rather, they need to be people energizers, unlocking and multiplying the strengths, energy, and ideas of others through supportive, empowering, and inspiring leadership.
Based on decades of experience with leaders and research into helping leaders build more energized and peak-performing organizations, I have outlined below 6 steps leaders can take to become better people energizers and multipliers:
1. Unlock the strengths, motivations, and skills of your people
Great leaders know how to identify and unlock the natural strengths, motivations, and skills of their people. They encourage employees to discover and optimize their strengths by doing more of the work they are most passionate about. This doesn’t mean ignoring weaker areas that are less energizing. As well as highlighting and building on people’s strengths, leaders need to provide feedback to employees about behaviours that are limiting performance and help them identify strengths-based development strategies, hacks and workarounds to tackle weaker areas, so performance doesn’t suffer. However, leaders who are workplace energizers don’t expect people to be well-rounded. Rather, they challenge them to excel in areas of strength and encourage them to work with colleagues in areas where they are weaker, giving rise to strong teamwork and support networks.
2. Align people’s energy with the purpose of the organization
Organizations with a clear, compelling, and well-communicated purpose that is inspiring and exciting will find it easier to attract, hire and retain people. The organization’s purpose should describe the company’s reason for being and the value the business promises to deliver to customers and other stakeholders. A purpose is not a financial or numerical goal, it clarifies how the company strives to positively impact those it serves.
Below are some examples of compelling and ambitious purpose statements:
|“Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”|
|Intel||“To revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.”|
|SpaceX||“To create world-changing technology that enriches the lives of every person on earth”|
|Coca-Cola||“Refresh the world. Make a difference.”|
By clarifying and regularly reinforcing their purpose and communicating how people’s roles contribute to this, leaders are more likely to ignite the energy and motivation of people who believe in what the organization is aspiring to achieve.
3. Become a genius maker
Leadership adviser and researcher, Liz Wiseman, pointed out in her bestselling book Multipliers: How the best leaders make everyone smarter, that the best leaders are “genius makers” who invest in coaching, delegating, supporting, and inspiring people so they can bring the best of themselves to their role. They take time to recognize both progress and achievements, personalizing this to motivate people and reinforce cycles of success. They are generous in giving credit to others for successes but quick to absorb any backlash or blame when mistakes or setbacks occur.
4. Remove energy blockers and demotivators
A crucial role of any leader is to identify and remove bottlenecks and blockers to effective performance and motivation. Some of these barriers are internal and arise from psychological barriers like poor self-confidence or imposter syndrome (i.e., where people doubt their competence and past successes and live in fear of being exposed as a fraud). Author and performance coach, Tim Gallway, explains the origins of these limiting assumptions and beliefs using the metaphor of an “inner game” playing out in people’s minds. He maintains that for people to perform effectively, they need to learn to silence their inner critic and channel it productively into non-judgemental awareness and learning. By offering support, coaching and encouragement, leaders can help people reduce these stubborn sources of interference and empower them to achieve more than they ever thought was possible.
The second group of blockers are work environment factors and include things like lack of flexibility, excessive working hours, unclear roles and responsibilities, autocratic top management, inadequate budget, and resources to do the job to a high standard, and low wages. Leaders need to work with top management, HR, and their peers to expose and find solutions to these blockers and put plans in place to minimize them insofar as possible.
5. Amplify connections and shared learning
Effective leaders embrace the power of social networks within and outside the organization to amplify collaboration, learning and positive energy. They encourage and facilitate in-person and virtual networking, sharing of learning, and collaboration throughout the organization, not just within their team or business area. They also promote regular and candid dialogue and feedback mechanisms with customers, suppliers, and other key stakeholders. This paves the way for creative problem-solving, innovation and solutions-based thinking, leading to better business results and sustainable growth.
6. Regulate energy
Too many leaders today are pushing their people to breaking point. This is exacerbated by the “always-on” work culture which is increasingly commonplace throughout the economy. Stress-related physical and psychological illnesses, including languishing, burnout and other work-related mental health problems are on the rise.
Effective leaders understand the need to regulate energy and provide people with opportunities to rest, recover and reflect. They encourage people to establish clear boundaries between their work and home life, disconnect and take their full holiday entitlement to relax and recover. They organize work to ensure people are not working at full pace continuously and prioritize opportunities to reflect, plan and review work using social forums such as virtual or in-person team builds, volunteering projects, engaging social events, and “lunch and learns”.
Just like a winning Olympic sports team, high-performing workplaces are dependent on the optimization of people’s energy, potential, and ideas. For leaders to be performance multipliers, they need to be workplace energizers. This involves identifying and developing people’s strengths, skills and potential, ensuring alignment with the company’s purpose, maximizing energy through effective removal of energy sappers and continuously regulating energy to maintain well-being and focus. In an increasingly competitive and fast-changing environment, energizing leadership is crucial to the sustained growth and success of any organization.
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you as my successor as team leader for the Engineering team here at NetFlo.
It has been a great privilege to lead the team during the past 2 years. As I mentioned during your hiring process, the team has some formidable challenges ahead as the business scales and moves into new global markets. I thought it would be helpful to leave some guidance and principles that I’ve learned during my time in the role, having started as a new team leader myself. I understand of course that you will have your own aspirations, ideas, and style that you will be bringing to the role, however, I hope that this guidance may be useful to you as a relatively new team leader.
As my mentor, Helen, always says “teams typically fail because the leader fails to provide clarity”. When I started, I wasn’t explicit enough about my aspirations and standards for the team. I also assumed roles were clear, but it turned out that they weren’t clear enough. This created uncertainty, confusion, and in-fighting early on. Fortunately, Helen helped me to understand that clarity is a prerequisite for high-performing teams. One exercise she had me do was to write down what I expected from the team as a whole and from each team member. I then shared these expectations with individuals and the team, inviting feedback on any areas that were still unclear. During 1-1s, I created SMART (specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and timebound) goals with each team member. The team did a similar exercise, during which we also clarified areas of responsibility. This flushed out several points of overlap and tension that we discussed and resolved together.
Give people something big and exciting to aim for
At the recent training I attended, we spoke a lot about the need to provide exciting and inspiring goals for the team. The trainer showed us an excellent video called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” by a really inspirational speaker called Simon Sinek. This explains why it’s so important to provide a meaningful purpose for people to aim for. Helen added another concept that I love as it’s got a very memorable name. She says I need to ensure the team has a BHAG, a Big Hairy Audacious Goal! The team loved this concept and we have started exploring how we can create even more value for NetFlo’s customers by integrating the latest AI technologies into the platform. The team seem very excited about this opportunity.
We’ve started to discuss the idea of our purpose as a team, however, we haven’t completed this work so it’d be great if you could pick it up with the team. We are using a straightforward tool called a Team Shield & Charter that the trainer on my leader program shared with us. I’ve attached a copy of this below. I hope it’s as useful to you as it’s been to me.
Promote a safe environment of challenge and candour
About a year ago, Raj (my boss at the time) shared a fascinating article about the research Google did on the drivers of high-performing teams. They called this Project Aristotle, and you can read the piece here. They found that the most important factor behind great teams is what they called “psychological safety”. This sounds like a fancy concept but is actually quite straightforward. It involves creating a safe environment where team members feel they can express themselves candidly without having to worry about saying the wrong thing or feeling they are undermining their colleagues. Of course, creating such an environment is harder than it sounds but I have learned that the leader needs to set the tone. You can do this by ensuring all team members have an opportunity to have their say on important topics and encouraging them to be totally upfront about what they really think and feel. This takes time, particularly with quieter, more risk-averse team members. However, the more you encourage and promote candour and constructive challenge, the more they will trust the team and share openly.
Invest in developing and stretching team members
Megan, our Chief People Officer, is passionate about developing people. She has taught me a great deal about the importance of developing team members during my time with NetFlo. She helped me understand the importance of setting aside regular time to meet with team members to discuss their development goals and support them to find motivating pathways to achieve these. Each team member now has a personal development plan and I have met with them quarterly to discuss progress and ways I can help them develop. Megan advised me to do this as a separate process, outside my regular performance dialogues. This ensures there is dedicated time set aside to focus on everyone’s career and development priorities. I have also learned the importance of helping people cultivate a growth mindset, or the belief that abilities can be improved through hard work and continuous learning. I used to hate failure myself as I’m a bit of a perfectionist. However, I now understand that failure is an essential part of everyone’s growth journey. I have explained this to the team, and we have openly discussed our failures and what we have learned from them.
Another lesson I learned from Helen is that people relish challenge, provided it plays to their strengths and career motivations. Challenging people in areas they really aren’t energized by can cause negative feelings and demotivate them. I, therefore, try to create regular opportunities for team members to put their strengths and skills to the test in ways that are motivating for them. This encourages everyone to move beyond their comfort zone so they can continue to learn and become better.
Be like Yoda
I used to fall into the trap of what Helen calls the “illusion of expertise”. This happens when leaders feel they possess superior expertise and should have all the answers by virtue of their position. However, I have now learned (the hard way) that I cannot possibly know everything. The real expertise and know-how rests with my direct reports and the broader team. To get the best out of people, I now empower them using active listening, questioning, and coaching.
Powerful questions have become my leadership superskill, as they enable me to be a better coach, communicator, and influencer. They help me to draw out others’ ideas and perspectives about how to tackle challenges, deal with change and deliver on customer needs. By listening carefully rather than telling them what to do or trying to persuade them that my approach is best, I also get to better understand their problem-solving skills, ability to learn and potential.
Some particularly powerful questions I now regularly use with the team include:
During the leadership training, we learned to apply a coaching method called the GROW Coaching Model. GROW is a mnemonic for Goal, Reality, Options, and Way Forward (or Will). Apparently, it is the most widely used business coaching approach and I can see why! It’s easy to apply and very effective in helping people become better problem-solvers, overcome challenges, and take ownership for coming up with good solutions. I thought that coaching would be very time-consuming, however, I’ve found that with a bit of practice, coaching conversations can be quite efficient and save me time later. You’ll find a more detailed explanation of the GROW approach here.
A year or so ago, Helen encouraged me to practice coming up with new questions to use with the broader team every week. It’s been a fun challenge and based on my last 360-degree feedback survey, has made me a much better leader and coach.
Provide constructive feedback
I used to really struggle with tough feedback conversations. In fact, I always tried to avoid these conversations hoping that the problem would resolve itself. However, this tactic invariably led to the underperformance getting worse and resentment building among other members of the team.
During a training program last year, I learned a great new approach that I have been using with team members. It’s called the SBI (Situation, Behaviour, Impact) feedback method. It is relatively straightforward to apply although requires a bit of practice before you can use it effectively. Use the following questions to guide your feedback:
Just remember to ensure you provide an opportunity for the person to respond to your feedback and commit to any change they want to make as a result.
You can also use this approach to give positive feedback so it’s super versatile which is one reason I like it so much.
Provide regular recognition and praise
Like many leaders, I am not very good at spotting and recognising effort and achievements in the team. After a very insightful feedback session with Raj, I realised the importance of giving regular recognition and praise. He taught me that everyone needs to feel valued and acknowledged, particularly those who are lacking in confidence or are new to the team. I am now learning the art of conscious observation to spot less obvious improvements in effort and behaviour, as well as more obvious achievements. I use my 1-1 check-ins and team meetings to recognise and acknowledge these successes using a variety of no and low-cost approaches, some of which you can find here. I also start each team meeting with a quick-fire round from each team member about the successes they have achieved since the last meeting before we dive in to talk about our challenges and problems. I find this lifts the mood in the room and raises our motivation and productivity during these meetings.
Encourage experimentation and adaptation
Given how fast everything is changing, I have encouraged the team to develop a growth mindset and be ready for change. To make this practical, the team has come up with the following ideas and principles that we now apply:
Manage your energy and time skilfully
I could tell when we met that you are clearly enthusiastic to get started. To help you avoid the mistake I made at the beginning that almost caused me to burn out, I would like to caution you about the high workload and conflicting demands you will face in this role. It can easily become all-consuming if you don’t manage your workload and boundaries effectively. Raj is a great boss but can be very demanding at times. Managing 8 direct reports also requires a lot of time and mental energy. So, make sure you create clear work routines and boundaries from the get-go. Allow yourself enough time for thinking, building relationships, and learning, especially during the first 3-6 months, when you are still learning the ropes. To maintain your energy and well-being, you will also need to prioritise and protect time for holidays, rest, and to be with your family.
I will miss the team but know they’ll be in great hands with you as their new leader. I think your enthusiasm, experience with some of the latest technologies and great communication skills will enable you to do a great job. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you want any additional insights or simply a sounding board to explore options and ideas. It’ll be great to stay connected.
Wishing you everything of the best,
Note: The company and all characters in the letter are fictional.
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