Many of you business leaders I work with, and entrepreneurs I mentor, have a great strategy and an innovative solution, but struggle with building and motivating the team necessary to run your business. You assume everyone has your passion, and simply needs your command and control to make it work. In my experience, what a team needs more is your connection and inspiration.
Becoming a totally connected business leader is a very different challenge from building a product, or defining a good strategy. Yet, I’m convinced that connected leadership can be learned proactively, as opposed to waiting for painful negative experiences. Here are my suggestions for focus and actions that will build and maintain your connected leadership with any team:
- Listen and relate to every team member as a person. As a good solution developer, it’s easy for you to see team members only as components of your business solution. Your impact and leadership of people requires trust, and trust requires that you both find some common ground, and empathy, in the human realm of goals, interests, and drivers. Of course, listening alone isn't enough. To be a connected leader, you must demonstrate that you not only hear them but that you understand their needs and perspective. While this sometimes takes patience, over time you will find it is the best way to really learn.
- Convince members that you are always part of their team. If they never see you, hide in your office, or work totally different hours, the connection will never happen. Even in today’s remote environments, you can use video sessions, social media, and email to keep up with team efforts informally and share updates, both positive and negative. One of today’s great entrepreneurs, Richard Branson, who now manages over 400 companies within Virgin Group, says he always puts team members first, and still finds time to meet and connect, considering it one of his most enjoyable and productive roles.
- Create a common community around a higher purpose. Team members, as well as customers, like to feel connected and inspired by a worthy non-business objective, such as helping the disadvantaged, saving the environment, or supporting inclusivity. Iterative and repeatable business processes with only a financial objective foster low engagement. For example, Yvon Chouinard, when he was growing Patagonia, recognized a serious interest in helping the environment, and capitalized on it by dedicating a percent of sales to environmental protection. This created a connection with both his team and customers.
- Always be authentic, and never speak down to the team. I realize that you may want to spare the team your worries over market changes and competitors, but transparency on these matters creates trust and connection, and improves their focus on agility and inspires innovation. You really need their insights and customer interaction feedback.
- Spend time coaching and mentoring team members. Remember that employee future careers are as important to them as future business opportunities are to you. Highlight win-win scenarios that lead to better connections, more engagement, and sustainable business growth. Help them learn more about your vision and future market goals.
- Reward learning and risk-taking, from failure or success. A common fear I find in teams that hampers connection, is the fear of failure. You need to highlight risk-taking as good, if not done recklessly, and celebrate the learning from every project back to all. This provides the inspiration that we all need, as well as agility in the face of change.
- Facilitate connections between teams and to the outside. When you connect a team member to an outside contact, that solidifies your own connection both ways. Thus new relationships with industry influencers and peers is part of building connections to your own team. Connected leaders are known to share their contacts as well as their insights.
As I talk to early business investors, I find they put more stock in the team leadership connection than the market for the initial solution. That is why professional investors will tell you that they invest in people, more than innovative solutions. Thus you shouldn’t hesitate to invest the time and effort in the initiatives suggested here. The potential for both you and the business is huge.
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