QC #4: Lead Your Team From the Front

Lead your team from the front

Put people first, connect customer expectations to product and service design, give employees the right tools, show everyone in the organization how deeply they affect the mission, and empower your team to innovate and lead. These are the building blocks for an innovative and successful company. ~ Amy Beall

What does it mean to ‘lead from the front’? Leading from the front means you model the behavior you want to see in those around you. It doesn’t necessarily mean your team will always agree or that feelings won’t get hurt or that everyone will get exactly what they want. Don’t buy into the idea that leading from the front means you cannot hold people accountable or that discipline is a last resort activity. In fact, accountability at the lowest levels is essential in order to avoid numerous disciplinary actions.

Put People First

Causes of employee performance problems can generally be divided into two groups: organizational causes and personal issues. Most business articles focus on organizational causes because that is one of the few areas we have control over. However, employees report having a difficult time performing well on the job when they are stressed about their home life. That’s right. The money spent on the new cube configuration and complimentary Wednesday breakfast and Monday morning office yoga may contribute to work force morale but equipping employees with skills to deal with personal problems may have a greater impact on performance.

Think about your co-workers or employees who were under family stress such as divorce, death, or dealing with financial problems. It is really hard to separate your personal life from your business life. Maybe the stress prevents them from getting adequate sleep and nutrition. Now, they are not only stressed but they are unable to meet their basic physiological needs.

Help employees find help for problems at the earliest stages. You (as the manager) are probably not the most appropriate person to help them through mental health problems, child rebellion, and bankruptcy so the best thing you can do is point them to professionals.

Connect Customer Expectations to Product and Service Design

Think about what customers expect to receive and then design the product or service to meet their expectations. While it sounds easy, it is rather hard because customer expectations are a moving target. Today, I witnessed substandard customer service. A customer asked for help and the employee said, “I can’t help you if you can’t tell me the document number.” One of the managers quickly stepped in and helped the customer find the information they were looking for.

Wow! I was simultaneously amazed and disappointed. One employee doesn’t connect customer service with customer expectations while another immediately steps in to close the gap. Is this a training issue? Possibly. Is this a leadership issue? Definitely. Leaders are charged with … well, for lack of a better word … leading. If a leader hasn’t communicated a shared vision of customer service, then the leader has missed the mark. This employee may be new to the team and not understand the standard of service but it is still leadership’s responsibility to redirect behaviors that don’t move the whole team in the same direction.

Give Employees the Right Tools

Check out the blog QC #3: Invest in Front Line Staff for information on how to equip our employees with the right tools.

Show Everyone in the Organization How Deeply They Affect the Mission

Why should your employee care about the jobs your assign him or her? How does numbering all of the incoming documents affect the organization? What is the outcome if this employee doesn’t show up for work tomorrow?

An employee needs to know how they fit into the company and understand how much you truly appreciate their input. I currently work for a team that is constantly reminding me of our impact to the mission. “Your support helps us launch satellites into space,” they say. And they are right. If my office closes its doors for a day or two, the rest of the organization can’t meet their goals. If the office is minimally manned, the rest of the organization experiences a work slowdown which means contracts will slip and projects will miss their milestones.

I have also heard that a previous leader had the opposite frame of mind. He was known for saying, “I could do your job better than you” and other arrogant, derogatory comments. He also didn’t see any reason to demonstrate how the monotonous review of documents contributed to reaching the mission. Those around him weren’t worth his time and morale dipped as a result.

Empower Your Team to Innovate and Lead

When I first started working at my present job, I was told that it wasn’t unusual for project teams to applaud when a prototype failed. Why would teams applaud when something failed? Because they didn’t let fear of failure hold them back. Fear is seen as the biggest enemy to innovation.

Along those same lines, my son and I went snowboarding one winter. It was our first time snowboarding so we took a class early in the morning. One of the first skills I learned that morning was how to fall. Falling was an integral part of learning to snowboard. There wasn’t any way around it. Falling would occur so the only rational course of action was to learn how to fall safely.

True innovation cannot occur if you create an environment that doesn’t tolerate temporary failure. Empower your teams to innovate and lead by creating a safe environment for them to fail. The key phrase is “safe environment”. We don’t allow unseasoned teams to launch satellites because not only will they fail but they may end up killing someone along the way. Teams are constructed of seasoned and maturing personnel who learn from one another. New employees are incorporated into the team but their area of responsibility (and risk taking) is constrained.

Leading from the front is not just “do what I say”. It is …

“Do what I say … and what I do … and please forgive me if I jack everything up. We are a team moving in the same direction so don’t hesitate to ask questions and take calculated risks.”

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