From an evolutionary standpoint, humans are social creatures and need to feel a sense of belonging. Like our ancestors, we gather in small groups of relatively like-minded people with similar goals. People want to be successful, and they collaborate to achieve success—or fall to in-fighting and get nowhere. This is where we extraordinary leaders come in. Our job is to encourage that collaboration—that teamwork—by laser focusing our unit, group, team, department, organization, whatever. A normal leader (not necessarily a bad one) doesn’t foster collaboration, they simply allow the subordinate collective to exist and sustain itself if it can while completing required tasks. In fostering collaboration, an extraordinary leader offers coaching, development, vision, and conflict management. An extraordinary leader understands it is his or her duty to provide tasking; but he or she also recognizes that through coaching, developing, providing vision, and maintaining a forum where healthy conflict can be made into civil discourse, a team’s output can exceed the sum of the individual parts. A truly collaborative environment described above will be an experience every participant will remember for the rest of their lives and an experience against which they will measure all other experiences. Make no mistake, fostering collaboration is not a flowery way of saying gathering buy-in or developing trust. Buy-in and trust must be gained in individuals; fostering collaboration—while impacted by buy-in and trust–makes the covalent-like bonds between team members stronger, making the overall team stronger.
A personal example of the fostering of collaboration is illustrated by my experience in Naval Flight Training. The student body is a mixed bag of high-performing, high-achieving Type-A personalities (and if you’ve ever been in a room with a group of Type-A personalities, you know that it can be a quite a volatile chemical mixture). Instructors encouraged collaboration, suggesting that most personnel who failed elected to be lone wolves. Lone-wolf failures were pretty common too. You can imagine that the natural, bootstrap, self-reliance that defines aviator-aspirants can frustrate collaboration. However, the clear and decisive action to foster collaboration resolves students to work together, even if reluctant. And, because of the deliberate fostering of collaboration, I gained membership to a group that has had held a special place in my heart for the better part of a decade and will for the rest of my life.
My group had de facto leaders that coached new students, provided vision, and helped manage conflict. The group leaders—students further along in training—encouraged the absorption of and assimilation of new members to keep the numbers from dwindling as more experienced members completed training and left. Fostering collaboration in the group created renewable, nuclear-like energy that aided in the successful completion of training for so many. To this day, nearly a decade later, I still communicate with several of the members of the group, three of whom live nearby here in the District and two are just three hours away, and we often talk about the good ol’ days—when the group was together and fostering collaboration in a refreshing magnitude that we have not experienced since.
Imagine what extraordinary leaders could achieve by fostering that kind of collaboration in our organizations.
Better known as empowerment. I’m of the opinion that most people get this wrong or at least don’t optimize empowerment. I don’t do the stereotypical “Hey, buddy, you’re super! You keep being super!” kind of empowerment. I mean, what exactly does that tell someone other than I can hurl a cliche adjective from behind a smile? Nothing—that’s what. Sure, having your super reaffirmed feels good for a moment, but it doesn’t actually empower you. Empowerment comes through the exploration of capability. Consider how different the effect of empowerment is when you’re given something substantial to put power behind, like when your boss tells you to lead-up and work him or her out of the job. You start looking for the limits of the reach of the job you’re in. That feeling of autonomy, that feeling of impact, that fulfillment is empowerment. So, don’t try to empower people with flattery. Empower them by telling them to surprise you with how much they can accomplish by expanding the role of the job. Tell them to go to town and you’ll pull in the reins when you need to. High-performers will blossom in innovative, amazing ways. We know the output we need from our team members, so we need to empower them to meet and exceed that output. Decorated words more than likely will not achieve that, but encouraging our team members to be creative and innovative with their capabilities surely can.
The last plug I’ll make for strengthening others is a brief discussion about competencies (a topic I will discuss in greater depth in a later blog). Strengthening our team members by increasing their capacity to execute is simple algebra: more competence on the left side of the equal sign means more performance on the right side. Extraordinary leaders improve the competency of and increase the number of competencies of our team members. Team members, then, outperform our competitors. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason why we’re extraordinary, and everyone else is…well…you get the picture.
Photo credit – https://thoughtleadershipzen.blogspot.com/2016/08/leadership-characteristics.html