Managing Groups and Teams/Leader Credibility
Once a team is formed, how should the team leader handle questions about his/her ability? For example, in the case where the team has had its first significant meeting and the leader did something to cause others to questions his/her ability to lead the project. Along the same line, are there particular steps a team leader can take to mitigate a blow to the team either from external forces or internal forces (say in the form of personal conflict or someone essential to the project leaving the company)?
The question above is presented as to ask how you can mitigate questions to your credibility as a team leader. This lack of credibility could be from something you did wrong in a meeting or a mistake you made on a project. The question also asks how you, as a team leader, can soften the blow to the team from an internal or external force affecting the team. This last question is very broad and because of this, the chapter will focus that question and the others with respect only to establishing, maintaining and restoring credibility as a team leader.
You can read all the books and follow all the rules about managing and leading, but inevitably, you will find your credibility in question from one, or a number of team members at some point during your career. It may almost seem easier to deal with if you know you did something wrong or inappropriate. The hard part is when you have somehow lost credibility when you’ve done, pretty much, everything right. During this chapter, we will look into a number of reasons for finding yourself lacking credibility with your team members. We will also offer general advice on how to keep or restore your credibility.
While there are many reasons your team may find your credibility lacking, we will focus on a few very common ones. First, we will look at how your credibility may be threatened simply by a stereotype attached to you. Second, we will look at how your personality traits can affect credibility. Then we will look into how leading your former peers can cause credibility problems and how to alleviate them. Following these sections we will offer advice on how to establish credibility in a newly formed team, and finally, how to establish your credibility in general as well as avoid pitfalls.
Establishing leadership credibility in a group or team setting can be difficult enough without having to battle stereotypes along the way. This section will focus briefly on the different stereotypes that exist within the work organization, specifically, the groups and teams within these organizations. This section will also attempt to advise on how to avoid the pitfalls of stereotypes.
First, we will define exactly what a stereotype is and what it is capable of. Stereotypes occur when we assign and generalize certain attributes, characteristics, qualities or shortcomings to a specific group of people. For example: "The elderly drive poorly," "Women are too emotional," "Teenagers are lazy," or "Men are cold and distant." You may think these examples are harmless, but these are only starting points from which stereotypes can become extreme and irrational. Some categories which can be a target of stereotypes are: race, religion, gender, class, age, etc.
Stereotyping is a way our brain tries to processes the endless amount of information it is presented with daily. With so much stimulation to account for, stereotyping is a way the brain cuts through it all in order to make it presentable. This is often done subconsciously and is not always linked to negative outcomes. The danger presents itself when we are unaware of this process going on in our brain and we begin to accept stereotypes as fact or reality. Stereotypes are far reaching and virtually everyone is a potential victim.
Stereotypes are damaging when we assume something about someone, or judge them prematurely, simply because we assign them to a larger group with a predetermined set of characteristics. Stereotyping is often linked closely with prejudice, which occurs when one makes a conscious decision to dislike, distrust, or work against a specific group because of the negative stereotypes associated with that group.
History is laced with stereotyping and prejudices. Modern time takes no exception. A common place stereotyping takes place is within organizations and teams within these organizations. This behavior can destroy any attempts to create a collaborative environment within work teams and can effectively prevent production or progression. So the question presents itself, how do we keep this behavior out of our teams in order to be more successful?
As a leader of a group/team who may be battling a stereotype while trying to obtain credibility, you must first make it your priority to rid yourself of any thought or behavior that endorses or exhibits stereotyping. You must be careful not to get defensive expecting that you are being stereotyped. Give your team the benefit of the doubt initially. Team attitude often reflects leadership. If they see you are relaxed and open they may adopt your attitude. This is one way to battle stereotypes within groups.
Another way to battle stereotypes is to create an atmosphere conducive to open communication. It is through talking to people and forging relationships with others that stereotypes can be shattered and put to rest. This is easier said than done, but achievable if a team leader is determined to have a successful group.
Also, when creating a group, create groups with diversity. This builds off the previous point of communication. We are often afraid of what we don't know. A diverse group can create an environment where learning and understanding can be achieved and stereotypes dispelled.
It may sound simple, but one final way to counter a stereotype when leading a team is to simply work hard and prove you are a good leader first and foremost. If you leave no doubt in your groups’ mind you are there to facilitate their success, you will begin to create an atmosphere where attitudes can change and minds can be enlightened.
When dealing with team environments, the personality of the group and those of individuals are determinants in whether the group will succeed or fail at its goals and endeavors. Within each group, there is the potential for each of the members to have significantly different strengths and weaknesses which are essential for an effective team. Examples of these characteristics are being introverted and extroverted. Introverts are people whose thoughts and interests are directed inward rather than outward toward others. On the other hand extroverts are interested in others or in the environment. Speaking in broad terms, they are a gregarious and unreserved person. With this in mind, to be an effective leader, you need to not only identify these traits in others, but also identify them in yourself in order to establish leadership credibility. Otherwise, ineffective management of your team of different personalities, working motifs, and styles may lead to unnecessary challenges and conflicts that could possibly lead to the demise and failure of the overall project.
In understanding introversion and extroversion, Carl Jung (one of the earliest leaders into the understanding and exploration of this type of personality trait), was able to understand and develop the core principles of extroversion and introversion. He was able to view the behavior of humans as either habits or as personality patterns. He then explained the differences accordingly to those unique, distinguishable, and variable social patterns. He directed and focused his research on the intuition, thinking, sensing, and feeling components which were later published as major players in his psychological traits theory.
During different events in our daily lives, we tend to utilize both aspects of introversion and extroversion. But, generally speaking, most people rely upon one dominant expression, whether it is introversion or extroversion, during the daily events and dramas that induce stressful situations. The preferences that are expressed by these different types of personalities also affect and impact social understanding and learning of perceptions, judgments, different learning styles, as well as sociological preferences each individual resorts to.
When comparing introverts and extroverts, with our perception of what the team and its organization represents, there are still different view points we hold. First, introverts might view and feel the team meeting and discussions as draining, stressful, and (more or less) a waste of time. While extroverts view the team meetings as productive and energizing toward the end goal of the team.
It is essential for you, as the team leader, to not only understand the different aspects of each team member, but also of yourself and what impact you have in leading the group. Being able to assess your ability and draw upon the abilities and strengths of others will provide an easy path to a successful team. By understanding and acknowledging different personality types, strengths and weaknesses, learning styles, perceptions, and judgments of each group member, you have already taken steps in the right direction to becoming an effective leader. Doing this should dismiss most, if not all, skepticism of your leadership ability. When you have been able to identify these aspects of your group, you can effectively direct and coordinate the team towards your goal or directive in the most efficient manner possible.
As the team leader, understanding group meetings is an integral component of the development, planning of the assigned project, and development of team unity. As previously indicated, extroverts view these meetings as a venue for essential thought provoking discussions and a place to surcease any problems that may arise. So to be an effective leader, you must acknowledge and mitigate these circumstances to the contrary of the introverts. These introverts would rather use the time (that most meetings would use up) to research, prepare, and plan for these meetings on a lesser scale. By understanding this, you can handle any skepticism and quandaries about your leadership ability by providing advanced written information about the team members, agenda(s), reports, or possible discussion questions. This forethought and preplanning allows introverts the necessary time to organize and preplan their feelings and thoughts so their involvement within the group will be more substantial and appreciated by the extroverts who, by their very nature, will applaud and welcome their contributions.
In addressing the possible scenario of conflict from within the team itself or from external forces, you need to address and understand the different areas of conflict that may arise. As previously mentioned, the different personalities may be cause for conflict within the team environment. To quell such proprieties and demurrals from the different team members, using the knowledge and understanding of each team member and their strengths and weaknesses is essential as an effective team leader. When such internal conflicts arise, being able to negotiate and mitigate conflicts is essential. In addition, knowledge of the team members' personality and learning styles is important in order to show foresight and understanding of the conflict that has occurred.
So in conclusion, as an effective and forthright leader will need to have perception and knowledge based upon the different personality types of each group member so any possible conflict and prejudice arising can be eliminated.
Effectively Leading Your Former Peers
You have spent the last few years working hard with your team, you’ve seen great success together and you’ve been able to establish some very positive professional relationships. You are comfortable with your team and are satisfied with the work you have done together. Now things are about to change, you have been rewarded for your hard work and have been selected to lead the team you were once a part of.
After the initial euphoria and excitement of your recent promotion wears off, you may realize the relationships with your team members is not the same. Suddenly they look to you for motivation and guidance. Will they buy into your ideas? Will they respect you? Will they still be your friends? Do you want them to be your friends? How will performance evaluations go? As managers continue to climb the corporate ladder many of them have had to (or will) deal with these types of situations at one time or another. This section is dedicated to helping managers effectively manage their relationships with former peers, while at the same time adapting to their new leadership role.
Generally speaking, two behaviors can emerge as managers begin to lead their former peers. One end of the spectrum is trying to remain “one of the guys” (or gals). This type of manager has difficulty making unpopular decisions, performing disciplinary action, performance evaluations, assigning responsibility, and holding people accountable. At the other end of the spectrum, one morphs into an unrecognizable individual that feels he or she must change everything the team has been doing and make it their own. After all, the leader is ultimately responsible for the success and failure of the team. This behavior oftentimes results in rifts between the leaders and the rest of the team. The following are some effective methods in making the transition from team member to leader.
First, don’t try and change everything at once. You will have plenty of time to implement your ideas and plans for success. Now the important part is getting your team on board with you as their leader. Second, get the message out that you will be even handed in dealing with subordinates. There will certainly be some subordinates you were closer with then others. The ones you were close with may expect some preferential treatment while others may expect to see you come down harder on them. Ensuring your team members you will be even handed will help them develop trust and respect for you as their leader. Next, steer clear of situations where favoritism might be perceived. In addition, repair rifts with former colleagues. There will certainly be some hurt feelings and disappointment among your peers. After all, you beat them out for the job. Some peers may also harbor ill feelings from previous conflicts that you may have been engaged in. Take action to repair these rifts and work towards establishing positive relationships. Finally, clearly define your role and what your expectations are. You are the leader act like it. Let your peers know what you expect of them and hold them accountable for their performance.
Stepping into a leadership role involving peers can be a very challenging situation. Difficult situations will certainly arise and tough decisions will have to be made but that’s why you’re the leader. By clearly establishing goals and expectations of every team member and ensuring the entire team that you will not play favorites and everyone will be treated equally you will be able to establish your credibility as an effective leader an ultimately lead a more successful team.
Leading a New Team
You’ve spent the money, done your homework, and earned your degree now you have the job. You are now leading your own team. Now, how do you do it? How do you establish your credibility to team members you have never met? What are their expectations of you? How do you instill confidence in your team about your leadership abilities? How do you handle questions and concerns about your leadership abilities? The following section is dedicated to assisting new leaders in managing their teams and promoting success within their new role.
As the new leader you need to take charge. You may be replacing a great leader who had great success and admiration from his or her team and the shoes you are expected to fill may be great. Or you may be replacing a leader who was despised by his or her team and the team was a disappointment. Either way, there are several challenges leaders face as they step into new environments as team leaders. They may be dealing with high expectations and questions from their team such as, “That’s not how so and so would do it” or “How will this new leader be different from the last”. Despite how the team may have performed in the past it’s your ship now, the success or failure of the team is your responsibility. Your team needs to know that you are committed to being their leader and leading them to success. Communicate your goals and expectations clearly to every team member. Let them know the importance of their role in the team. Be sure to give your team the time and resources to achieve their goals and give them the training to achieve their goals.
Your team needs to trust you and one of the best ways to gain their confidence in your abilities is through your example. You were hired for a reason, obviously your boss has confidence in your abilities. Now is the time to showcase them for the rest of your team. Your attitude and the manner in which you perform your tasks will be infectious. The way you act and interact with your team will ultimately reflect the way you and your team will perform together.
Next, be accountable. Problems will arise and mistakes will be made and at times human nature prompts us to deflect blame or try and spin things in a better way, after all no one wants to be blamed for a major screw up. Effective leaders know how to stand up and be held accountable.
Finally, never underestimate the power of effective listening Take the time to get to know your people. Effective leaders must be willing to see the team from the team’s perspective. As a leader you may have your own vision of what success is, if your team has a different vision than you, the team will never arrive at the same point of success. Talk to each individual team member, find out what is important to them. It is the only way you will know how to effectively motivate them.
Individual interviews with each team member can be very effective in helping to establish positive relationships within your team. Furthermore, you can gain valuable insight into the nature of the team and how you can effectively use the team’s resources to achieve the team’s goals. Be sure to act upon the information you gain from your team through your individual interviews. Involving your team’s insights will help create a culture of trust and unity within your team and their insights may oftentimes be more profound than your own. Build up your people, give them responsibility and hold them accountable. Praise and recognize them when they deserve it. When they perform poorly let them know you expect more from them. They will respect you more as a leader and most often will be inclined to perform at a higher level for the success of the team.
Certainly leading a new team is a challenging role filled with many obstacles. Creating a positive environment is essential in achieving success as a team. After all, the team's performance is indicative of the leadership abilities of its leader. By taking charge, leading by example, listening, and taking action you will be able to instill confidence within your team. You will also establish your credibility and, ultimately, have more success as a team.
Establishing Credibility and Avoiding Pitfalls
Having or establishing credibility from the outset can make leading a team easier and give more leeway in decision making while leading a team (when it is done right). This section is easy when things go right. What about when they don't?
The first thing you should never do, is try and save face by pushing the blame onto someone else. This rarely works in the long run. You would hope the people in your team are smart and, as a consequence, see through this. Members of the team may play dumb at the moment to avoid conflict, but they will not appreciate you for it. This will always be in their mind when dealing with you. "Will they try and pin the next thing that goes bad on me?"
Think about those you respect most in your organization. Not who has the most influence or power, but who you respect. This is the type of person who is honest with themselves and their coworkers (this includes subordinates and higher-ups). When was the last time you were upset with someone for fessing up to an issue they caused before someone else mentioned it? Or graciously accepted criticism for a perceived or a real issue they may have caused? You may have been upset with what happened or the consequences, but think about your respect level for the person. This is most likely a person you would go to bat for in a tight situation, because you know they would have done their best and improved where they could. Taking this type of stance yourself, can go a long way in negating any issues that may happen early on in a group that question your ability to lead a project.
Most problems boil down to communication. Members of the group may have different interactive styles based on backgrounds or individual disciplines. Failure to accommodate different communication styles can lead to misunderstandings and possibly questioning abilities. One way to help members understand you is to give them an instruction manual. Even a cheap $25 tape recorder has instructions, why not you? Let your manual say, amongst other things: "Here's what gets me going," "Here's what annoys me," "Warning! Here's what will get you in trouble." These types of suggestions are probably better suited for a manager, but they could also work for subordinates or peers. Other sections of the manual could include: "Ask me to 'get to the point,' “If a description is not clear, please ask to be more concrete," "Warn me if I am heading down the wrong path," and "I tend to refer to statistics when I am uncomfortable with a topic." This type of instruction manual of yourself can be useful as a daily reminder to yourself on what you need to work on. Others, even timid ones, can call you on one of your issues without fear of offending or overstepping bounds. It will show you are truly looking to do your best and eliminate perceived inabilities caused by communication breakdown. As result, they will know where you are coming from.
During this chapter we have touched on a few items which can affect your credibility as a team leader. The issues we have discussed are common, but there are many more reasons why you may have lost credibility with members of your team. Knowing how to deal with common reasons for losing credibility will help you when other issues arise.
Hopefully the latter part of this chapter has given you some insight into how to, in general, establish, maintain, and restore your credibility as a team leader. You will never be able to please everyone, but you can certainly do your best to be an effective leader and use the information in this chapter to help you credibility as a leader and an example to the rest of you team.
The Wall Street Journal Online, Joann S. Lublin, January 7, 2003, Job Candidates Get a Manual From Boss: 'How to Handle Me' HTTP://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB1041881615563021064,00.html
Abrashoff, Michael D. 2002 It's Your Ship
Career Journal Online, Erin White, November 22, 2005 'How Some New Managers Supervise Their Former Peers' http://www.careerjournal.com/myc/management/20051122-white.html