How Do the Best Leaders Know Their Teams?

Professional Development Series Part 1

Running an organization that centers around the community, you are naturally seen as a leader when it comes to the well-being of parks, fitness and health, child development, older adult services and overall community enrichment.

It makes sense, then, to invest time developing YOU so you can be the best leader you can be. But time is a luxury, we know, and that’s why we’re introducing a short Professional Development Series that’s “just enough.” For the next 3 weeks, we’ll post short articles to give you just enough food for thought, just enough wisdom to digest in short bursts and just enough best practices to incorporate into your everyday. The goal is to be your best, one step at at time.

The Idea

According to great leadership minds such as Ken Blanchard and Marcus Buckingham, one of the most important things we can do as team leaders is to understand each one of our team members’ unique strengths, competencies and areas of confidence. Only then can we know how to “flex” our own personal management tendencies and styles to bring out the best in others.

This is a bit of a deviation from what we may have been taught, or what might feel more natural to us, which is to:

  1. Start by diving into understanding your own leadership style. Countless models, quizzes and assessments are out there to tell you what type of personality or leader you are. That self-awareness can then be used to understand others and your style of working with and relating to their different styles.
  2. Focus on group dynamics as a whole. Managing the dynamics of a team becomes easier (and more enjoyable!) when we first take the time to understand each player – What motivates them, where they are more successful, where each person needs additional support, etc. Teams operate smoothly when each member feels heard, understood and is able to contribute in a satisfying way.

The Practice

So what does this look like in everyday ways? Here are some ideas:

  • Schedule regular touch bases with each team member to discuss how things are going. In addition to project updates and task-oriented communication, include at least one or two questions to help you identify each person’s strengths:“Out of all the work you’ve done this year, what activity(ies) were your favorite? What made you most excited? When did you feel like you were doing your very best work? Why?”
  • Observe team members’ competence and confidence per task. It’s easy to make blanket assumptions about people’s abilities on the job. The truth is, someone’s response to different tasks or projects could be very different. No one always struggles, and no one is always an all-star. Start coaching to the task. If confidence is low, find ways to encourage. If competence is low, find ways to teach. And if both are high, make plenty of room for your staff members to handle things on their own.
  • Once you have a more solid picture of each person on your team, step back to take a high-level look at how you’ve organized everyone. Is everyone in the right seat, so to speak? Are people being put on projects that bring out their best and use their strengths? Do any assignments need to be rearranged to create the best possible outcome?  Are there are any partnerships that could elevate teamwork?

Leading teams means stepping out of your own frame of reference to understand others. The moving parts of team dynamics come together much more smoothly when each member sees that you care to understand them and are willing to make changes to accommodate their best work.

Further Study

    • Leadership and the One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard
    • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni
    • Drive, Daniel Pink
    • The One Thing You Need to Know, Marcus Buckingham

Next Up: How do the Best Leaders Manage Performance?

Gina Calvert

Gina is the Senior Marketing Writer for ACTIVE Network, providing marketing and business resources for active lifestyle organizations across a range of markets, including government, nonprofits, YMCAs, Parks & Recs, camps, schools and endurance events, for almost 7 years.

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