As more workplaces struggle to keep pace with the ever-changing dynamics of engaging, inspiring and managing employees. Schools have unfortunately not been exempted from this struggle, out are the days of ‘Team Management’ and long live the days of ‘Team Leadership’.
To my mind, within a thriving school context, the word “manager” is best replaced with “leader” as leaders don’t require titles or promotions, they are people that inspire and motivate without regard to the setting or title, surely that is the purpose and role of all teachers.
Team management is the ability of an individual or an organisation to administer and coordinate a group of individuals to perform a task. Team leadership takes this a step further and requires a leader, or group of leaders, to inspire a team to action by accessing the far more difficult to control and seemingly countercultural ideals of collaboration, commitment and lots of communication.
These seven keys to better team leadership have been instrumental in my Music department leadership and hopefully could be the breakthrough you have been seeking as we navigate this rocky road of leadership together day by day.
The first steps in team building starts with relationships. To lead a team effectively, you first seek to establish yourself as person, a leader yes, but one who cares about the people that follow. Everyone has a story that shapes their outlook, whether far reaching back into their childhood or as recent as the stresses of home before they came to work today, your role as a leader is to know the lens that is impacting the vision of what’s ahead and behind for those who are following. The most effective team leaders build their relationships on trust, transparency and honesty, rather than fear or the power of their positions. As a great mentor of mine puts it ‘People are more likely to follow someone who is always real, than someone who is always right.’
A team, regardless of size or success, is still a team. Whether bought together by choice or obligation the imperative remains that the ‘me’ remains separate to the ‘team’. Through inclusive language, such as ‘we’ instead of ‘you’, ‘could’ instead of ‘should’ and ‘focused’ instead of ‘busy’ we can lead a group of individuals to become a team of collaborators. Actively avoiding words like ‘Need’, ‘Must’, ‘Can’t’, ‘Easy’, ‘Just’, ‘Only’ and ‘Fast’ will allow your leadership to transition from autocratic to diplomatic so that ‘Together Everyone Achieves More.’
Value the person
Through relationship we start to discover the true wholistic story of the people on our team and realise that each person is of significant value when it comes to seeing the whole picture from a perspective not our own. People are drawn to those who value and respect them, regardless of position or motive, people want to feel valued and safe to be heard. Through simple steps towards being open and approachable, saying ‘thank you’ and personalising conversations by using someone’s name, you can instantly disarm a negative emotional spirit and give air to the value every person possesses. Through little courtesies often left in the era of letter writing, I have found a simple ‘I hope you have a great day’ goes a long way in humanising even the driest of emails.
Part of valuing the person is taking the time to listen to opinions of those around you. This is best achieved through face to face conversation and active listening. For me, as a leader I offer all of my team an open 10 minute appointment to talk to me about their concerns around anything we are currently working on and even take the uncommon step of ask them if it would be ok if I actively listen for the first 5 to 7 minutes to what they have to say before saying a word myself. As a team member this gives the opportunity to be succinct in preparing your request or statement and as a leader this gives you the opportunity to really hear the full story before offering advice and allows you to practice your empathy to see the situation from another perspective and formulate a response based on the whole story.
Like a debate in high school, the remaining 3 to 5 minutes offers the opportunity to clear up any confusion or miscommunication that may have taken place and your body language can go a long way to showing your receptiveness and value of the person even when you disagree with their views. It is at this 10 minute mark a second meeting may be organised after further clarification has been sought by both parties. Free of distraction, interruption and personal bias, the leader has the ability to really hear and know before acting or reacting on only half the information. In my teams just as in my classrooms and rehearsals it a common adage (that I stole from somewhere else) that ‘when you speak, you repeat what you already know. When you listen, you learn something new.’
In almost all of my failures as leader, teacher and even friend and family member, I can see where a lack of communication took what would have been a minor mishap into something more akin to a downfall. In leading a team of individual, free-willed people, it is imperative that communication be the major vehicle in shaping our progress towards unity. Communication happens on many levels and it would take many pages to fully unpack them all, but it is worth stating that the role a simple informal chat or email can play in unifying all team members is certainly never overstated. As leaders it is our role to utilise the higher order communication tools at our disposal for the sake of our team. Giving regular, honest and constructive feedback in both positive and negative situations allows our leadership and level of trust within our teams to grow. It is the leader’s responsibility to look at the bigger picture and refocus the team towards specific and actionable outcomes. This can only be achieved through timely and effective two way communication. Like a good audience member, we rise above the words being projected, to focus on the actions undertaken, not the actor who presented them.
As leaders and educators our number one goal is hopefully to inspire those around us, providing context and stake to our team members and students, being a facilitator of their passions and an enabler of their leadership. In leading others, we seek to take them on a journey of self-discovery where they begin Satisfied and have the tools and freedom to perform and are recognised and compensated fairly, to becoming Engaged and feeling part of a team with the ability to grow and make a difference because they truly believe that what they are doing is valuable. The final stage is Inspired where they are drawing deep and lasting meaning from their work or studies and are performing with purpose and passion.
Innovate until you find ‘Uniquely Better’
The final key to leading effective teams is giving your team something or someone to believe in. Like many great servant leaders of the past, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu who believed so strongly in the value of all human life that they stood up to be counted and paid a huge price, to Martin Luther King Jr. who was reluctant to get involved in the Civil Right movement but believed so strongly in equality. From Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer, Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus to the many great servant leaders of today, believing in a cause so strongly that you are inspired to action yourself is the value of a true leader. Whether it is simple, secular or sacred we are called to question everything, know ‘why’ and seek out what is best. As a leader it is our responsibility to value ‘fresh eyes’ on a situation and seek to bring a new light. To be ‘the best’ you can do what others are doing but you aim to do it in a way other are not. To create a new future, you have to look at what is current in the present and find what is ‘Uniquely Better’ in all actions and all domains.
It is a privilege to lead and even more so to be recognised as a formal leader. Through Relationship, Inclusiveness, Value, Listening, Communication, Inspiration and Innovation you will be best placed to lead from a position of strength and insight for your team and hopefully one day access what is uniquely better for your yourself, your team and all those you lead.
Mr. David George (Head of Music (Secondary) – Waverley Christian College)
For more details from some from the leaders who continually inspire me and from whom parts of my philosophy have been established, visit: https://www.life.church/leadershippodcast/ and https://andystanley.com/podcasts/