Leaders, two of the greatest gifts you can give your team members are to empower them and to defend them.
In almost every leadership position that I have had (both church and business) I have consistently told our team members (both paid and volunteer) that two of my top priorities are: 1) to do everything I can to enable them to excel in their roles, and 2) for them to come to trust that I have their back. During the course of time, most team members come to realize that the two are inextricably linked together.
Empower. I believe that the best leaders are those who make it a priority to figure out the strengths, weaknesses, and potential of each team member. Sometimes this means pushing them to go faster, and other times it means telling them to slow down. Sometimes their tasks, responsibilities, or behaviours need to be readjusted, and sometimes the whole team needs to be realigned. Sometimes it is subtle and unnoticed, and sometimes it is blunt and obvious. Sometimes it is successful, and sometimes it is painful.
As leaders, we need to remember that empowerment is always necessary, always intentional, always individualized, and always a process (there is no “one size fits all” approach to empowerment and leadership development). When a culture of empowerment is created, though, seeing the team unite and perform with enthusiasm and excellence is a great leadership reward!
Defend. I believe that the best leaders defend their team members. Not blind, naive, and emotional defense, but rather confident, performance related, and relationship based defense. I want our team members to know that if someone comes to talk to me about them, they do not have to worry that I am “throwing them under the bus”. They need to know that, as their leader, if I have an issue with their performance or behaviour, I will talk with them. I will not inappropriately talk about them behind their back (that is called gossip, and it will destroy the team and eventually the organization). If someone brings a team member’s negative performance or behaviour to my attention, I will take it very seriously and if necessary I will discuss it with the team member. It will be a private discussion, though, not public.
The best teams, regardless of size, experience, or context, are the teams with very high levels of mutual trust. Low trust = low team = low performance. Trust opens the door to hard conversations. Trust also opens the door to high productivity. Defending each other and trusting each other go hand in hand. And like everything else in leadership, it starts at the top.
Leadership Assessment. If your team members were to do an anonymous survey and were asked if you are a leader who empowers and defends them, what would they say? Perhaps even more significantly, if you were to have an open conversation with each team member (unrelated to any sort of performance evaluation process) and ask each of them the same question, how would the conversation unfold?
Perhaps this is the season in your leadership when you need to intentionally grow in your ability to empower and/or defend your team. If you take up the challenge, post some comments below and let the rest of us know what happened! It is great to learn from each other. 🙂