In Part 1 of this series on leadership in the MSP environment, I talked about some characteristics that define a strong leader. In Part 2, we’ll look at the components of a team effort and how a leader puts those building blocks together to move the whole team toward success.
A leader doesn’t work in a vacuum; great leaders build teams and inspire members to work together toward common goals. If you’re able to carefully pick and choose those team members with an eye toward personality compatibilities, complimentary skills and knowledge, and common values and work ethic, you’ll be a step ahead of the game. However, a leader often inherits some or all of the members of the team. In this case, you may have to work with what you’ve got – but how you interact with people can go a long way toward bringing them together on a project even if they start out with conflicts and disparate approaches.
Whether you select them yourselves or your team members are selected for you, one of the most important aspects of building a group into a functional team is getting to know them as individuals. Many aspiring leaders are looking for a “one size fits all” formula for communicating and motivating, but although there are some common techniques that work across most groups, you’ll likely need to fine-tune them to fit the personalities involved and the structure inherent in your group.
And much as we might want to think it doesn’t matter, things like gender, age, and cultural differences do influence how people react to particular approaches, as do one’s past life experiences. Getting to know your team mates – their interests, likes, life situations – will help you to understand what motivates each of them, what their “hot button triggers” are that will make them dig in and resist your influence, and will give you a better appreciation of them as people and not just cogs in the company wheels. That, in turn, is likely to lead to a smoother working relationship.
Defining the components of a team effort
Before you can lead anyone else, you need to know where you’re going. A good leader knows the team’s mission and has clear cut goals and objectives that the team will work toward to accomplish it and the strategies that you’ll use to get there. First, you need to understand the difference between these, and define additional components that go into leading the team toward the optimum end result.
- Mission: Your team’s mission is the big-picture, long-term result that you hope you to achieve. Even if you don’t formalize it in a mission statement, you need to communicate to all involved what the mission encompasses.
- Goals: Goals address priorities and a set of accomplishments that, taken together, further your mission. Goals are generally strategic in nature.
- Objectives: Objectives are similar to goals, but are more operational. These are specific achievements that go together to form a goal. Operational objectives form the basis of your work plan.
- Strategy: Strategies describe the methods you will employ in working toward your objectives, goals and ultimately the accomplishment of your mission. Strategic thinking involves looking at the big picture, projecting into the future, and developing a specific roadmap for getting there. Chess is a game of strategy, where players must assess the current situation, think many moves ahead to envision the outcomes of different paths, and then execute the plan based on the totality of the circumstances.
- Tactics: Tactics refer to the flexible details of how you will execute your strategy based on the skillset required to do so. Your strategy remains the same, but a leader must be able to adapt his/her tactics to changing situations.
- Techniques: Techniques are the specific skills that each team member brings to the table and will use together to implement your tactical plan.
This might seem like a lot of work, but creating this clear vision of where your team is headed will keep everyone pointed in the right direction, even if sometimes they fall out of step with one another. This is the foundation-laying stage where the leader brings the team together and launches it on its journey toward the desired end result.
It’s certainly possible to come from behind to a winning position – as any horse racing fan well knows – but a stumble out of the gate makes it much more difficult to end up out in front. By getting the team off to a good start on common ground, a leader increases the likelihood of a big win for everyone.
In Part 3 of this series, we’ll look at specific leadership techniques that can be employed throughout the stages of a project.