Most great leaders have a passion for building and leading an elite team. Who wants to lead a team based on mediocrity and moderation anyway? That would be a direct negative reflection on who? The leadership. But leading elite teams takes persistence and a consistent pursuit of personal and professional development. Constant personal reflection and taking action based on regular feedback.
I try to constantly study the art of leadership and have drawn many comparisons from my time in the Navy SEAL teams to my experiences as an entrepreneur leading a growing company. Here are five tips for leading an elite team.
Create an environment of leadership. At all levels. When you consider the caliber of team members you find in the military your first inclination might be to wonder how they recruit and develop such selflessness. Such an attitude of service and loyalty to the person to your right and left. But with further consideration, one will realize that it is more about the environment and culture that creates these feelings and makes them a reality.
Elite teams have leaders at all levels. There are many successful organizations out there where the most senior leaders are absolutely not leaders. They are authorities. And because they are authorities, people do what they say. But those people would never truly follow them. And then there are people at the very bottom of the totem pole that are true leaders. Emergent leaders that take charge in the absence of orders and inspire those around them.
Make the team feel safe. Management and leadership are different disciplines.You cannot manage a team into combat. They must be led. It is hard to think that anyone would feel safe in a combat situation. It is all about trust and loyalty. When you trust the leadership and the team members to your right, left and rear, you have an overwhelming sense of comfort. When bullets start flying, politics go out the window. You are fighting to protect your teammates and nothing more.
Imagine if everyone on your team embodied this kind of philosophy. What an unwavering sense of loyalty that would create. And therefore a distinct competitive advantage over your competition. This starts at the top. When the team feels safe and supported, they will do everything in their power to execute their responsibilities and go above and beyond to help achieve company goals.
Actively manage through adaptive change. This is critical in combat as in business. All businesses experience change, especially growing businesses in dynamic industries. Great leaders know when it's time for change, even if it means reinventing your business. This can be a scary thing for the team and often things get worse before they get better.
Change management requires a few key things from the leadership. First, you need to communicate what the change is and why it is necessary for the company to continue to be successful. Second, you need to ensure that each team member regardless of rank or position understands how this change impacts them and what is required of them for productive implementation. Third, you need to make the team aware of what the leadership is doing in order to provide support and resources during the transitional period of change. And fourth, over communicate consistently during this time and get feedback. In the SEAL teams we say "pass the word." Simply put, this means tell me what the hell is going on. Make sure to tell your team what the hell is going on.
Be a servant to your team. I am currently reading Steven Pressfield's book 'The Afghan Campaign' about Alexander the Great's invasion of the Afghan kingdoms in 330 B.C. And Alexander, in all his ambition and arrogance, was at heart, the epitome of a true servant leader. He led from the front affording himself no additional comforts that his men didn't have during their brutal trek through the Hindu Kush Mountains.
Great leaders embrace the concept of servant leadership asking nothing of their team they haven't already done or aren't willing to do themselves. And while you can't always be in the trenches side-by-side with your team members, making a conscious effort to do so periodically goes a long way. Then, when you're out there steering the ship they know you still care intimately about their specific roles in achieving the company's vision.
Always eat last. Traditionally, in the military the officers eat last at chow time. This is a simple but impactful gesture of leadership. When you sacrifice for your team, they will sacrifice for you. It is the team that must execute on a daily basis and therefore it is imperative they have the resources to do so, even before you do.
Earlier I referenced the book 'The Afghan Campaign." When Alexander was leading forced marches through treacherous and unforgiving mountain conditions, eventually the food ran out. He could have easily had a personal supply train providing him with food and all the comforts of home, but he didn't. When his men didn't eat, neither did he. Yet he still projected strength and positivity despite seemingly impossible odds.
These five elements of leadership are not easy to execute on a consistent basis. It requires a daily focus and attention. Asking yourself, with each move and decision you make, am I being the best possible leader I can right now? If not, adjust accordingly.