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What am I going to do with you lot? or Nurturing your team

what am I going to do with you lot?

or…nurturing your team

“Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing”

Tom Peters.

Having selected the people you want around you, you’re now faced with the best bit… making them better, both as individuals and as a team.

So where to start? Or rather with whom do you start? For my money it will help no end if your own house is in order. This may take the form of professional development or external assistance with your role. It could simply be allowing yourself some time to reflect on what you want from your organisation and people prior to embarking on that journey. After all as Socrates put it:

“Let him who would move the world, first move himself”

Now, assuming your house is in order and you’ve got the right people in place, how do you get the best from them? It would be most beneficial to think of this from 2 perspectives. Your’s (the business’s) and that of your people. If you get this right, you and your team will become the embodiment of synergy; 2 + 2 really will = 5!

Before we get to the real meat of this I would like you consider something. You will be emulated by your people. You set the tone, create the culture and write the unwritten rules. Therefore all that you say and do should be how you want your people and organisation to function. Regardless of the size and nature of your team, you would be foolish to follow the maxim – ‘do as I say, not as I do’. In nurturing the team any leader should take much from the motto of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst:

‘Serve to Lead’

1. Connect (but not electronically) with your people. Leadership is a personal business. It is about engaging with people, seeing ‘the whites of theirs eyes’ and in turn your people seeing your’s. This is really straight forward, but so often overlooked. So many of us are in the habit of getting into the office, turning on the computer (and the kettle) and then, coffee in one hand and keyboard in the other, we bury ourselves in a virtual world until lunchtime.


You’re in charge, if anyone can step back and engage with the team it’s you. Of course the bigger the organisation the more difficult this becomes, but as most people work in small and medium sized organisations this is eminently achievable. So, take the time to greet people, engage with them, make them a coffee, stick in their hand and talk. As the name suggests, ‘ground truths’ come from the bottom up. Spend some time engaging with those people who are closer to the ground than you. If you happen to run a very large or disparate organisation you can, and should, still engage with your people. Daily engagement via company intranets is a start, but I would advise that you get on the train/plane etc and go and see your people. Engaging with people is the greatest pleasure of leadership. Those who nurture this talent in themselves will have a team that will, in turn, engage more readily with your customers and clients.

2. Roll up your sleeves. You must be prepared to get stuck in, particularly when the workload is high. Provided you have done 1 above, then you will know when an extra pair of hands is required. This boils down to offering to help. Before you throw your hands in the air and proclaim that your too busy to assist, consider this – by joining in and supporting your staff when they are most busy you will engage, get hold of the zeitgeist and appear human all at once. Even the most senior leaders realise the benefits of helping. You will recall the scene in the rose garden at Number 10 Downing Street, where the barbecue chefs were replaced by David Cameron and Barack Obama. Nothing happens by accident! You will also recall that they had actually rolled up their sleeves!!

3. Appreciation. Your team expect to work hard. They will also appreciate that you cannot always reward them financially for their extra work; you should however appreciate what they do. Saying thank you is phenomenally powerful and the last time I looked, zero cost. Gratitude is pointless if not sincere. So think about it, use it judiciously and, as my mother would say:

“praise where praise is due…but self praise is no praise”

Saying thank you also gives you yet another opportunity to engage…take it.

4. Knowledge is power – share it! This will be contrary to what many leaders do. Indeed for some this will be a bold move. The difficulty for many leaders is the vulnerability they think they will be subject to if they share what they know. It goes something like this:

“you want me to tell them what I know?

But if I do that, they will know what I know and I will on longer be the only one that knows that.

What does my future look like if they know what I know?”

Leaders presented with this conundrum, will often shrink into keeping their cards close to their chest, not allowing themselves to be exposed as they believed that their staff may do better things with their knowledge. For you to be able to share knowledge you need to accept that you do not have the monopoly on the company’s wisdom and yes, many of your team may well be better than you. Don’t worry. You will not be undermined by them, on the contrary you will be emboldened by sharing knowledge and you team will do better on your behalf…that’s leadership. Let’s take an analogy…you are the conductor of an orchestra. You cannot play any one instrument better than any of the musicians in front of you, yet you get them to work better together than even your finest cellist or violin player. The ingredients that bring the orchestra together are your leadership and the music (information) you want them to play. So share the music with your people, they’ll play much better with it.

People like to know what’s going on…tell them!

In all of the leadership roles I have filled, the one constant has been the desire of all the people within those organisations to know what’s happening. I made it my own personal mission to ensure that they knew what was happening…no mushrooms in my organisations..

5. Downtime. As sad as this seems, you may need to put downtime in the diary. Informal arrangements to stop work will normally be overcome by events:

“I cant make it for a beer tonight after all as an email has just come in from the Tokyo office”

A friend of mine works for an Australian business that goes further than just diarising downtime, they have enshrined it in their weekly practices and police it too! Every Friday at 4 pm all staff meet in the company bar and refresh themselves at the business’s expense. If you set a precedent (4 pm on Friday is when we have a beer) guess what, your clients don’t bother you, they know your busy!

Now, I have no doubt that some of you are struggling with this concept…

“encouraging mirth, at the company’s expense and during the working day; what kind of madness is this?!”

Let’s step back momentarily. If you’ve got the team together, in a relaxed atmosphere, you can engage freely, bounce new ideas of each other, put names to faces that you’ve seen but not spoken to since you interviewed them etc. Downtime will also allow you to demonstrate that you are a human being…people like people, let your staff know that you’re one of them.

Of course novel ideas have a credibility all of their own…I’m writing about someone else’s experience of a business I had not heard of before she told me what they did on a Friday afternoon…so downtime also delivers free marketing, who would have thought?!

6. Welcome (no, insist on) feedback. The bolder among you may encourage your staff to challenge. As the US General George Clarke put it during WW2, his role was to speak “truth to power”. In his role as Chairman of The Joint Chiefs of Staff, he had to tell the politicians the reality of their actions and the potential ramifications on the battlefield.

Uncomfortable? Absolutely.

Useful? Definitely.

So, ensure your door is (genuinely) open and that you welcome your team’s thoughts on the business, the direction of travel and, if needs be, you.

Whilst in the Army I worked for a man (we’ll call him Colonel P) who ran an organisation (a battalion) of 800 men. He valued everyone’s opinion and everyone knew that. Not because of what he said, but what he did:

The selection process for infantry officers is strenuous. Part of the process is effectively a job interview in front of a panel of senior officers. Colonel P realised that this was outdated and unfit for the what the Army was being asked to do. So he turned it on its head. Instead of the panel being full of senior officers (they were still represented), he added junior ranks, indeed the newest soldier (17 or 18 years old) in the organisation was always a permanent fixture. Their opinion mattered. The most junior man in the organisation was responsible for selecting its next batch of leaders. Not only was this a powerful gesture…it worked. The coal-face view, however junior, ensured that the officers being selected were the best for several generations…sadly I was selected in a previous generation!!

And finally…

7. Be flexible. Being willing to change, either personally or as an organisation is not in any way a weakness. Clearly thought and analysis must go into any change of direction, but if it is appropriate to change, then why not? Organisations that are inherently flexible don’t find themselves needing change programmes etc. They live in a fluid world where they are constantly adapting, so no need for change. Flexibility, coupled with detailed planning will allow you to be one step ahead. No longer reacting to the opposition, you will dictate events.

8. Put something back. Nurturing your people professionally will require some financial investment. Do not run away from the idea of developing your teams’ collective and individual expertise. There was a time in the past when someone invested in you…do likewise.

“nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think”

Benjamin Disraeli.

change, influencing, leadership, management

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