Being #1

Comes with enormous responsibility. The failure, the success, or a somewhat tacky mix of both- whatever result that your team achieves, they say, is a direct result of your leadership.

At one time I really hated to think that having a successful team was all up to me- after all people came around with their own differences by default. How am I supposed to know that George and Rita would have a serious personality clash, let alone how I was supposed to solve their disputes? It could not all be said to be the leader’s fault; my fault, could it?

From a very curious angle, it is.

Team management and sustainability is just about the second most important tool you would need to harness as an entrepreneur. To work and achieve results, you are going to need a team of people to work for and with you. Every action any team member makes is then attributed to the work you have assigned. Well, whether they work for or with you, they are part of a team that YOU assembled, and that makes you responsible for them.

The greatest tags of leadership should not be one new to you. Every entrepreneur is expected to have done some basic reading to cover this field. If you have not, it’s not too late to do so. Many authors, top of my list being Sam Adeyemi and John C. Maxwell, have written extensively and summarily on the character, nature and features of a good and effective leader, as well as that of good and effective leadership. I employ you to go through the literature before you focus on the crunch advice I’m punching in today.

I have a habit of itemizing my list of do’s and do not’s, so, here is my list of things you should be conscious of when being an entrepreneur-leader especially in a team of people from different cultures, nations or creed.

Be culturally sensitive

I write about Nigeria a lot so I like to draw my examples from there. Nigeria is the perfect place to look for multi-ethnic teams. The country is an amalgamation of over 400 nations (ethnic groups) and people take their identity personally. Working in a team as the team leader you should be conscious of that. Everybody is his own man so do not be quick to judge a person based on his race, but rather do it based on the person’s PERSONAL disposition. If for example (and I am picking random ethnic groups for the example, it does not apply in theory) you work with someone who has a habit of being rather dodgy and not so straight forward with answers concerning a given task, do not conclude and say ‘Oh, he is a Yoruba guy so what do you expect’ – by doing that, you have limited your mind to see that person only in the light of the negative. So when he or she is actually being straight forward with you, you are very unlikely to pick up on it. Also, if the member of your team feels labeled, one, it gives him or her, a license to continue in this manner and two, nobody likes to be judged- you would be getting less from him or her in terms of output because they don’t feel properly motivated any longer.

Another point that flows from the above is the need for you to also spot the cultural bias in your team. You are from a particular place and your team members from another. You should however never give them the opportunity to think that their place on your team has been as a result of where they are from or what ethnic group they belong to. If someone does something right and they are rewarded let it be on merit. If someone does something wrong and they are reprimanded, let it also be on merit. If a person somehow escapes punishment for a task poorly done, it is very important that that too, is on merit.

The same principles apply to the interactions of your team members amongst themselves.

Be ‘the boss’, but not ‘a boss’

People relate better with people they feel they can connect with. People work better in an environment where the air around them is not tense because of the over brooding of their superiors. If you are the head of an organization, be the boss, but not a boss.

What I mean here is simple. Being ‘the boss’ means you supervise everyone else and make double sure that the work get done according to a standard you are trying to maintain. Being ‘a boss’ means you take on the shoe of being the business overlord supreme who rains down instructions and failure to carry out those instructions will be met by harsh sanctions. Your team would definitely fear you, but they would not respect you. For more lasting long term results, you should target building a team that respects you- that kind of team would always go the extra mile for you. It’s guaranteed. If your team only fears you, then, chances are when they conquer their fears, you become useless. How do you get them to work then?

Build an atmosphere

I remember talking to a friend who was at the time looking for an internship. I asked him what firms he was interested in joining and what kind of pay they were offering. I liked his response. He replied by saying that he was keener of finding a firm with the right kind of atmosphere- free, jovial warm but focused. The pay was immaterial to him. I couldn’t agree more with him when later that year I was in a place where the tension was so dense; you had to walk slowly not to bump into it.

Having a team of my own, I wasted no time in setting the right atmosphere. The people I worked with then were in my age-grade, so it was easy to relate with them. None the less, it was still very important that I strived to get to know them better out of the work place, and had an idea of the kind of people they were. Not only does it help build healthy relationships, as a leader, you get a better understanding of what the person is made of, which in turn would help you decide what kind of task you would assign and what kind of tasks you don’t. In your mind, draw up a mental image of what cog you can fit your team members in, so you get more out of your business system. That of course would mean that you should give room for a little re-shuffling from time to time.

Be a reflection of the values you want your team to stand for

In the past I’ve made the point that your firm is a direct reflection of the kind of person you are. Well, the same applies to your team. It is easier for them to pick up on what you want from them when you actually reflect those core values yourself. If you want a task done on time, be punctual. If you want them to burn the midnight oil, you should be seen doing some late nights in the office too. If you want them to quicken the pace, then, don’t slack behind either. You should always be aware that the image you reflect to your team would more often than not, be a rough sketch of what you would get back from your teammates.

Be a purpose driven leader

Just like the values you want your firm to reflect, you have to wear your vision like it was a personality. Things would be easier, better structured and planned if you could take the time out to formulate what you want from your business, and, by extension, what you want from your team. If there is a break in this anywhere, then, chances are your team would render a flotsam performance for just about everything you ask them to do. After all, why have a team if you do not even know what the team is supposed to do?

Be ready to learn

You already should know that no man knows it all, which puts you in a very precarious position. If you hold out yourself to be the knower of it all, then you and your firm would be limited to your vision. From time to time, try and get a feeler of what your team feels should be done differently or, in addition to what is already being done. After all, they wouldn’t be on your team if you felt that they were not competent people. Why not let some of the competencies they have reflect on the quality of information received and adopted? You would be happy with the results.

Be ready to teach

This is why you are ‘the boss’- you know something basic and elementary (to you) which is just simply genius to everyone else. Try not to forget that. When letting everyone in on your little secret, remember they do not see it the way you do, so teach with patience. This should also reflect in your instructions and the feedbacks you give on the manner and style those instructions were carried out.

Then, last but not least, Be Polite

Good luck in building the perfect team.

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