Making myself redundant - how I approach leadership

I always liked - and still like - to built. Concepts, things, teams. Especially teams. 

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Growing a team out of a group of individuals is the baseline to make concepts come true and build things beyond my own skills.


When I started leading teams, I was young, with no leadership experience and without any  leadership training. I asked myself - how would I like my manager to be from a behavioral context? What would I find supportive? 
And then implemented this concept step by step. Just to figure out - wait, this is not suiting everyone - I was overly demanding to some and overly managing to others. It was all just based upon my very own demands. So step by step, discussion after discussion, feedback after feedback I developed my style (and over the years found parts of it in leadership theories which are linked below). 

I am still grateful for my very first team of highly-skilled senior engineers, some double my age and all way beyond my own technical skills, for their feedback, patience and education to their misson of safe aviation. 

So for all, who were asking me lately about my way of leading, my always answer is - I lead to make myself redundant. I wanna build a team, who does not require "a manager" but who grows into a well-trusted, educated and self-responsible group of people assisting each other to achieve the teams (and companies) goals - still having fun working together.

Over time, the main instruments I use - not by playbook - are various and for some inspiration summarized below.

Photo by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash
Self-Reflection

Nothing in leadership is one-sided. Nothing. To self-reflect own behavior, words, reactions gives way more insights on how a situation developed than just thinking about everyone else. This counts for positive as well as negative experiences.  (And just here, Kudos to my current team going down this road....which is not always the most comfortable one...) 


Positive Intent & Open Mind

I am leading teams for more than 20 years. It has been very very rare, that I have seen actions were taken with a purpose to hurt people or business. 


Assuming positive intent first leads to an open-mind to listen and understand - and figuring out why things went as they did. There is no learning without an open mind.

Talk & Listen - Agree to disagree

Again, nothing in leadership is one-sided. We need to understand the different positions, experiences and motivations to find an accepted way forward to achieve our goals as a team. This requires steady  communication and feedback. Accept situations, where there is no agreement on "the best way forward" - it is fine to agree to disagree. But agree! Leadership is not about pleasing everyone. What we need to achieve as a team is an accepted way forward with fair consideration of different views. Swarm intelligence, acceptance and frequent exchange.


Trust - Authenticity

There is no listen without someone else talking. And there is no talking without a safe space and trust between the parties. With open communication of own experiences, admitting own  vulnerability (self-reflection!) a trustful environment is set. Leading a team is a multiple-way street, a give-and-take. Authentic behavior is key to gain trust - on both sides of the table.

Context - Do not judge in a split-second

All the above takes time to build and on top an awareness of context in a leadership situation. Do I really have all the context before I jugde, advice, critizise, praise? It may only take this one thoughtful loop, this one deep breath, to ask a few more questions to get a better picture of a situation. Take that breath. It is time-saving not time-wasting.

Context - let the people do their job

No matter how senior or junior, if an engineer or accountant, a project manager or quality inspector - assume the single person just wants to do a great job. Positive intent. And the one major thing required by each and everyone is context. It is great to have an achievable goal set. But how does this pay into the companies vision? How does this affect my team-mates, the neighbor teams, the customer, the supplier? How develops the big picture of the company and how do my own and my team goals influence it? If the context is clear, the team and the individual is able to perform and take responsibility. Let them have freedom in their decisions. Give boundaries by context, trust into the skills of your team and feedback constantly. 


Situative Adjustment 

Yes, but.... how will this work in case of urgency? With new team members? Actually situative adjustment is required and accepted as long as it is openly communicated and agreed  upon between leader and individual / team. Talk and listen. Context. There is constant change on every level - individual / team / company - and there is no such thing as a blueprint for everyone, everything and always. And it may require a decision made by the leader for simple reasons - just explain the context - and openly clean up the mess afterwards (if any).


So where is the team aspect now?


Coming from those key attributes - I figured I have great performing, loyal and (almost) happy individuals - but I still had no perfect  team. It wasn't natural my colleagues combine their personalities in the best way possible. And looking deeper, the team required way more context on themselves and the surrounding world influencing our team work.

Diversity

When building a team from scratch or onboarding new members, be aware of what skill set and personality will be most beneficial. We may tend to take a look into the hard skills but as important is the personality / soft skills. When it comes down to personality, a key to select the right new team member is again: self-reflection. Ask yourself WHY you assume the candidate being the right one. We tend to surround us with people who are like us. Who are emphazising our own beliefs - thats great for making us individually feel comfortable. But its not best for the team. What I learnt out of my first team - Friction creates warmth. I will always remember that post-it on the wall. In combination with all the above, diversity in thinking and acting is a ground baseline for a successful and innovative team. As a leader - foster it and help your people embrace it. 


Servant of strengths and personalities

Different people different needs. Accept your team is built of individuals and foster those individual hard and soft skills are known to each other. Creating a sense of self-reflection for the individuals, trust into the team and then serve with time to share this information frequently. Encourage and foster to peer individuals. Connect dots, guide within the team to find support - it is the team having the answers, not the leader. And the one thing I embrace for myself - speak openly about what you may be good in but really do not like to do. This may not at all prevent from doing it - but that context is so valuable - maybe your team sees someone who would love that part but would need some training. See the dots?


And what if it does not work?

All of the above is certainly not the answer to make everyone work perfectly in every team. The role may not fit, the comfort zone may not be challenged enough - or too much, circumstances & life situations may change.

The best way is to feedback this. Get insights of the why and develop a joint approach of either learn and grow, adapt the team role if in best interest of the team and the individual - or find a better spot outside the team for the individual. To support and foster a joint approach with clear expectations and open exchange will strengthen the team and assist the individual to find a healthier an happier spot to work in. Serve. Not dictate.


Where is the own redundancy then?

In best case, I develop a team, who does not require any hierarchical leader anymore. That is the point in time, where I make myself redundant as a leader. But still, the team servant role, the fostering person, will be there. Inside the team. Not on top of it.


Additional sources:

Over time I found some theories and best practices which I personally revisit once a while.

Center for Leadership Studies (CLS) - Situative Leadership Study

Belbin - The Nine Belbin Team Roles

Self-Reflection - The Big Five - Personality Test

Agile Alliance - Scrum Master

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