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Leadership Mistake One: Lack of Team Purpose

This lesson is a part of an audio course Leadership Lessons from Your Followers by Andy Edwards

In this lesson, we take a look at the first of the big seven failures of leadership

What I have found, is that followers' complaints tend to focus on the SYMPTOMS of bad leadership – symptoms of what I call the seven failures of leadership. Address these seven failures at their root, and most, if not all, of the symptoms will simply disappear.

And just remember that none of the failures work (or fail) in isolation. There are crossover effects and issues that build between two, three, or more of them.

What I am saying here is that ALL SEVEN solutions must be in place for all seven to work well. Ignore any one of them at your peril. Because, if you fail in two or three of them, then the other ones, even if addressed, will probably be useless.

Ready to hear the first one?

This failure exists in leaders of new teams or a leader having recently taken over a new team. That said, even if you have been leading a team for many years you could still easily forget the importance of this one, which leads to problems.

Failing to set out a clear aim, raison d'être, or mission for the team. A failure to identify and articulate the team's purpose!

The definition of a team as defined by Professor Leigh Thompson of the Kellogg School of Management, "A team is a group of people who are interdependent with respect to information, resources, knowledge, and skills and who seek to combine their efforts to achieve a common goal."

Other definitions are available, but I have yet to see any definition of a team that doesn't refer to the common goal element.

So, here's an acid test: define what YOU believe to be the goal of your team of followers. Go to them and ask them to identify the goals of the team. Get them to write down their respective answers. The task I give you later in this lesson will give you a clear way of doing this so get ready for that.

Now, I don't care whether you call it a mission, objective, aim, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal! What matters is the degree to which each follower can provide you with an eloquent and worthy team goal; how well it matches with YOUR understanding of the team goal; and whether it differs from follower to follower.

Why is this so important?

Well, if there is no clarity in terms of what they are there to do, how on earth can it be achieved?

Without a clear purpose, team members (your followers) have no direction and potentially embark down different paths, squabbling over priorities. More work is spent putting things right than getting things right and that can take up to between 25% and 75% of your time and theirs!

As a directionless follower, I am reactive and wait to be told what to do. I have no real commitment because I don't know what I am committing to. I don't really get my part in the process and certainly don't understand anyone else's. Resulting in a lack of team spirit and a dulling of enthusiasm, focus, or loyalty.

I might even start making things up as I go along and inform you, when you ask me to do something, that it's not MY job!

So what followers want?

Write down your team's goal, purpose, or mission. It can seem so obvious that it is easily overlooked or even forgotten. However, unless we followers understand the raison d'etre of the team, department, or organization, then how will we know what "great" (or even "acceptable") looks like?

So, as the leader, write what YOU consider the purpose of the team to be. You may want to start it with "We are here to…"

Once you have defined the purpose, you can add a little method or substance to your overriding purpose or mission statement. This can be a narrative form or a few concise bullet points. You may want to write this part starting with the words: "We will do this by…" not a timescale… we will do this by a certain date; it's asking how your team goal will be achieved.

Once you have your definitive answers, give the same questions to your followers. Ideally, get them to complete their answers with no discussion between them. Remember, let them know that this is not to catch anyone out.

Once you have your results, call a team meeting. Apologize for letting them down and not being as clear as you should have been about the purpose of the team.

Give them the results of the exercise without blame or ridicule even when someone said something ridiculous or perhaps simply didn't give a comprehensible answer. Remember, it's not their fault!

Then talk about YOUR definition of the team goal. Ask for contributions… work it up into a mantra or mission statement. Where appropriate, add targets and measurements.

Team players play for the team.

Like a football team with players' respective positions, develop a team sheet. You could use psychometrics or similar team role instruments, or simply talk to your followers. Invite individual followers to commit (or re-commit) to their own part in the process of attaining the goal. "I'm the one who does the research to make sure Peter and Jo have the information they need." "I'm the one who can design the spreadsheets for making sense of our data." "I'm the one who acts as the liaison between us and the other departments."

Remind them that whilst they might be comfortable in a given role, that doesn't give them the right to ignore or not get involved in other areas. A team, remember, takes joint responsibility. Many football center-forwards have kicked a ball off their own goal line… Was it the job they trained for? Not really. But at that time it was the right thing to do! You get the picture, and so will they.

Your task for this lesson is to at least start the exercise I have suggested in this lesson. Write down your team goal; what is it that the team is here to DO?

At least have a think about the following statement of how you might achieve this goal.

When you're ready, move on to our next lesson which will look into another major failure of leadership – the failure to meet regularly with followers.

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Written by

Andy Edwards