Building High Performance Teams Requires Competence and Courage

Remember_the_Titans_r620x349I have always been inspired by movies such as MiracleRemember the Titans, and We are Marshall, which depict leaders turning rag-tag groups of players into winning teams.  I am sure you can recall dozens of similar stories that haven’t been made into movies, e.g., the 1990’s Chicago Bulls NBA Championship teams, the Atlanta Braves World Series teams of the late 90’s, or the SEC’s powerhouse football team the Alabama Crimson Tide.

You may also dream about being the leader of such a team.  I am here to tell you that this is not an impossible dream.  It requires two things:  Courage and Competency.

I recently surveyed 200 senior business executives (CEOs, COOs & CFOs), asking them about the competencies required of their supervisory leaders.   The overwhelming majority of these executives said Building Effective Teams was what they needed most from their supervisors.  When these leaders were asked to rank their supervisors’ proficiencies in this skill, 82.9% of them were ranked average or below!

Go back and watch the movies, or read the stories of these miracle teams. Pay attention to the coaches.  You will see that they exhibit the following six Competencies, and they do so with exceptional Courage.

The same executives again ranked their supervisors as average or below average in proficiency for these Competencies:

  • Talent selection, hiring and onboarding – 74.2% average or below
  • Setting goals, holding others accountable, and engaging in courageous conversations – 88.8% average or below
  • Talent development and delegation – 89.8% average or below
  • Conflict management – ensuring conflict is healthy enough to work for us rather than against us – 88.7% average or below
  • Leading and managing change – 84.1% average or below
  • Inspiring with vision and purpose – (This competency was not surveyed, but is required for the kind of teams we are discussing.)

Very few of these executives said they had engaged in what I call “Courageous Conversations” with their supervisors, where they communicated their definitions of, and expectations around, these competencies.  It’s no wonder there was a disconnect between the supervisors’ performances and their executives’ rankings.  The primary reasons given for failing to engage in these conversations were: assuming the executives “should already know these things;” not having clear behavioral definitions of these competencies that would allow constructive conversations; and confessing they didn’t know how to have these courageous conversations.

The executives also admitted that they had not provided training and development to support the specific behaviors they believed were critical to building the teams they were looking for.

When you watch those movies or review the behaviors of the aforementioned coaches, it is readily apparent that they were clear about what they expected of staff and players, and then they trained and coached them to perform to meet those expectations.

Before leaving this topic of Courage, let me just say that it is just one of many character traits required of great leaders.  Courage implies risk.  So be careful not to run off too quickly in a show of “courage” and destroy everyone and everything you are trying to build.  Take it one step at a time.

The first step is to take a good look at yourself, and ask the following questions:

  • Do I believe these are the competencies required to build a high performing team?  If not, get clear about which competencies you believe to be essential.
  • Then, have I clearly defined these competencies in behavioral terms such that they can be easily understood, followed and evaluated against?
  • Next, am I stepping into courageous, respectful conversations with my supervisors to help them know how I see their performance in these areas, and to help them improve, or determine whether they really want to lead on my team?
  • What am I doing to provide my team training that will ensure that these competencies are understood and consistently applied?
  • Do I have the courage and other character traits necessary to be the leader I dream about becoming?

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