“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” may be a cliché, but like so many old sayings, there is truth behind it, something you have undoubtedly realized when you’ve tried to get your team pulling in the same direction.

Even the word “team” conjures up an image of horses harnessed together, all pulling in the same direction. But too often, you may feel like each “horse” is functioning independently—some going the way you want, others following a different path and a few just standing there, waiting.

Frustrating, yes, but you need to consider that the problem might not be with them, but with the person holding the rein, i.e., you—especially if you are using a “one size fits all” leadership style.

Not Horses, but Humans

While it’s true that members of equine family do have their own personalities, it’s a lot easier to direct them than people, since the latter require more than a trough of water, a bucket of oats and fresh straw to keep them happy. People function best when their operational style is understood, valued and accommodated. And when that occurs, they are more likely to meet your requirements, making it a win-win for everyone.

Here’s a hypothetical situation that demonstrates the importance of understanding what each person needs to function optimally.

You’ve been informed that the sales quota for your department has been increased by 25%. This represents a significant challenge, since you recently lost two long-time sales people and you’ve been too busy to build relationships with Bob, Ted and Alice—the three people who replaced them. At the Monday morning department meeting, you tell the three of them what the new quota is and that by the end of the week, you want a report on what they have done that moved the ball closer to the goal post.

Clear and concise—and in the past, it was all you needed to tell your former team members. Therefore, you have every expectation will be met.

Come Friday, however, that expectation is dashed. Bob has spent all week trying to figure out the best way to approach potential clients without coming up with a plan, while Ted, feeling the pressure, has managed to lose an existing customer by employing “hard sell” tactics. Only Alice has developed a strategy that has any potential for succeeding.

Tempting as it may be to put the blame on HR for hiring only one competent sales person, the reason for the disappointing outcome is that you haven’t taken the time to understand each person’s operational strengths and weaknesses. This has resulted in an environment that kept them from maximizing their effectiveness.

Communication vs. Commands

Effective leadership isn’t about issuing commands but about strengthening communication: from you to your team, from your team back to you and within the team itself. You may be the smartest leader, but if you can’t get people to collaborate, connect and communicate with you, you may not be the most effective leader. And communication starts with building relationships based on authenticity, mutual respect and trust. The connections you can establish and maintain have a great deal to do with how effective you will be.

So how can the above scenario be revised to achieve a successful outcome? Start by giving clear directions, then asking questions to ensure that your objective is understood. Then identify what each person needs to achieve that objective. One person may benefit from a collaborative approach to formulate a strategy, while another may simply prefer clear-cut expectations and deadlines. Some team members may just need an occasional check-in, while others require more of your time and involvement. And all team members should feel comfortable coming to you to ask questions or offer suggestions at any stage of the project. Just as critically, make sure you have evaluated your process and expectations to make sure that the first is workable and the second reasonable.

Post-Project Review

Whether objectives were met or results fell short of the goal, a post-project review can be beneficial. However, this is not a finger-pointing blame-game session. The purpose is to ask each participant what worked, what didn’t and what can be changed or implemented on the next go-round. But for this to work, each team member has to feel comfortable sharing opinions and proposing solutions. Your role is to listen more than you speak.

To be a truly effective leader, you have to make it clear that you value constructive feedback and are willing to make adjustments when needed, even if that means changing a plan that you yourself formulated. Leadership starts with recognizing that there is a need for improvement, soliciting input from all involved, and then applying those adjustments to the revised plan. As former senator and author of We Can All Do Better Bill Bradley said, “Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better.”

Discover what Transformation Point can do for you and your company. Take advantage of a unique opportunity to have a one-hour telephone consultation with Transformation Point founder and CEO Kevin L. King, when he’ll help you better define your challenges and provide ideas on how to address them. Call 888-202-3411 today or schedule a consultation today!

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