Toolbox! Get your toolbox! Popcorn, peanuts, Leadership Toolbox! Welcome, everyone. We’ve got blue skies, warm weather and a great day for another edition of the Leadership Toolbox (with a side of baseball chatter!). I am Capt. Fletch, your commentator, as we settle in for a leadership lesson in real time. Last month, we looked at the value of a strong mentorship culture in your organization and the dividends it can pay for years beyond what we see or imagine. This month, I pick up with the team I wrote about last month, as there are new developments.
As I reflect on teams I served on over the years, both professionally and athletically, I noticed a common trend. I always seem to find my way to teams dealing with chaos or that have lost their way somehow. As an officer in the military, I developed a reputation for taking a faltering team or a project, and turning it around to at least get it heading in the right direction. Often, but not always, these teams or projects suffered from leadership failure — abandoned with no sense of identity, purpose or motivation. When I showed up to RED HORSE and took over the well drilling team, this is exactly where the team was. They had lost their identity and the value of their purpose, and there was really no motivation to train or execute drilling concepts and projects. So goes the case now. A month ago, I served as assistant head coach. Today, I can call myself head coach, but the team really only has me. No need to discuss the how or why, but I took over amid chaos.
I have discussed physical steps you can take in this situation, such as cleaning up the facility, developing a basic framework for organized operations and training, etc. But how do you approach a team battered by poor leadership? You must gain the trust of the team and you only have a short window to do it. Have a plan when you step into this situation.
First, I find the people who can give me the most honest and unbiased background of the organization leading up to the current situation. This does not necessarily mean the people with the most seniority. Look for quality information, not quantity. Take senior folks seriously, of course, but we really want to understand the ground truth beyond the generalized backstory we get when we take command. When you speak with people, listen! Ask for their ideas and suggested improvements and for specifics about what did not work under the previous leadership. As Mark Twain once said, “If we were meant to talk more than we listen we would have two tongues and one ear.”
Once you have quietly gathered intelligence from this smaller group, you can open yourself up to input from the full team. By this time, you should have a basic framework of operations that you can build on while gaining buy-in from the team. The people you initially spoke to have likely spoken to each other, and possibly others on the team. By using a listening-first approach, you have hopefully signaled a different direction than previous leadership and a genuine interest in helping the organization. With any luck, the lines of communication buzz with positivity. Listen closely, particularly to team members that may not have had a problem with the previous leadership. Show these team members you value input. However, when you open yourself to the full team, carefully communicate that, while all ideas have value, you cannot implement all of them. I find that honesty about this, in particular, makes buy-in more likely — at least their ideas are heard.
Finally, I think of a team in this position like a train taking off from a full stop. The wheels spin a bit and it may take time to get going, but the important thing is the train moves again.
Finally, I think of a team in this position like a train taking off from a full stop. The wheels spin a bit and it may take time to get going, but the important thing is the train moves again. Be realistic about expectations. Do not over promise because under-performing can be a major setback to a team in recovery. Do not give the impression they will hit a home run on their first at bat. The truth is this process is more secret family recipe than by the book. Feel the pulse of the team. Make adjustments based on your understanding of where they are and evaluation of where they could be. Tweak training approaches, add new challenges when the team shows great strides, and sprinkle in fun off-site events when things are not going great. This makes the leader: Your ability to read the team and make changes — or add ingredients to the recipe.
I stepped into this role a little over a month ago and applied these basic steps. I found people I could talk to that would give me unbiased and truthful information. I opened myself up to the larger organization once I had put my basic framework in place. I set realistic expectations. I told everyone not to expect miracles on the field. I simply promised that the program would improve and the team would enjoy the game again. With the train wheels moving again, I make minor adjustments here and there to adjust the performance. Much like a rig, I apply my academic knowledge about leadership, but I also listen to the machine, the rotations and the feedback it gives, and I apply my experience to fine tune the operation.
I hope to keep this role — not only for great leadership lessons, but for the simple fact that this represents the first time I feel I have a chance to really open my Leadership Toolbox and see what I can do with full control of a team. As young officers, we always talked about this pinnacle moment of, “When I’m in charge, I will do it this way.” I now find myself in charge and doing the job my way. I am not sure what the future holds in terms of success or failure, but as we chalk the lines and gear up for another day on the field, I look forward to sharing more.
Until next time, Coach (Capt.) Fletch over and out.