Leading from the front: Mark Topley shares his seven key strategies for becoming a leader with an outstanding team.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re grappling with the complexities of leadership in today’s ever-changing landscape.
The challenges are many: recruitment, retention, competitive remuneration, and the ever-looming threat of your talent being poached by competitors. Add to this the seismic shifts in employment dynamics that have been accelerated since the pandemic, and you might feel like you’re navigating a labyrinth without a map.
You’re not alone. Many leaders are struggling to understand why the old ways of doing things no longer work. But here’s the good news: there is hope. This article will provide you with seven keys to becoming not just a good boss, but a great one, leading a team that is nothing short of outstanding.
If you’ve found yourself in a leadership position without any training, then fear not! I’ve been in your shoes. Whether you bought a practice and expected the ‘people’ side of things to be straightforward, or you were promoted internally to practice manager and have struggled to redefine the relationships with your team – this is for you.
Like you, I rose through the ranks and became a CEO of an organisation with a team of 50 people. Through a lot of mistakes, some excellent coaches and mentors, and a great deal of reading and study, I learned to lead. Critically, I discovered that great bosses aren’t born – they’re made. And you can become a great boss too. Here are what I believe are the fundamental keys to building an outstanding team.
Start with you
Before you can effectively lead others, you must first lead yourself. As Plato said: ‘The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself.’ This means staying encouraged, growing your character and skills, and learning self-awareness.
Surround yourself with people who uplift you and challenge you to be better. You must look after yourself – your level of leadership depends on your ability to proactively manage your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. Remember, leadership is not just about strategy; it’s about character, resilience and emotional intelligence.
Define the narrative
A strong team is united by a shared narrative. Create a creed that encapsulates your team’s purpose, mission and key characteristics. This creed will serve as a guide for behaviour and decision-making, helping to align your team’s actions with its overarching goals. Make it inspiring but also actionable, so that it can be a daily reference point for your team.
Ensure you have a ‘story’ to invite people into. What does it mean to join your team? Where have you come from and where are you going? What’s expected of me as a team member and what do I need to do to succeed? If you can’t capture people’s attention with these things then you will struggle to recruit good people.
Craft the culture
Culture is the invisible glue that holds a team together. According to Daniel Coyle in his excellent book The Culture Code, the foundations of a strong culture are:
- Belonging and safety – can I trust these people? Will I be secure in the relationships here?
- Vulnerability – is it okay to ask for help, or am I expected to be perfect?
- Purpose – what do we stand for? What difference do we make? Am I reminded of it regularly?
Identify the ‘planks’ that will build upon these foundations. These could be calendar-triggered events, special initiatives or transitions like onboarding new team members. For each plank, clarify how your values apply. List them, schedule them, systemise them, manage them, reward them, and hold people to account for them.
Create and add to your team
The recruitment process is your first opportunity to set expectations. Make it clear what you’re looking for, allowing people to self-select into your team culture.
Once they’re in, induct them properly and demonstrate the value they bring to the team. This not only boosts morale, but also sets the tone for a productive working relationship.
Develop and deploy your team
What are your team members’ individual aims? Help them get on track to achieve these through development and partnership. If it’s money they want, help them achieve that through additional responsibility or productivity. If it’s development, help them grow their skills, knowledge and value through training. Or if it’s flexibility, then work with them to accommodate where you can.
Deploy and trust your team with responsibility and authority. Delegation isn’t just the sane thing to do for your own wellbeing, it also boosts engagement and productivity. Use established models like Michael Hyatt’s delegation model and Blanchard’s situational leadership model to guide you. These models provide frameworks for understanding when to delegate, how to provide feedback, and how to adapt your leadership style to different situations.
Team building isn’t just about meals out or extreme challenges. Use care and fun as strategies to build a strong, cohesive unit.
Embed connection and collaboration into your daily operations to create a culture of engagement and innovation. This will not only make your team members feel valued, but will also encourage them to contribute their best work.
Learn and lead people
Finally, leadership is about people. Learn the art of emotional intelligence: how to read people, how to inspire them, and how to handle difficult conversations. This is a skill that can be developed with time and practice, and it’s one that will set you apart as a truly great leader. Leadership is a journey, not a destination.
The challenges are many, but so are the rewards. By focusing on these seven key areas, you’ll be well on your way to becoming the kind of boss who not only excels in their role but also creates an outstanding team that people love to be a part of.
So take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves, and let’s get to work. Your outstanding team is waiting.