Inspiring Leadership for an Established Team

4 building blocks that can help drive a potentially successful team partnership by a new leader.

Joining an existing team as the new leader requires a clear approach and process specific to building a dynamic and effective partnership. The leader needs to communicate and connect with the group from the heart and with total authentic openness. All activities must focus on interactions that enhance presence and establish trust. There is a need to align the team goals and actions with the long-term organizational strategies, as well as vision. Team members need to be made to feel valued for their past contributions and empowered to make key impactful inputs for future business results. The new leader of this existing team must have personal self-awareness of his or her own competencies and the ability to drive group performance.

Here are four building blocks that can help drive a potentially successful team partnership by a new leader:

Phase 1: Listen & Learn

Understanding the team roles, responsibilities, strengths, and challenges.

The team leader needs to actively listen to all team members. By not making any initial changes or creating a preconceived plan, the leader can build confidence and reassurance with the group and demonstrate a commitment to their participation. A great learning environment is encouraged with the leader, getting to understand team strengths and talent, specific challenges, and their needs and desires, especially with an ability to enhance personal growth. The leader needs to gain a full understanding of the roles, responsibilities, goals, and group approaches of the team members. This is accomplished through active listening.

The new leader becomes, as per the Wilson Learning Social Styles Model, more analytical and amiable in his or her communication approach. An amiable leader functions and connects with the group individuals by being more assertive and more people-directed responsive. Being a more analytical leader, he or she gains insights by being more task oriented, building on the facts, data, and the numbers. Care must be taken that the leader is not perceived as cold and overly structured based on the use of logic in the gathering of information. The new leader needs to be flexible and versatile in his or her approaches to connecting and engaging with the team. It takes energy, commitment, and enthusiasm to be effective and value oriented. Spoken words and nonverbal messages need to be focused and clear. The communication can contain aspects of attitude, personal values, and moods. And the leader needs to build his or her presence by virtually sharing values, priorities, and methodologies that have impacted past business outcomes.


Phase 2: Plan & Strategize

Building on current team goals, purpose, processes, and approaches.

The team leader helps the group move to a planning stage and to reinforce a positive approach to driving team tasks and objectives. These connections and communications are built on the empowerment to make decisions based on established processes of problem solving. Together, the leader and the team members analyze, conduct modeling and root cause evaluations, and address strategies for potential solutions or changes. Together, they enhance the way logic is applied, along with personal thoughts and information reasoning. The new leader respects existing team approaches to challenges, and the leader and team members actually can grow together.

The leader must take time to understand the various barriers facing the team and tackle roadblocks together that will be found on the path to the best solutions. Using past or conventional techniques may not be adequate or optimal, and new approaches may have to be applied. Imposing too many limitations can cause a narrow focus, just as over-using aspects of common sense can result in under-thinking a possible solution. The leader and the team members must balance their intellectual reasoning from their “head” with their passion, feelings, and emotions from their “heart.” The group and the leader turn decisions and solutions into well-designed and clear actions. Just as with problem solving, the decision process follows specific steps: –define/diagnose/analyze/act/test. The strategic approaches and plans are a result of balancing several components: fast versus slow; risk versus reward; advantages versus disadvantages; complexity versus simplification; instinct versus logic; thoughts versus emotions. Together, with collective intelligence of the group members and the leader, they can demonstrate confidence and good judgment with solid decisions and plans.

Phase 3: Act & Implement

Driving team creativity, risk taking, and group thinking.

The team partnership is well on its way. Roles and responsibilities are clear, and team members are growing in their relationships with each other. There is a strong focus on long-term organizational strategies. Challenges are being addressed, and hurdles are being jumped together. Implementing decisions and taking actions are done with high levels of creativity and engagement. The leader is moving out of his or her comfort zone and taking risks with the support of the team. He or she has the courage to take actions without the fear of failing. The team, as well as the leader, can grow successfully in their evolving roles.

The greatest challenge in the implementation of actions by both the new leader and the team is to have courage in making bold decisions and being innovative with nontraditional ideas. Risk taking requires skills of utilizing past experiences, details, and in-depth knowledge of team situations. All risks differ in size and requirements, with all actions impacting financial investments and business outcomes. The group as a team rises above fear and human emotions to gain the competitive advantage.

Phase 4: Review & Evaluate

Assessing team decisions, successes, and growing relationships.

The leader needs to continuously evaluate team performance and also accept feedback from the group members. The team makes changes and upgrades objectives based on the evolving business needs. The leader has built trust and gained the confidence of the team. The new leader is no longer new, and he or she has been able to foster engagement, collaboration, and job satisfaction. True partnerships have been formed, and the leader and the team individuals are able to make more risky decisions successfully with courage. Everyone continues to grow with energy and build new strengths, competencies, and skills.

This fourth phase is built on team relationships. The existing team connections throughout the four phases are based on the right chemistry and finding ways to remove silos from all business activities. Common ground, similarities, and comfort with a new leader will help serve as a way to enhance strategies for the future, and as a way of connecting the team members with each other based on consistent values. Going forward under the new leader, the team’s effectiveness needs to become a sustainable competitive advantage. As per Patrick Lencione, author of several team-related books, teams need to focus on five areas:

  1. Trust: The willingness to be vulnerable and open, and to build on strengths.
  2. Engaging: The ability to disagree and challenge to find the best solutions.
  3. Commitment: Putting new ideas on the table and buy into genuine decision-making.
  4. Accountability: Adhering to decisions.
  5. Results: Having clear focus.

Under the direction and support of the new leader, existing team can grow together, jump challenging hurdles, and impact long-term organizational goals. Utilizing the four building blocks can take weeks and months, but can enhance team member engagement for years. As the new leader has evolved with the existing team, the individuals making up the team have always been the critical focus for the leader. Basically, the key has been to know the people and fully understand their personal needs and drivers. Collaborating, noticing contributions with real passion, and taking time to celebrate successes together have been the extended drivers.

  • The leader needs to inspire the team, unlock their minds, motivate creativity and curiosity, and grow innovative behaviors.
  • The leader needs to drive to uncover the strengths of the team, build engagement and relationships, and energize the desire to address challenges.
  • The leader needs to help deliver the strategic power to the team, develop a learning culture, and build business results.

A Personal Story: The Value and Success of Active Listening

During the 1990s, I worked for Ohaus Corporation, a manufacturer of weighing equipment for many industries. Eventually, Ohaus was acquired by Mettler-Toledo, headquartered in Switzerland, one of the largest weight-measuring manufacturers in the world. Following the merger of Ohaus with Mettler-Toledo, the Ohaus dealer distribution network became concerned that it may not have access to the product lines it was selling during the past years. Active listening and many face-to-face connections and collaborative discussions occurred between me, the product marketing leader, and the existing team members. All of these contacts were further combined with extensive advertising, new product promotions, and tradeshow customer connections. This impacted the comfort and confidence with the Ohaus-distribution relationships.

Things continued to evolve during the coming months, and years. There were many trips and connections with the distributors throughout the U.S. The existing distributor teams feared the potential of losing a product line that had been very successful. The key was the communication and explanation of the new marketing approach based on a dual-brand strategy—the ability to provide both Ohaus balances, as well as select Mettler-Toledo products. These personal connections, engagements, active listening to needs, and the learning about distributor desires drove energy and enthusiasm back into the distribution and selling activities.

Paul Fein is the managing leader and director of the IDD Leadership Group LLC – New York. He creates and facilitates custom-crafted leadership development workshops, as well as provides executive coaching as a certified career-life coach. The key is to INSPIRE innovative imagination, DRIVE ideas into actions, and DELIVER strategic growth.