Three Leadership Hacks to Accelerate Success in an Era of Change

Skydivers assembling in a team formation in the sky
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The phrase, “speed kills,” was coined in an era where by comparison to today, time seemingly advanced at the pace of my five-mile run—very, very slowly. Gone are the days of long-term strategic plans or slow development of big new projects and products. While long-term visions are always in style, the road map to reaching those lofty destinations unfolds in a series of often disconnected and discontinuous endeavors.

It is a world of epic quests and continuous leveling up! 

Today’s fabulously fast moving, ever-changing and volatile business environment has changed the context but not the intent of leading and managing. As a result, anyone involved in guiding, directing and otherwise responsible for supporting the work, the results and development of others needs to learn to shrink the time-to-performance. 

Here are three hacks to apply in your work leading and managing. They reflect slightly or radically different ways of thinking about and acting on key attributes of your role. Use these time-saving shortcuts in pursuit of great performance and success with your team. 

Three Leadership Hacks to Jumpstart Your Team’s Performance:

1. Change your approach to cultivating trust on your team. Promote swift trust! There’s nothing more powerful in overcoming adversity and seizing new opportunities than the trust between the individuals working together.

From the research into teams leading in dangerous situations, trust is the foundational component for creating a high-performance team. While the absence of trust is the basis for breakdown and failure, the faster trust develops in you as the leader and between team members, the faster the group learns to perform.

 It’s too bad our approach to establishing trust with our team members is often anything but swift. 

For most of us in group settings, the process of developing trust plays out over a long period of time, with the senior person or leader bestowing trust only as it is earned. The leader assumes a posture that says, “I will trust you when you have proven to me that you have earned it.” The follower is aware of this trial by fire and the resultant dynamics slow the emergence of high-performance work behaviors.

Trust Hack: Instead of requiring your team members to walk the hot coals of earning your trust, change the equation and offer your trust first. Cultivate an “innocent unless proven guilty” approach and reinforce this philosophy with your actions. Delegate and don’t micromanage. Allow your team members (with your input) to define their own priorities and to manage and execute on their own initiatives.

By short-circuiting the “you have to earn my trust” process, you move faster to create a productive working arrangement. Your team members appreciate the respect you show by not requiring the walk of hot coals to gain your grudging respect, and you gain valuable insight into the motivation, capabilities, and sense of accountability of your team members.

 

Yes, there are risks to this form of “swift trust.” An individual might betray your trust by failing to live up to key commitments. You learn a great deal about the character of individuals in this circumstance. Once they betray your trust, you are accountable for constructive feedback and coaching support and at this point, the trust-development process reverts to the traditional: "You now have to earn my trust." Overall, however, the speed and performance gains from shrinking the time-to-trust arrangement override the concerns of an occasional minor mess.

2. Your Role Leading Teams. We live and work in a world of initiatives driven by teams. Frequently, our workplace teams are hastily assembled and called upon to execute on something temporary and unique. In addition to the concept of trust outlined above—essential on any team to achieve high performance, your role as the team leader is mission critical.

If you examine the literature on teams and team performance, the research on failures or struggles indicates as one important factor, the critical nature of effective team leadership. From ensuring clarity around purpose, direction, and customer to serving as the architect of the working environment, you cannot afford to fail as the team leader. While there are many tasks on the to-do list of the team leader, the first and most important is ensuring that he/she is executing on the right role for the situation.

Team Leadership Hack: Instead of assuming a command and control mode for team leadership and asserting your authority, take a deep breath and delegate your role definition to your team members. Ask them two simple questions:

  1. At the end of our project, when we have succeeded, what will you say that I did?
  2. At the end of our project, if we have failed, what will you say that I did?

Introduce these questions in a team meeting and assign them as homework. Collect the insights, review them in their entirety with the group, seeking clarification where needed, and then use the input to craft your temporary leader’s job description. Ask the team to approve the description. Ask them to define how they will evaluate and offer you feedback on your performance with this role. Create opportunities for them to regularly provide this critical feedback as the project progresses.

3. Innovation. The books published on the topic of innovation in the past few years fill some very large shelves. The essence of all of them is that you need a lot of ideas and the ability, processes, and support to translate ideas into intelligent experiments to support learning. While there are many great approaches outlined in the resources, the issue is just a bit simpler than we might believe. Here are 5 steps you can take to help you and your team hack the innovation process.

Five Steps to Hack the Innovation Process on Your Team:

  • Perpetuate the idea that anyone and any team can innovate. Don’t leave all of the fun to the research and development or technical types. While there are degrees of innovation ranging from never been done before to a new twist on an old idea, there are ample opportunities to do new things or old things in new ways on your team. Work with the group to begin collecting ideas.
  • Generate walls of ideas. Literally. While in some worlds walls are intended for pictures and paint, in today’s world, a better use of that precious real estate is to capture dozens and dozens of ideas. Fill the walls with whiteboards or flipcharts and encourage anyone and everyone to regularly review the items—to add their own thoughts and to jump and build on prior ideas.
  • Get outside of your walls to stimulate more ideas. From observing and talking with internal and external customers and partners to looking closely at best in practice firms for your area of the business (regardless of industry), you must get your team thinking about and looking for ideas.
  • Work with the team to distill the walls of ideas down into a manageable set of experiments. Ideally, you are working on one idea each of the short-term, mid-range and long-term. Gain support from your boss and other stakeholders for the experiment. If it fails, roll up and share widely the lessons learned and keep moving. If the initiative merits more investment, it is definitely time to get your executive involved.
  • Celebrate small victories. Teams march and perform based on a sense of shared mission. As you gain critical new insights and translate these into innovations or improvements, shout about the successes far and wide. Give credit to all of the individuals involved and make the story of their work part of the lore of the culture.

Of course, for all of this to work, you as the leader are accountable for creating and sustaining an environment where experimentation and learning are encouraged. Remember those issues of trust and the leader’s role—they loom large in developing and sustaining a culture that strives to adapt, adjust and innovate for success.

The Bottom Line for Now:

Leading and managing in this era is a full-contact activity of involvement, engagement, and support. While the basics of leading are unchanged over the centuries, the context in which we lead is profoundly different today than any time in human history. The best leaders and managers constantly rethink their role; they strive for feedback and they measure their success by the successes of their team members. And they do all this today by placing a premium on agility and adaptability as they navigate at the speed of change.