Real Leaders

Collaboration is the Fuel of Championship Teams

ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 13: Former coach John Wooden laughs with members of the UCLA Bruins, including his great grandson Tyler Trapani #4, after the John R. Wooden Classic game against the DePaul Blue Demons at Honda Center on December 13, 2008 in Anaheim, California. The Bruins defeated the Blue Demons 72-54. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Do this. Do that. Change the font. Make that deck pop a bit more. You get the point. Most team members today are sick of being told what to do. If the pandemic taught leaders anything, it was that people today want freedom and the ability to work under more of their own terms.

Those teams that have excelled over the last two years adapted to this request; others who refused to adapt were sent packing.

Aside from freedom and autonomy, team members also desire to be more involved. As the late great UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden (pictured above), said, “The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”

Often, leaders take on all the stress, all the responsibility, and get too deep in everybody’s business — but that is the precise difference between leaders who lack trust in their teams and those who believe in the power of working alongside their team. Getting involved is great, but it can be a problem when it hijacks your team’s ability to work, think, and openly bring their best ideas forward.

Besides being involved, team members today genuinely want to feel a part of it — the brand, direction, strategy, and decisions. By allowing your team to be involved, you are helping them mature and grow from a leadership standpoint.

What separates good leaders from great leaders is one word: collaboration. In my new book, Habits of a Champion Team, I introduced a new style of leadership that needs to emerge: the Empowering, Collaborative Leader.

The Empowering, Collaborative Leader Is King/Queen of the Leadership Jungle

This leadership style is most preferred and the one a team benefits from most today. It’s the replacement of the dictator-based leadership style that was built on the philosophy: Do this, do that, I run this place. Unfortunately, many leaders over 40 struggle with adopting this collaborative style of leadership because they are descendants of that hard-driving, rage-based, dictator-style of leadership from yesterday. What makes the Empowering, Collaborative leader different? The understanding of these two principles:

  1. People need and want to feel important.
  2. They need and want to be motivated and challenged daily.

The biggest issue many leaders face is that the above requires them to slow down. To be present. To engage. To listen to thoughts and ideas of those that may be in a lesser title, pay-grade, or who come from a slower speed of thought than most high-performance leaders. But here is the deal: Those individuals may see something you and others at the top do not see. In sports, the environment is very collaborative. Rookies are playing alongside veterans. Varying experience and ability levels are playing, working, and learning together.

Why is this so shunned in modern business? Why does the top feel the need to call every play? Why would they want that extra pressure? With the surge of burnout and The Great Resignation unfolding, isn’t it time to embrace a change?

Leaders today make it more challenging for themselves when they choose not to use their greatest assets: their people. Many leaders fall victim to the equivalent of trying to play all nine positions on a baseball field, so no mistakes are made. Over-management is a problem. It is what burns out leaders and teams.

If you do not trust your people and their abilities to get things done, maybe it is time to look in the mirror. Being an Empowering, Collaborative Leader is not about letting people do whatever they want and telling them they are doing well when they aren’t.

It means let them be creative, bring ideas to the table, and if the group agrees and aligns with those ideas, give them some runway by getting out of the way. Manage people by giving them clarity around work scope and expectations— don’t become their dictator.

For years, I worked under the great Yankees manager, Joe Torre. His style was simple: Let people do their jobs. They are the experts. We brought them here for their talents. Be there to support them so they can be their best. When you have the right team on the lineup card, give them a chance to shine. Again, never shy away from giving your team clarity, expectations, timelines, constructive counsel, feedback, and accountability — but don’t forget to then get out of the way.

That is great leadership. Collaboration is a powerful growth tool.

When you’re a leader and an organization that believes in collaboration and weaves it into your culture and organizational core values, culture improves, and obtaining and retaining talent becomes even easier. Empowerment and collaboration may be what you and your team need to make this year your championship year.

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