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It starts with your team. You have a vision. You have goals. You pursue them. Problems arise. Action is taken. Experiments are run. Solutions are uncovered. You move inexorably closer to achieving your dreams.
As progress is made, the targets shift. Ambitions grow. More people are needed. Different ways of doing business are necessary. New problems appear. The cycle begins anew.
The right team embraces the challenge. The joy is in the work, in the camaraderie, and in collective achievement. The team works for each other as much as for the faraway dream.
But your team is under siege. All of your progress can vanish. All of it. There is danger often lurking just outside of view. It’s not the competition. It’s not new technology. It’s not dwindling resources. The danger is from within.
What is that danger? Ever worked with someone who constantly plays the victim? Every inconvenience fits their personal narrative of a greater conspiracy impeding their success and happiness. Or perhaps you’ve experienced that co-worker who is as quick to take credit as they are to cast blame? They operate as if they are a crab in a bucket, believing that only by pulling someone down can they rise up. I’m sure many of you have worked alongside a well-intentioned colleague who consistently volunteers for projects only to repeatedly fail to deliver.
So how does a leader protect the team?
You know the type of team you wish to build. Document it. Educate everyone. Ensure it’s a living, breathing part of how the business is managed. Use the language in your meetings. Bring it to life every day. Test new employees. Don’t let the document gather dust. It’s a shield from danger; wield it. Other companies have done this right — follow their lead.
You’ve written down what you stand for; now, use it to screen those who wish entry. Do they believe in the vision? Will they put the team first? Will they operate with candor and integrity? Seek references. Implement rigorous hiring practices. Use tests.
Even the strongest defenses can be penetrated. Keep alert. The enemies can’t help but to reveal themselves. They play victim. They complain. They blame. They steal. They shirk. They avoid. They pollute. Don’t make excuses for them. Yes, they might be sad or have difficulties beyond work. That’s life. Your priority is the greater good. Find the bad people and catapult them over the wall.
Talk to your people. Check-in. Use surveys, all-hands meetings, performance reviews, and exit interviews. Walk around. Chat with people. Get out of your office. Share a meal. Grab a coffee. Don’t just chat about the weather; go deeper. Ask what is going well, what’s not, and how you can help. Make sure to listen. Really listen.
You know the standard. Live up to it. Pay attention to your approval rating. Are you living up to expectations or not? Be honest. Don’t hide. Ask for input. Do a 360 review. Assess where improvement is needed. Then do it. Share what you learn widely and proudly.
Construction is slow. Building a fortress can take years. Finding the right people, nurturing them, and protecting them is all consuming. Demolition on the other hand, is fast and violent. Stay vigilant.