During my more than thirty-five years in business, I have learned, through experience and benchmarking best practice companies, what it takes to run not only a business, but a successful one. What follows is the sixth article in a series of twelve that will position any business for success.
In my last column I discussed the importance of earning the trust of your employee colleagues, your business colleagues and your customers. While earning trust, it is important to learn how to play as a team and put the goals of the team before your personal ego. Bragging and showing off are not attractive qualities and this isn’t what your colleagues, clients, and external business colleagues want to see. Customers don’t want one strong player to outshine the rest, they want the entire team to play together and delight them.
If you have one employee whose goal is to outshine his or her colleagues, this can create imbalance within the team and “sink your ship.” Wanting to climb to the top of an organization is normal, but those who want to advance in a company should learn that it’s better to make sure the team shines than to gloat about your personal contributions to any given project or success. A great example of teamwork is many Japanese car companies who now have one team build an entire car instead of each employee working on a mundane task. This helps employees feel empowered and have a sense of ownership in the company’s success because they all work together, learn new skills and see the project through as a team. As with building an entire car, when employees work together as a team they begin to know the business.
Employee empowerment is addressed by Theory Y management style as opposed to Theory X management style. Theory X assumes that only upper management knows what is best for the company and that employees know little. The Theory Y management style practices that front-line employees are in the best possible position to understand their jobs and do what is best for customers. There are times when Theory X might be more appropriate than Theory Y and vice-versa — it depends on the company’s priorities and current situation. For example, in an emergency or crisis which requires immediate action, Theory X could be appropriate.
No matter what your management style is, there will be the occasional error. Instead of pointing fingers at employees for the mistake, I suggest celebrating it as a learning experience. It is, after all, management’s responsibility to provide employees with the training they need to do their jobs effectively. While empowering employees is only one component of what makes a strong team, it is also important to involve employees in developing solutions to problems. Your employees know their jobs best because they are on the front-line. Of course, they should keep management in the loop but they will appreciate this “hands off” approach and the team will shine.
In closing, one of my most prized leadership books is Max DePree’s Leadership is an Art, which explains that teamwork and your employees are the most valuable assets to your company. This is often called servant leadership, which according to George Clements, Chairman of Jewel Tea Company, is “work for those who work for you” and “Ninety percent of a leader’s time should be doing everything you can to help your direct reports succeed. You should be the first assistant to the people who work for you.” I follow these principles of servant leadership that were first documented and devised by Robert Greenleaf in 1970 and summarized by Spears in 1998: empathy; personal well-being; awareness; persuasion; conceptualization; foresight; stewardship; commitment to the growth of people; and building community.