Strong, positive teamwork begins with a leader who has a vision and the ability to inspire a team into working toward accomplishing that vision. Instead of feeling threatened by the expertise and diversity of his or her team, a good team leader engages teammates in a discussion about what quality looks like and what is needed to perform and complete the job, all while empowering the team members to strive for quality improvement.

Let’s break all that down into its component parts. The first is a clearly defined leader, something every team must have. There must be someone who is in charge and makes the ultimate decisions. Team members may take turns being the leader as long as everyone is clear who the leader is on any given day. Teams could also appoint certain people as leaders for projects within their area of expertise. However, in every event, there can be no question among teammates who the leader is for that day or project.

The leader needs to have a vision. This is similar to Covey’s second habit, “Begin with the end in mind.” A true leader creates the end product twice—once mentally, and then in its actual, physical form. It is impossible to lead toward a fuzzy vision. People are simply not inspired to follow uncertainty. Inspiration comes easiest to teammates who had part in developing the mission, so open the discussion and get as many minds involved as possible. If this isn’t possible, at the very least make sure everyone agrees to the mission statement.

The vision alone is not enough to inspire teammates toward realizing the same goal. A good team leader knows how to help each teammate understand how the end product or service will be useful and how their individual contribution matters toward that end.

How does the janitor contribute to fans’ enjoyment at a professional baseball game? By providing a clean, neat bathroom experience—that’s how. If the janitor sees himself as a critical cog in the big picture goal and he receives positive recognition for it, then he is more likely to perform his job with enthusiasm.

When there is a dispute to be solved, it is helpful to have already established a method to manage solutions. Conflicts between team members will happen, and a good leader is prepared. Compare the solutions with the mission and determine whether it will move the team closer or further from the ultimate goal.

Having a mission that has been agreed upon by all team members enhances cooperation. One of the most difficult things to manage on a team is an individual ego. There can be petty jealousies and a competitive spirit that can ruin the best team. The mission statement is a way to minimize this potential for disaster, as it remains the focus that everything else is compared to. An individual’s action is either helpful or hurtful to the mission and dealt with accordingly. The group’s goal must always be placed above any individual’s desires or ego. Jealousy and backstabbing have no useful place on a team.

A good leader is in no way threatened by the expertise and diversity of his or her team. The best leaders are always seeking information from the front-line people who are doing the actual work. Without information from team members, the leader’s hands are tied behind his or her back. It is also critical to use team members in their areas of expertise. Leaders can’t know everything about everything, and there will be team members who have skills and abilities that surpass those of the leader in certain areas. A good leader will ask for help when it is prudent.

This is also a time to value diversity. Having a team of people who all do the same jobs in pretty much the same way really has no value. One person could more easily do the job than assembling and maintaining a homogenous team. The value of a team comes from its heterogeneity. Feedback and suggestions from people who do things differently is what sparks the creativity and genius of a team. This is what masterminding is all about—tapping into the variety of wealth that is already there.

Finally, a good leader holds the bar high. He or she does not ask his team to be average or mediocre. Average and mediocre can be easily replaced. The leader asks his or her team to do their very best while always striving for continuous improvement. The work is never done. The team should always be evaluating what has been implemented and be comfortable making and taking suggestions for ways to do it even better.

Previously, I mentioned that a good leader empowers his or her teammates. Creating a need-satisfying environment does this. Team members must get along and know that the leader and the company have their best interests at heart. They must feel important, listened to, and respected. They must have the freedom to make choices within the context of their assignments and they must have some fun in their work.

It is also critical for team members to feel safe. This means that they are not fearful in any way. The team leader is critical in fostering this environment for the empowerment of the entire team.

How your team works together is contingent upon your leadership skills.  Do you have the skills to inspire your team members towards their goals and visions?

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