And how to get your teams' brains turned back on.

Do you remember that job where you went to work and every day the boss told you what to do, how to do it, and when it had to be done? Do you remember how your brain shut down after a while because it didn't need to be used anymore? All you had to do was get the list. Do the list. And do it just like the boss said to do it, regardless of whether it was the best way to do it. Brought you a lot of joy didn't it? *Sarcasm :)

It's funny how those of us who have high subject matter expertise can do the same things to our team without even knowing it. Team leadership requires more than mastering a subject.

I wonder if your leadership style has turned some of your team members' brains completely off.

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Maybe, to be an effective team leader, you don't need to tell people what to do. Telling people what to do might be a hindrance to their productivity and creativity. Your team wants to trust you, but you may not be able to accomplish this if you don't change your leadership style. I would like to share a few of my insights on how to turn your team's brains back on and get everyone moving forward with more energy toward your amazing work. By doing this, you'll be able to lead them to think more like owners and less like employees, which will exponentially have an impact on productivity! And that's the power of contribution.

Let me tell you a quick story.

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A Story

I was talking to my friend Alex Weber who is a genius culture-building leader among large tech teams. He said, "H.B., my job is to lead without telling anyone what to do." I was so excited I threw the phone.

Immediately, I thought of several times in my leadership journey when I failed to build a successful team simply because I was doing the exact opposite--I was always telling everyone what to do. I knew exactly what he meant, because my failures were flashing in the front of my mind. Then I remembered a recent client ...

Jackie was leading a very large team that produced print and other media. The business started from his genius at solving problems with clients who needed custom solutions. After the team grew, he found himself running into a new problem. They were all over the map. He didn't know how to get them to work together. After some deeper conversations, we came to realize that his leadership model was trying to explain what to do and how to do it in greater detail. He reasoned that if they didn't understand what to do, then he would have to explain it better. Jackie also admitted that he raised his voice and became agitated when they didn't get things done the way he wanted them done. He often ended up jumping in front of his employees and just doing it himself. As you can imagine, this leadership style was producing poor outcomes.

So I proposed a different strategy. Why don't we pull one department around the planning table and try to explain the big reasons why a particular job is so important? Talk with them about how the job affects the customer. Talk about what you want to build in your relationship with the customer and why it is important. Talk about how a failure to perform the job on time costs other people on the team in other departments. Once everyone is seeing the ultimate goal better, then ask everyone to come up with one thing they could do better to get that job done. Your final job in this meeting is to create 1:1 meeting opportunities so that your team members can reach out to you for focused help BEFORE they get into crisis mode. This was a new idea for both team members and team leadership.

*Take a break and watch the 8 minute intro video?

The changes in his team came faster than I had predicted. Within a few weeks, he was getting very positive feedback from his team leaders. They felt they had more access to him and they were no longer afraid of asking for help. They complimented his new approach and confessed they were even a little confused by it. It seems that by removing the shame they felt when he jumped in front of them, he had created more feelings of personal responsibility in each team member and more appreciation for himself as an effective leader. They were processing together more openly. Now that the team was part of the solution building, they were much more invested in getting problems solved, not just doing a job. They were becoming contributors, not just employees.

It changed everything.

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Setting Goals: The Key to Success

To achieve success in any field, it is important to set goals and work toward them. This is especially true in business, where goal setting is key to creating a roadmap and measuring progress. There are several reasons why goal setting is so important in business.

One of the most important reasons is that goal setting allows you to measure what matters. When you have specific goals in mind, you can track your progress and ensure that you are making the most impact possible. Without goal setting, it can be difficult to determine whether or not your efforts are moving toward your long-term vision for yourself and the company. Are you going fast? Too fast? Too slow? Standing still? How would you know if you didn't measure your progress?

Additionally, goal setting as a team helps motivate employees and keep them focused on the big picture. By allowing team leaders the chance to set specific goals to achieve, you are helping them see how their work has an impact on the bigger picture. It also helps leaders understand how their problem-solving skills contribute to the team's success. This can be especially helpful in motivating employees who may be struggling or feeling frustrated with their work. Everyone wants their lives to mean something. This is a partial fulfillment of that desire.

Finally, goal setting is an essential part of effective planning. By establishing specific goals and outlining the steps needed to achieve them, you create a roadmap for your business that can help you stay on track even during challenging times. Having a clear plan makes it easier to make decisions and adapt when necessary.

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Achieving Goals as a Team - Leadership Science

Setting effective goals is essential for any team or business. But in this article, we are proposing that it's also important to involve the entire team in setting the goal and determining how it will be measured. Everyone deserves the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to truly meaningful work. Everyone should understand what is expected of them and what they can do to contribute to the goal.

The goal-setting process is important for individuals and teams to achieve success. The first step is to identify what you want to achieve. This can be done by brainstorming with your team or conducting a SWOT analysis. Once you have identified your goal, the next step is to develop a plan of action. This plan should include specific tasks that need to be completed, when they need to be done, and who is responsible for each task. The final step is to measure progress and make adjustments as needed. All of these elements will be more effective if they are developed around a collaborative table. There will be more buy-in and a more personal awareness of success and failure.

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Caution: Goal-Setting Traps Ahead

It is important to be aware of the traps that can trip you up along the way. To achieve your goals, it's crucial to avoid common goal-setting traps that can lead you astray. Here are five of the most common goal-setting traps to avoid:

  1. Lacking a specific goal: Without a specific goal, it can be hard to stay focused and motivated.
  2. Failing to measure your progress: Without a regular system to track your progress, you will not be able to celebrate your wins or adjust your strategy over time.
  3. Setting unrealistic goals: Don't set yourself up for failure by setting impossible goals.
  4. Focusing on the wrong goal: Make sure you are focused on the right goal, one that takes your business where it wants to go.
  5. Not setting a deadline: If you don't set a deadline for your goal, it's easy to procrastinate and never reach your goal.

These five pitfalls are the dark sides of the well-known goal-setting axiom: Goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. SMART goals. Let's unpack these pitfalls a little bit more:



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Lacking a specific goal: Without a specific goal, it can be hard to stay focused and motivated.

If you are a team leader, you know how important this is. You must have a specific goal to shoot for. A goal gives everyone something to strive for and helps keep everyone on track. Without one, it can be difficult to accomplish your team-building goals and keep each team member motivated.

Here is a video I have produced that gives a fat overview of setting specific goals with your team:

Likewise, having too many goals is a killer. Don't try to accomplish too many things at once or you'll spread yourself too thin and achieve none of your goals. Choose one or two main goals to focus on. It can be difficult to focus on one or two goals when there are so many things we want to achieve, but trying to accomplish too many things at once can prevent us from achieving anything. When we spread ourselves too thin, we become ineffective and achieve none of our goals. It's important to choose one or two main goals to focus on and develop a plan to achieve them.

Summary: Choose one thing and crush it. One thing at a time. Do you have a lot to do? Choose up to three big goals per season if you are an overachiever, but never any more than three primary objectives in any one season. Here is a PDF download that will give a working company Dashboard. It is not humanly possible to strive for excellence and completion with any more than three. Try me and see how it goes.



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Failing to measure your progress: Without a regular system to track your progress, you will not be able to celebrate your wins or adjust your strategy over time.

This is why weekly team meetings are a non-negotiable part of effective team leadership. The challenge is not to allow the team meeting to be overtaken by project management. The weekly meeting should be short, and it should be focused on only one thing: tracking progress.

Measuring is straightforward. Each person's goals should be clear for the week or the day. They should have a place to record if they achieved it or not. They should note what the obstacles, and the adjustments should be for the next period. Here is a downloadable PDF I call the Five by Five. It is an easy-to-use weekly tracking document for every member of your team. If you would like to see an example of the Five by Five filled out, click here.

Summary: The main goals you are pursuing must have measured actions that can be reported on from week to week. Each person must use some kind of tracking device. Yes, my tracking device has 5 to track in total, but only 3 primary goals on behalf of the business.



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Setting unattainable goals: Don't set yourself up for failure by setting impossible goals.

Setting unrealistic goals can set you up for failure. Make sure your goal is realistic and attainable so that you can stay on track to achieve success. One of the best ways to avoid this pitfall is by brainstorming your goals with your team.

Some leaders think it is a requirement to show up and blast huge goals onto the board and then demand wild commitment to the task ahead. This may work for a few, but if you want to avoid wasting energy on unrealistic goals, you might want to get feedback from the team. How do they think they can achieve it? What kind of resources do they need? What are the obstacles and time restraints? They should help you decide what would be challenging but not depressingly impossible.

After all, these goals need some ability to flex if you want to win. A recent HBR article noted that, yes, stretch goals were much better than lazy goals; however, it also found that flexible stretch goals were much better than rigid stretch goals in some instances. You need to be able to adjust so that your team stays motivated and connected to the power of accomplishment.

Summary: Realism is achieved by getting multiple eyes and brains on every objective. Everyone must have a voice and a stake in future successes or failures.



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Focusing on the wrong goal: Make sure you are focused on the right goal, one that takes your business where it wants to go.

It's important to focus on the right goal to achieve success. Realism is, in my opinion, based on your goal's connection with your team's passion. If you set goals that seem unrelated to the energy and drive of your team, then you are bound for failure. Realistic, to me is just another word for attainable, so I took the liberty to change the "R" word in this common acronym to Relevant. We don't need two words that most people use as synonyms in this acronym. The question is not, "Can we reach it?" The question here is, "What are the objectives for this period that will help us get to our inspiring long-term goals?" Are our goals relevant?

These are the kinds of goals your team can get excited about. They will help you if you let them help. You will need to ask them to help outline the present challenges, and then they can help you build practical plans to get there. If you're not focused on the right goal, you'll miss the mark and not achieve your desired outcomes anyway. Royal bummer.

Summary: Get the team together and set goals that everyone believes are a meaningful part of your company's vision.



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Not setting a deadline: If you don't set a deadline for your goal, it's easy to procrastinate and never reach your goal.

Make sure you have a timeline in place for accomplishing your goal. Having a set deadline will help you stay focused and motivated as you work toward achieving your goal. Without a timeline, it can be easy to put off your goal and never reach it. So, make sure to set a deadline and stick to it!

Summary: Anything that is truly important is wrapped in a feeling of urgency. Without urgency, your team will not believe the goal is important. Put it on the calendar.

All This Work is Central to Your Effectiveness as a Leader

As you know, great leadership is not measured by how well you are doing. Great leadership is measured by how well your team is doing. As my mother would say, "Period. End of paragraph."

Collaborative Goal-Setting Can Help Improve Team Spirit

Goal setting can play a major role in improving productivity and creativity. When individuals have specific, measurable goals to achieve, they are often more productive and creative in their work. This is because they have a specific target to aim for and are more motivated to achieve it. Moreover, goal setting can help to focus the mind and prevent distractions, which can also improve productivity. Furthermore, goal setting can help to stimulate new ideas and creativity as individuals strive to come up with new ways of reaching their goals. The emphasis here is on team collaboration and teamwork. After all, isn't the greatest treasure of your business life found inside of these people? Here is a video about seeing our people as our greatest treasures:

So What Is the Big Point Here?

Do you want to jump to the end and read the final point? I do, too. Have you ever noticed how most leadership books and business books wander all over the place trying to make just one or two points?

Hey, H.B., you have talked a lot about setting goals, but you said this article was about leading without telling people what to do. So, what is the real punchline?

Here it is:

Instead of telling you a lot of reasons why you should make leadership about them and not about you (which might be another article one day), I guided you through a step-by-step approach on how to be that kind of leader. It is often more about how you do it than what you are trying to do.

In this case, if you want to be the kind of leader that everyone wants to work for, put these collaborative steps in place. It will naturally become more about them and less about you. Watch out! Your team's brains are going to get turned back on! You might make more progress in the coming season than you ever imagined because you are unleashing the treasures found inside of every team member. You are going to learn to lead without telling anyone what to do.

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Thanks for taking the time to read this article. It tells me a lot about you.

Leadership is not about telling people what to do. It's about setting the goal and then letting your team members figure out the best way to get there. You need to be able to measure what matters, and then help your team focus on contribution rather than individual achievement. By doing this, you'll be able to lead without telling anyone what to do.

H.B. Pasley, Growth Advocate®