All-In Leadership: 5 Drivers of a Great Team
New insights for team management—from the narcissist to the conscientious.
Posted August 16, 2019
All leaders aspire to lead great teams.
Research on “highly involved leaders" suggests that highly effective leaders skillfully create the right situations for their employees: They draw out employees’ unique characteristics at just the right time and place and subdue, or substitute them when they’re not needed.
In classic work by Ed Lawler, and later by contemporaries, highly involved leaders were found to (1) provide their employees with the Power to act and make decisions, (2) have the Information, (3) and the Knowledge, (4) along with the healthy Relationships needed to use their power effectively, (5) and are Rewarded for doing so.
Let’s say we have an extremely conscientious employee working in a particularly creative role. Their near-obsession with careful action and vigilant attention to detail can stunt the creative process. Likewise, a narcissistic employee on the team tends to take risks and create, but their natural tendencies may go too far, resulting in tremendous, preventable failures. Highly involved leaders are aware of each employee’s tendencies and can work with each to mitigate employee downsides and accentuate the positives.
Research demonstrates that highly involved leaders spend high quality, one-on-one time with each employee to understand what power, information, knowledge, rewards, and healthy relationships mean to them.
Great leaders get to know their employees ‘between their ears’ – they understand each employee on a deep, personal level, not a superficial level which is often the default mode of management.
Involved leaders routinely take employees to coffee or lunch and discuss goals in life and work, share their goals, and discuss what they like to do outside of work. This shouldn’t be treated as a one-time event. It should be the beginning of a relationship with open communication. Opening communication channels with each of your team members will allow you to see their complete and inevitably-complicated personalities, and thereby allow you to tailor your high involvement skills to each one.
For example, you could take a moderate narcissistic employee and ask them to be their team’s spokesperson. With some coaching, you could get them to exude more narcissistic behaviors by emphasizing that, in this particular capacity, it is good for the entire team. This way, the moderate narcissistic employee can experience individual pride, while the entire team enjoys being championed by a competent voice. If the team’s message to be delivered needs some finesse, the leader could ask a more conscientious colleague to assist in filtering the message first; they can draft the message, while the narcissistic employee announces it. You, the manager, have now leveraged two team members using both traits in a positive fashion – benefitting the individuals, the team, and the organization.
Getting the changes to stick.
You know the old saying–‘you get the behavior you reward, not the behavior you expect.’ When an employee behaves in the right way, reward them. Rewards are key to high involvement and must be tailored for each person. Since you have made efforts to understand each employee’s inner work life by being highly involved, you will know what each member of your team values as a reward. For example, narcissists crave public recognition and praise. So, when they do a good job, a very simple way to reward the more narcissistic individual is to praise them publicly.
Meanwhile, the conscientious person may need to be rewarded for “painting outside the lines” a bit. They could be given incentives to take risks and offer rewards that support these actions. Maybe your reward is something as simple as extra time off or an extended lunch break with a small gift card to a new restaurant, or a closer parking spot for a period of time. Or, maybe it’s a personal note or something else that doesn't cost anything but is valuable to that employee.
Your employees will consequently be highly motivated to reciprocate with heightened performance. High involvement is contagious. As you continue to be highly involved, your team members will also increase their involvement and a new norm of high involvement is born–something we call a high involvement climate.
Set a precedent.
Research is clear: there are significant benefits stemming from a highly involved leader. A manager must understand the 5 drivers of high involvement (PIRRK) and walk the talk: Be authentically involved; don’t mail it in.
Getting involved in involving your employees will have lasting effects. Even when an involved leader exits an organization, their thoughtful and involved leadership will have become normalized: team members know what is expected of them, engage in appropriate, situation-specific behaviors, and are rewarded for doing so. Over time, such a pattern becomes codified into a shared understanding of ‘how we do things around here’ and a genuine team climate for high involvement is born. With proper management, you will lead a great team and leave a legacy.