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Leading for “True grit” vs. “Grit your teeth”

July 3, 2013

By Sarah Le Roy

You don’t always get more from your team just by asking for it. And the best team doesn’t always win or succeed at navigating through crisis. Sometimes asking your team for more is one ask too many. Instead of energized and focused you get grinding teeth, resentment, and sometimes even obstinacy. Why?

Some leaders falsely assume that by charging ahead come heck or high water their people will automatically follow. These leaders often misguidedly overuse the fear of failure to drive discretionary effort. Worse yet, their unceasing call for “more” can result in numbness that happens when a team simply loses its ability to hear the call to action or even perhaps to navigate to a result.

Obstacles can be inspiring and success can often be whittled back down to the old saying that when the going gets tough the tough get going. However, in times of stress, when you and your team are dealing with challenges and constraints, leaders have a choice on how to get the most out of their people when the stakes are high–the ultimate crucible moment. They can either curl up into a fetal ball or worse yet, rage at their employees. Or they can calmly, coolly encourage creativity and show support and empower their people to take risks and develop a strategy as a unit. After all, when you’re in a crucible, what’s the worst thing that can happen when failure is already on the table?

How a team leader navigates a crisis will have a profound effect on the results the team can produce. Call it the Happiness Effect or making lemons from lemonade, but really great teams are led by emotionally resilient leaders who bear the burden of worry on their own shoulders and buffer their teams from the turbulence caused by emotional stress. Well-led teams are resilient and resilient teams produce great results.

So, if you are leading your team through a crucible moment, make sure to check yourself. Are you asking your people to deliver heroically and then thanking them loudly and publicly for their efforts? Or are you saying, “This isn’t enough; we need more”? It’s important to have a marker for the moment when good enough is actually enough. But when it isn’t, and you need your people to find that last ounce of effort, you need to ask effectively in a way that inspires. Sometimes the best leaders simply say: “Thank you. I appreciate all you have done and continue to do. We have a defining moment upon us. How are we going to solve this together?”

Great team leaders know how to ask for “more” and then encourage creativity, show support, and empower their people to take risks.


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