Is your team stuck? On a recent trip to the mountains, one of my daughter’s friends drove his car into a ditch. To be fair, there was nearly two feet of snow on top of slick mud.
He slid right into the ditch and his wheels sunk as he tried to back out. It was time for a tow.
Fortunately, he had a tow cable and my SUV has low ratio four-wheel drive. We secured the cable to both vehicles and then he asked what would happen next.
He had never been on either end of a tow before, so we discussed how you hook the cable to the cars, what direction we would go, and how to gradually build momentum. We talked about how failure to do these things would end up damaging one or both of our vehicles.
As we talked, it occurred to me that towing and leadership share some things in common. If your team won’t follow you, there’s a good chance you’re making one or more of these mistakes:
- You Lack A Strong Connection – Don’t hook your tow-cable to the bumper. You can find many videos where someone rips the bumper right off of their friend’s car. They didn’t attach their cable to the car’s frame and when they pulled, they tore apart the car.
As a leader, your influence depends on the strength of your connection to the team. Do you share the meaning and purpose behind the work? Do you know what your people value and connect those values to their daily tasks?
The most meaningful connections you make are with shared values and clear reasons why activities must happen. Without these connections, you’re probably asking your team to do something that makes no sense to them (with little chance of success).
You can strengthen your connection to your team by getting their input. Ask what they think the team is capable of, why they do what they do, and how they would improve the results they produce.
- You’re Pulling The Wrong Direction – When you tow, you don’t want to pull the car sideways or you could rip off a tire or an entire axle. Once again, there are plenty of videos available showing you what happens. Instead, you start by pulling the vehicle in the direction it was going or else directly opposite of that direction. This minimizes stress on the car and gets the wheels rolling.
With your team, you have to know their current capacity, training, and priorities. If you ask something of them that they don’t know how to do, or that their current workload can’t accommodate, or something that is in conflict with their current priorities, you’ll end up frustrated.
I’ve worked with many managers and supervisors who respond to this scenario by pulling harder (they yell, belittle their people, and get upset). Naturally, the team loses respect for their leader.
When you need to get your team going a different direction, start by examining the capacity, training, and priorities. What can you remove from their plate? What training can you get for them? How can you help reprioritize and gradually get them rolling in the new direction?
- You Go Too Fast – Don’t slam on the accelerator. When I pulled my daughter’s friend out of the ditch, the dirt road was very muddy. If I had accelerated too quickly, my tires would have spun and dug into the mud – trapping both of us.
Had the road been dry and I went too fast, I probably would have ripped something off one vehicle or the other. If you’ve never seen this, it’s easier to watch than to describe. Check out this video and then keep reading. As a leader, you have a vision for your team. You’ve got a clear picture of where you’re going and what needs to happen to get there. It’s obvious to you.
But what’s obvious to you won’t be obvious to your people without significant communication. I’ve worked with countless numbers of frustrated managers and team leaders who told their team about a change in procedure once, six months ago, and are now angry that their team isn’t implementing the change.
To pull gently and build momentum, you’ve got to frequently communicate what is happening, why it’s happening, the specific tasks each person is responsible for, and then check for understanding. At the end of discussions, ask team members to share what they understand the expectations to be.
Slow down just a little bit and you’ll see huge results in how fast your team is able to build momentum in the new direction.
Remember, you give your team a chance to follow you when you clearly connect their work to meaning, purpose, and shared values; ensure they have the capacity to do what’s needed; and slow down to communicate and check for understanding along the way.