Mountain Climbing

Some people say that leadership used to be easier.

Leading people and communicating with them has always been a challenge, but at least in the old days you could call a meeting and have your team assemble in the "pre-game locker room" and give the old "Knute Rockne- get-out-there-and-hit-somebody-win-one-for-the-Gipper" speech.

But what about now? Technology has made it possible for your team to work virtually, to labor from home and perhaps never see another soul for days on end. How do today's managers deal with collaboration and team building in a highly competitive environment?

To answer that, it's important to consider that, while the world of work has changed, people have not down-sized their innate aspirations since the dawn of time. Yes, human aspirations are constant; our desire for achievement and effectiveness is fixed. I believe that there are two keys to the effective leadership of teams or companies.

First: Leadership succeeds to the degree that we understand the human desire for contribution and belonging.

Most of us like being on teams and working with people who are going somewhere. We want to go to the top with them, we want to make a difference, and we want to contribute our part to the journey. We want to use the talents and gifts we've been given to their fullest. We want to do significant things, and we need a leader to show us which mountain to climb and what to do once we get to the top. Belonging is a basic human need, and that's not going away when the next permutation of the iDevice hits the market. Yes, everything keeps getting faster, but the need for validation of our contributions to work that matters is embedded deep in our soul. That's immutable.

Second: it's important to know that achievers are always looking for the next mountain to climb. That's what makes them achievers, right? Once they have scaled the heights HERE, they will inevitably look over THERE, across the valley to THAT peak, and wonder to themselves what's up there and ask themselves if they are up to the task to climb again. That speaks to the craving all of us have for effectiveness ... or mastery.

Implications for Leaders

So, what do those two assertions mean for leaders of collaboration and teamwork?

First of all, it helps to know that the leader's ultimate job remains in many ways, unchanged. He or she has to get up every day and be 'The Sherpa', to lead and guide that day's climb and then to stop along the way as often as necessary to let their teams know who did well. It's always been that way. But, here is some good news: There are infinitely more tools these days to communicate, to inspire, to recognize, to map out the next climb, and to keep climbing over and over again successfully.

In some ways, building great teams is easier, now, BECAUSE of technology.

Yes, I said it.


But there is a caveat: the effective leader will use technology to express their personal passion for the next quest. Never before have we had this instant ability to declare and document why the quest is important, and to inspire followers by investing in their "climber's" aspirations first. And the irony is that when you do this, the bottom line magically takes care of itself. Higher purpose workplaces satisfy the human needs for contribution and effectiveness. And, most often, they are very profitable and efficient because the climbers make them so.

But for it all to work as it should for everybody concerned, communication and validation has to be systematized. It has to be intentional by design. Recognition in particular has to be timely and it has to have strong ties to the values and behaviors that matter most to the leader.

Two Questions that Matter

Consider the "view" of your climbers as they contemplate the challenges of the next ascent. It is a fact that your team members are asking two questions every time you present them with the next challenge: "Is it worth it?" and, "Can I do it?"

'Twas always thus. Answer these questions for them, and almost anything is possible.

For example, when Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, do you think the guy replacing rivets on the Spirit of St. Louis wing strut understood and knew the answer to the all-important "is it worth it?" question? You bet he did. Failure was not an option, and I would imagine he checked every rivet over and over again. And I can tell you that when Lindy landed in France, a little part of that riveter landed with him. When Lindy rode in the ticker tape parade in New York City, every person who had anything to do with building that airplane and seeing it off on its journey rode along with him in a way.

Shared achievements have that effect. One person may have to be out front, but all involved know that their contributions mattered if the leaders are doing their job right. I would only add this: as a leader, don't assume that people know that you value their contributions. Tell them how important they are. Celebrate their contributions. Throw a regular and timely parade for them. Make it a part of the culture of your organization, because even if people already share your sense of mission, there is nothing more inspiring than approval from the "top."

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