It’s a simple truth, but one that can be hard to pin down pragmatically. When your business is growing, what’s the best way to execute your objectives as a leader in a way that ensures all your employees’ benefit?
Fortunately, we recently got to sit down with James Frank—the CEO of Sharp Iron and Transland, as well as a representative in the Texas House of Representatives—on the Lead to Grow podcast to talk about his perspectives on leadership and how focusing on the team as a whole bolsters the group’s projects.
He breaks it down in two ways: Teamwork and Integrity.
Teamwork and the “I” vs. “We”
Most things worth accomplishing—from something as simple as winning a competition to as complicated as growing from childhood to adulthood—come from teamwork. We rarely achieve anything of note apart from others’ help.
It takes a village, and in James’s view, that’s the perspective we ought to have when we approach leading teams.
“When you’re leading,” says James, “you’re leading a team.” Teams carry as many points of view as people, and as leaders, the task of aligning our team members’ goals into a cohesive unit falls on us.
This kind of leadership, then, swaps how we normally use “I” and “We” pertaining to team relationships.
It’s human nature to want to take on all the credit when something goes well, so often falling into the trap of using “I” only when talking about team successes. In the same vein, it’s easy to use “we” primarily to address team responsibilities, even if certain team members aren’t responsible for the pertinent task.
If you want to be a successful leader, let “I” represent responsibility, and “We” celebrate success.
Or, as James puts it, “I think strong leaders—confident leaders—and confident employees do just the opposite. They let everyone participate in the win, and they take responsibility even if they weren’t completely responsible for what went wrong.”
Successful teambuilding is absolutely not a quick task. Your monthly seminars on teamwork and leadership may provide a boost for a couple days, but if you’re not putting in the day-to-day effort to make sure your team members understand their value—both to you and to each other—then any extra efforts you make will prove fruitless.
Consistency is key. To drive this point home, James even took inspiration for Sharp Iron’s name from Proverbs 27:17, which highlights perfectly the process-oriented mindset we ought to have as leaders:
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (NIV)”
Integrity; Overpromise, Overdeliver
What better way build a foundation of teamwork than on the bedrock of integrity?
Both within your organization and with your customers, being honest about both your intentions and expectations establishes a layer of trust between all parties.
“I’m not smart enough to make money off customers that aren’t honest,” James says.
And most customers won’t want to deal with businesses that don’t put employees and customers—in other words, the people involved in the organization—first.
Integrity in this context is an inherently people-minded, long-term perspective. Most of the decisions you make in this case may actually hurt you in the short term, but the long-term benefits you can reap from establishing trust with your team members and clients far outweigh the short-term setbacks.
A Question of Interest
We asked James a simple question: “If you were having lunch with someone interested in you, what’s one thing you’d want them to walk away having learned from you?”
And James’s answer gets to the heart of what makes this leadership mindset work: “I’d like them to think I’m interested in them.”
This interest comes not from a place of “What’s in it for me?” Instead, it grows from a genuine, whole-personhood awareness of the human being across the table.
Being an effective leader stems not from your ability to give out instructions and oversee a task; it comes from a bona fide understanding that each person’s unique skills and perspectives enrich and deepen your projects in ways not otherwise possible.