You are a blessed and happy boss indeed when your team is engaged, competent, and things are flowing well. It’s a sweet spot in leadership that I’ve found doesn’t last. Your Ready-Steady team is likely on their way to other level. If you are doing a great job, they are turning into a Rockstar team. If you aren’t tending the health and productivity of the team, they are sinking into Stress (or Overstress). When you are breathing easy and goals are being met and people seem generally happy in their work, it’s so alluring as a leader to take a deep breath, sit back, and chill out a little. And you probably should for a minute, because this is a time for you to share in the joys of a lower-stress season.
But while you are deep breathing and have your feet up on your desk chilling out, you also need to be spending your quiet time thinking about the road ahead. The world is constantly changing, and just because things are peaceful right now doesn’t mean they will stay that way. You can’t control all the external things that will change how your team needs to respond, but you can focus in on your team, and use this time to keep them holding steady, and advancing towards Rockstar status. They are ready, and this is what they would like to say to you.
Whew! It’s nice to sleep easy and work regular hours for a change. We come to work every day and know our jobs, feel appreciated for our individual and collective achievements, and have great professional and personal relationships with each other. We know this is rare, and we don’t take it for granted.
What we are wondering now is — What’s Next? A couple of us have been putting up some really big numbers and are starting to feel a little too comfortable…maybe even a little bored. We know how to do this work, have become proficient, and are looking up the ladder and around the organization for how to leverage these successes into a new challenge and a higher-seniority position. A couple of us are being recruited by other departments because things are going well here, but most of us feel like we are being overlooked for opportunities because things are just simply “fine.” We aren’t standing out. Meeting your numbers isn’t going to make anyone a top candidate for a better position.
It would be so fun to talk together as a team about what Rockstar status looks like. Meeting goals is fun, and exceeding them is pretty fun too, but driving innovation and organizational growth is where we think we will really start to have FUN. We know some things now, you know? And we don’t want to get trapped in a comfortable position just because it’s easy and makes the executives happy.
Help us be mentors, help us talk about what’s going well, and do some analysis and learning about how to replicate it in other areas. Throw out a new challenge to us now and again to see how we do. Not just the boring old “stretch goal” stuff either. Something juicy that we can collaborate and think deeply about. Something we can add to our resumes in the “noteable achievements” section. Because “I did my job as outlined in my job description is JUST.NOT.SEXY.”
We want to be Rockstars, and we are starting to see our own potential. What we need more than anything is for you to be ready with the challenges and opportunities that will give us Rockstar status. Get us into the best meetings, projects, show us off, and help us learn what’s going right. You helped us get here, so we trust you. We believe in you. And we want you to lead us to the next level. Soooo…will you?
Thanks in advance,
Leaders in the middle have a really special role, and my favorite time to help them see it is in this “Ready-Steady” phase with their team. It is up to you here and now to be the innovator, and to get out in front guiding your team towards the next level up. This is your chance to play and have fun with a group of people that trusts you and is ready to fine-tune their expertise. Start a book group. Ask your leaders for a troubling issue that might fit your team’s skills well. Listen at higher-level meetings for challenges that similar teams are experiencing, and knock on doors to see how your team might be able to help.
You are going to think to yourself, “I don’t want to ask them to do more than they are doing. They are meeting goals, people are comfortable. Why would I give them more work to do?” Don’t listen to that voice. It’s not their voice, it’s your own fear talking. YOU are afraid of being challenged, and this is the time when you must rise into your leadership and pave the way. You need to be a Rockstar for them. If you can’t or won’t…you should expect about another 6-12 months of comfort and then watch them slide into Burned Out/Over-stressed mode. They will start to bicker, because they have nothing better to do. That one person who has the potential to become negative will start doing so if you don’t actively engage this team in this time.
Ready-Steady is a waypoint, not a destination. (There is no destination in team leadership.) The ship is always heading into new waters. It’s up to you to steer the ship towards the best possible next place, or risk being dragged by a sneaky undercurrent into rocky shores.
Call up your mentor (or call me!) and talk about where to go from here. Get some help thinking of options if you can’t come up with any on your own, and get some support from your leader to begin exploring such options. You need to believe more strongly in your team than anyone else right now. Your belief will open doors that you can’t yet see.
Whenever I’m developing teams and they get to this place, the first thing I do is identify the individuals who are already Rockstars, and invite them into opportunities to show off what they can do. Whether they are the best producer, have great informal leadership skills, or an outstanding thinker, find a space for those people to get a stage with bright lights and tons of support. Give them the challenge because you know they can do it. Some will be uncomfortable, and some won’t want to believe they are capable. Believe for them. Encourage, mentor, coach, and support them, and watch them fly. You can do this, and you should do this. Your Ready-Steady team is ready to blast off, and your job is to oversee Mission Control and set the countdown. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-…
If your team seems comfortable, get your focus in high gear. Don’t shirk your responsibility as a leader. Call in help (call me!), and let’s get them to the next level. It’s the most exciting time EVER!!
Medium Cheddars lead from the middle. Join the conversation.
(c) MediumCheddar.com November 22, 2015