A True North Leader’s Template for Building Exceptional Teams: Visionary, Developer, Maintainer

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Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. I Peter 4:10 (NIV)

Scour the leadership landscape and everywhere you find a successful enterprise you’ll find a leader who has surrounded him/herself with a strong, effective and motivated team.

Everywhere you find toxicity, crumbling structures and failure, you’ll find an unhealthy leader at the top. One who chose yes-men, sycophants or inept managers who weren’t threatening.

Why is that?

Pretty simple: even the very best leaders can’t do it alone. But narcissists think they can.

Many years ago over lunch, my friend asked who was on my top leadership team. His real question was intended to force to me to consider how I was using my gifts to empower an effective collaboration with those closest to me.

I’ll never forget how he did it. He drew a diagram on his napkin and asked me to place myself on a continuum that spanned three competencies:

If you were to draw a perpendicular line on the left side, and another on the right side that indicated the boundaries of your leadership comfort zone, where would you begin and end? At that time, I defined my span as 25% Visionary through the Developer line. But ZERO interest in the Maintainer competency. (I say “at that time” because I’ve learned over the years, that I now span the continuum differently.)

In those days, I was working for a leader who was ALL Visionary, so all I had to do was implement his initiatives. And I became very successful at it.

Here’s the point of the V-D-M model: it’s a template for building great teams.

Every excellent team — at any level of an organization — requires members who fulfill these vital roles. There really is no hard-and-fast rule for how many visionaries, developers or maintainers you might need, but when these three competencies are working harmoniously, the results are most often startling.

The point of this exercise is first to help True North Leaders determine how they are wired — what is your predominant set of competencies — and then, fill in the gaps around you with trusted team members who will complete the model. I realized that I had three extraordinarily creative visionaries on the team. And one exceptional maintainer along with others in this role.

Let’s break down a working definition and application of each role.

Visionary.

This is the idea person on the team. The visionary is optimistic (theme of an upcoming blog), bold, persistent, risk-taking, innovative and often inspirational.

WORD OF CAUTION: If you are not the visionary on your leadership team (and that’s perfectly acceptable), beware of your propensity toward irritation. Visionaries are non-stop idea generators. They may exhaust you and the other team members. Their batting average will be high, but their misses most likely glaring. The True North Leader who values his/her visionaries gives them freedom and safety within which to ideate to their heart’s content.

I had a very close personal relationship with one of my innovative thinkers. (Still do to this day.) The depth of our relationship allowed me to be candid and honest when one of his wild-haired ideas was clearly out of bounds. You must establish a relationship that doesn’t quash inventors of good ideas.

Developer.

I could write forever on this one; it’s an area of strength for me personally. The Developer takes someone else’s inspiration and turns it into reality. This is the person who internalizes the vision and clearly sees the road toward fulfillment and actualization. I often found it exhilarating to take on the challenge of what seemed like a crazy impossible notion. Developers are also called upon to be peacemakers. They often serve as a bridge between the visionaries and maintainers. The two roles at the opposite ends of the continuum may find themselves at odds with one another and require an interpreter for the others.

WORD OF CAUTION: If you are not the developer on your team, value this person. Value how they process. Encourage their heart and reinforce their efforts, even as they struggle. And even if the development takes longer than you’d like. This team member’s contributions are essential to the success of your enterprise.

Maintainer.

How I’ve come to value this person and their stalwart strength at keeping the little train running down the track. This is your QC (Quality Control) gatekeeper. This is your insurance policy that all systems are in top working order and running smoothly. Simply put, your enterprise does not work without this vital functionary.

WORD OF CAUTION: If this is not you, you may find yourself routinely wondering what in the heck this person does all day. You may need to remind yourself of their great value to the team, and then, remind your maintainer how much you value and care for them and their contributions to the team. I have found it’s the non-maintainers among us who are most critical of this team member’s work. Oh, and BTW, this person will be most irritated by the crazy fly-by-night mentality of the visionaries in the group. This person loves process and order. May in fact be a bit OCD (obsessive-compulsive). That’s precisely why they are so good in their role.

A final note on these roles: regardless of your personal strength along the continuum, you will find your greatest satisfaction and success when you surround yourself with others who fill the roles you lack, or in which you are weaker. You will need to serve as the conductor, directing the rhythms and tempos of your group. Keeping everyone working in harmony all the time is your greatest challenge.

Now, if your team doesn’t currently fit these descriptors perfectly, don’t fire them all! First, you may need to evaluate their group membership according to our previous discussion of FIT.

Or, if you find yourself needing to build a team for a new or specific task, consider these recommendations:

· Know thyself. Reflect on where you placed your own competencies/”wirings” on the V-D-M continuum and then begin to identify team members whose competencies complement yours, thus using the model as your template for success.

· Personalize your search. Get to know candidates for the team. Spend time with them to gauge their interest in the project and assess their skills and abilities as FIT targets.

· Make sure your delegation is clear, especially regarding your expectations for the team’s roles and responsibilities. Oh, and OUTCOMES. Everyone needs to know where the end zone is so they can effectively drive for touchdowns.

· Be authentic and prolific with your feedback. This is key to reassuring your team that they’re on the right track, or may need mid-course corrections. Healthy leaders are adept at the art of communication; most especially, in this case, with your cherished and valued teams.

· Celebrate the team’s collective and individual successes. Acknowledge failures. But if you’ve created a healthy and safe environment within which risk-taking is encouraged and incremental failures become learning moments, you will ensure everyone enjoys each other’s successes. The power of team morale cannot be overstated.

True North Leaders recognize that the gifts God has given them are for the benefit of others. About distributing and encouraging and empowering their followers and team members. Be intentional. Strategic. And focused when it comes to your teams. You need them because you can’t do it alone.

Norm Mintle