Want to stand out from the crowd as a leader? Here’s something you can do that my six-year-old son showed me at soccer practice.
My six-year-old had his first soccer practice last week. Have you ever seen four to six-year-olds playing soccer? It’s not FIFA. Someone’s going to sit in the dirt picking flowers. Someone’s going to stand there having suddenly forgotten how to run. Someone’s going to run away from the ball. Someone’s going to (excitingly) kick the ball toward the wrong goal. And at some point, someone’s going to cry. Don’t judge kids crying at soccer practice. It happens. If it’s not your kid today, it may be them the next time. It’s just kids being kids.
One boy showed up and began crying before practice even began. No one’s sure why. He’s probably not sure why – new experience, new strangers, new authority figure. It’s scary. It was time for practice to start so the coach called everyone over to a goal on the far end of the field. But this boy didn’t move. He just stayed on the bench whimpering. I motioned my son over and whispered, “Why don’t you go help him out?”
Now I just assumed my son would simply nudge the boy, say, “Hey. Come on, let’s go.” and then run off onto the field. That alone is more than what most others would do. But here’s where my son showed me what a leader does. He walked over to the boy, gently grasped his arm and pulled him off the bench. Then he placed his hand on the boy’s back and slowly walked with him all the way to the team. The whole time he kept one arm on the boy’s back, letting him know he was still there. As they walked, I couldn’t fully make out what my son said, but I heard, “We’re going to have fun…We’re going to get to…We’re going to get to…” By the time they made it over to the team the tears had stopped, the boy was ready to play, and for the next hour he had a tear-free blast.
My son didn’t have to do anything, but that simply act of walking with someone helped a scared boy get comfortable, get onto the field and actually have fun.
That made me recall some of the best leaders I know and how they help their teams move forward. When you’re leading a team, you have a few options.
- You can stand back and direct people to go forward.
- You can go forward and direct people to come along behind you.
- You can move your team forward as you walk along with them.
The best leaders are able to recognize what the situation calls for. A lot of times that means walking with their team. You can’t always walk with them, and sometimes you even need to give them their space to grow. But your team needs to know that you’re there to walk with them at the right times.
What does it mean to walk with your team? It depends on the situation. It depends on each individual team member. The best way to understand that is to get to know your team. Common sense, right? Unfortunately, it’s not common practice. Few leaders actually take the time to invest in fully knowing their team members. Strong leaders take the time to fully know and appreciate every aspect of each individual – their personality, their hopes and dreams, their strengths, their needs, their challenges. Bonus: when you get to know your team it’s natural that they get to know you too. Winning all around!
Need help understanding how you can walk with your team? Here’s a few ideas to get you started.
Have their backs: Your team needs to know that you support them no matter what. Ask them questions. Where do they feel like they’re winning? Where do they feel like they’re challenged? What barriers are they facing? When you find out as much as you can and act on that knowledge, your team knows you care and they’ll trust you even more.
Include them in planning: What’s more effective, creating a plan by yourself and then handing it over for your team to work out or including your team in the planning process from the beginning? If you’ve been in either of those situations then you already know the answer. When someone’s included in the process to develop the plan, the mission, the goals they’re much more likely to be invested in accomplishing them. And when you include your tam in the planning, they’re much more likely to think through solutions to possible roadblocks instead of simply complaining about them later
Stay visible: If your team can’t see you you’re not walking with them. If you hide in your office (or if you’re always out of the office away from your team) you can’t assume the work will just get done without you. In fact, go ahead and assume that: your team won’t be aligned, your team will face challenges you’re not aware of, and the work won’t get done the way you intend. You’ve got to be visible with constant face-face discussions. When you remain visible, it’s much easier to give those constant reminders on your team’s (or individual’s) mission, plan, goals. It’s easier to give and receive real-time feedback.
Don’t get me wrong. Walking with your team isn’t the only thing you have to do to be a great leader – there’s lots of aspects that go into being an intentional leader. But if you learn how and when to walk with your team, you’ll stand out from the crowd.
Question: What steps are you going to take this week to begin walking with your team?