Two weeks ago, I challenged you, my friends, to pick a September resolution for me. You voted (thank you), and I’m pleased to announce the results.

The winner — with 44% of the vote — was “ensure the team’s success”. The question, therefore, is: how do I, as a leader, ensure my team’s success? Both now and in the future. How do I ace my succession plan?

To address this challenge, I naturally turned to my mentor. As many of you know, I’m not based in the UK, but do spend a lot of time here (our developers are at Silicon Roundabout in London) so I managed to persuade IABC UK to let me be part of their flagship mentoring scheme – available to IABC members. I got introduced to the wonderful Constance Marianescu — some of you met her at my session at the IABC World Conference in Montreal. But I digress…

Constance gave me some great advice which can be summarised as L-E-A-D.

L stands for ‘loosen up’. In her experience many bad leaders go for a ‘corset’ management style. That is: loose at the top (they are vague on objectives and goals), tight in the middle (they expect to be cc’d on every email) and loose at the bottom (woolly evaluation and measurement). But surely the ‘reverse corset’ is a more effective technique? Be super tight about the strategy and rules (top) and awesomely accurate on evaluation and standards (bottom), but let your people make decisions — and take responsibility — on implementation.  Hold them accountable for results, not activity. This will help them grow and develop.

E is for ‘expand’. Constance told me that the best learning and development opportunities happen at the liminal zone of people’s experience. That is: at the edge of their comfort zone. Too ‘in the zone’ and it is easy. Too ‘out of the zone’ and no learnings are possible. So expand people’s horizons gently and push them carefully step-by-step.

A is for ‘allow to fail’. Early in my career, I complained that my team checked in with me for everything — they seemed unable to make a decision without me. But Constance told me that it was my fault, not theirs. I should give them responsibility and decision-making power. This means that maybe they will fail or do things in a different way that I would. The key for their success is for me to reward lessons learned, as much as big wins. Sure, I’ll rescue them from a big mistake or doing something illegal. But if it is a minor mistake: let them make it and learn. That’s how they grow.

D is for ‘designate’. Who is your successor? Early in my career I worked in a company which had a policy: no matter how good you are, we won’t promote you unless you have groomed a successor. I know who is ready to take the baton when I pass it on. Do you?

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There you are. Four tips on how to make a team successful.

Oh, and by the way, if you would like to have your own mentor, be sure to join IABC and sign up for their mentoring scheme. And of course if you would like to explore these issues — maybe as part of your team’s Christmas party — please get in touch.