I was teaching a class on team communication recently and as usual, we started the conversation discussing the team leader. After all, the team leader is pretty important. They set the agenda - and the tone - for everyone on the team.
That’s why I always ask my students what they think is the most important quality a team leader should have. I have to admit it’s a bit of a trick question, because I know that they usually respond with a list of skills and qualifications. They rattle off a resume. But, I want to talk about something else, a quality that is not listed on a resume.
I want to talk about likeability. Yes, that’s right - likeability. That’s because I think it is the single most important, yet misunderstood, quality a team leader should have. I don’t think skills or qualifications should come into the mix until we have established that the team leader is likeable.
Now, when I say likeable, I don’t mean that the team leader should be everyone’s BFF. I don’t mean that the team leader should bring treats to the team. Although a pumpkin spice muffin or some glazed donuts once in a while can certainly move the lever toward likeability.
And I am not suggesting that a team leader can be completely incompetent in every other way, as long as they’re likeable. Of course a team leader certainly needs to have a level of intelligence and some abilities to organize a team. But, I think that ability and IQ can sometimes be overrated and likeability is all too often underrated.
To make it even easier, I guess you could say that what I really mean is that the team leader should be nice. Yes, simply nice. And, while it may be difficult to define, nice is easy to recognize. We all know nice when we see it. We can actually feel it.
And, the best part is that nice doesn’t require a degree or cost any money. It only requires some effort and a desire to connect and understand others. Yes, it does require effort and desire. Although it’s easy to see and feel nice, it’s not always easy to be nice. It can take a determined and conscious effort to be nice when faced with challenges and challenging personalities.
There are many characteristics of nice, but to get us started, I have a cheat sheet of my all-time favorites. I call these the Great Eight… the eight characteristics that I think a team leader should embody. I think a team leader should be:
Quick to Compliment
Calm and Steady
When a team leader is all of these, or some combination of them, they can energize the most difficult team. A team that actually likes to work together, gets things done.
That’s why being nice is not just a strategy that feels good, it’s a strategy that works. It’s a strategy that enables a team to excel and individual members to blossom. It’s a strategy that builds and fosters commitment and loyalty. In this environment truly awesome things are accomplished.
Teams meet challenges they never thought they could. And, the best part… they enjoy doing it!
Leading a team is about inspiring. It’s about facilitating. It’s about empowering. Leading is about setting a tone of open communication, trust and even an environment of fun.
Nice does all this.
That’s why I think the first question we should be asking aspiring team leaders is not where they went to college, what certifications they have or what their strategic goals are, we should ask them, “Are you nice enough to lead?”
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