Weak leadership brings chaos to a group

I’ve been taking my son to practice ice skating during the winter. The training is lead by different coaches every week and they are all very different.
Some are teenagers from the local field hockey teams and some are older coaches for these teams.
The group of kids range from 15-25 every week and the ages are between 4-6 years old.

When I’m standing and watching these training sessions it becomes very obvious how different the sessions are based on the coach. The same kids act as pure saints or well drilled navy seals with one coach and the devils offspring with another coach.
The most obvious thing you can observe is that the “strenght” of the leader is in direct relation to the groups ability to focus and hence it’s performance and progress.
A weak leader scatters the group and the kids pay no attention to him at all. The performance of the group is not only non-progressing but can even regress in the form of individuals performing worse than they did four or five weeks ago.
A strong leader gets the group working and all the kids are engaged in the same activities as the weak leader makes them do, but now with full engagement.
We may think that we are more civilized and professional than a bunch of five year olds but let me ensure you, we are not. We might not be so insensitive that we just leave the place physically when someone is talking but we do however leave the place mentally and that’s just as bad or even worse.

This got me thinking about what actually defines a strong leader. You know when you have one in your team or organisation but many of us don’t really have a clue of what it really is that makes him or her a strong leader. This is what I’ve come up with during the ice skating sessions.

A strong leader (or ice skating coach) uses a set of rules that works universally, independent of what type of team you are building. The rules are:

Clear Communication
In order for a leader to get full attention he or she must use the clearest form of communication the situation or task allows. You most not only talk with a clear voice that reaches all participants of your group but also emphasize the most important words in every sentence so no one misses your point. This might sound a bit silly but…if you WANT to get your MESSAGE across you MUST CAPTURE your groups full attention by ALTERNATING your voice between plain speach and EMPHASIZED ARTICULATION.
Try also to get rid of or replace complex words or phrases when you adress your team. Although they make you sound really smart you will always tend to speak over the head of your team and that is one of the best ways to ensure that they wont listen to what you say.

Consistent framework of rules
It should be very clear to the team what is allowed and what is not allowed. It should also be very clear in advance what they are expected to do. There should be a set of rules that apply for everyone, are easy to remember and gives the team members clear boundaries and support in their daily tasks. Whether it’s about skating between cones or getting the annual report ready, the team and it’s individuals should always know how to act once the task is started. The reason to this is to ensure that nothing stops the entire process if the leader should momentarily be absent.

Engages people thru vision
In order for a leader to get his or her team to work together, at the same time as the individuals develop and progress in their learning, there must be a guiding star for both individuals and the team of where they are heading. If it’s the vision of taking us from one side to the other without getting caught by the “ice machine” or if it’s the journey towards getting the most satisfied customers isn’t really that important. The important thing is that it gives individuals and the team the “right” direction of what to do and where to go.
The leader has to set this vision, make it interesting and get everyone engaged in the journey towards that goal. You might think that it’s easy engaging fiver year olds by just telling them a story about pirates and evil ice machines but trust me, a weak leader can get the most pirate fanatic kids to fall asleep when talking about pirates and adventures. The true secret lies in HOW you engage poeple by adaption your story to the group you are talking to. The only way to do that is too watch, listen and adapt while you go. If you watch every individual when you are talking about your vision you will see clearly who has left the ring and is out on a mental ice skating trip of their own. Get to know WHY you lost them, adapt your story and retry to engage them.

Constant feedback on progression
Everybody wants to be good, wants to be of service, wants to be needed an wants to hear that they’ve done a great job. This is true for five year olds and thirty five year olds. A strong leader looks for progression and instantly give feedback on what happens. “Great job”, “well done” and “nicely done” are a few phrases you should use several times a day. I you have the guts try a “high five” once in a while when someone has done something really good. But the most important thing is to do it with everyone in public because everybody wants to stand in the spotlight once in a while and the best spotlight is when your mom tells you that she’s proud of you or when your leader recognizes your effort.

Let’s the team discuss mistakes
Feedback is go for appraisal and discussion is good for misstakes. If someone does something that isn’t good you shouldn’t blast of with direct feedback of “how stupid that was” or “what the hell they were thinking”. Instead you should create an open forum for discussion where the group can raise the issue and discuss how to act the next time. If you do this right you will gain two things. 1. The individual wont feel like a complete ass. 2. You will get the group to be aware of the problem and ensure that no one does that again without you pointing any fingers.
The best way of doing this is to have a fixed point in your weekly meeting agenda that handles “good/bad last week”.

Helps by teaching how to, not by doing
Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today.  Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.
That sentence says pretty much everything but it’s probably the most hard thing to do if you are an operative leader for a team today.
I always try to have this in mind when a team member gets stuck or needs help in some way. I noticed that the strong coaches also used this with the kids. Instead of picking up a kid that had fallen the strong coaches got down on their knees infront of them and showed them how to get up. The weaker coaches got stuck with picking up kids for a numerous amount of weeks while the stronger coaches got the kids to solve it themselves in a couple of weeks. The effect of showing one kid how to get up rippled since there were at least five or six other kids laying on the ice as well.
As the coach was showing the technique to one kid the others watched and learned.
With that done the strong coach could focus on getting the team to progress instead of being stuck with picking up team members from the ice all the time.