Unstoppable teams know how to argue with, acknowledge, and hold each other accountable. Leaders who explore the emotional dynamics that always lie beneath the logic are the ones who are respected and followed. This article deals with one of five major aspects of team dynamics: becoming pattern-aware.
Martha was frozen. Her team was in mutiny mode. Rumors about her harsh manner were climbing into the plushy carpeted offices at corporate. Was this the worst time of Martha’s life? Maybe it was merely the overdone icing on a badly baked cake. She would fall asleep to the grating memory of her mother’s harsh voice, her mother who had never worked outside of their home for a day in her life, saying over and over, “If you are in charge, take control!” That was how her mother had ruled the roost till her kids—all six of them—finally, blessedly, grew up.
“I am in charge,” she told that voice, the one that had judged her throughout her life—that never had sounded pleased unless she earned all A’s and won top awards. Being in charge and in control was killing her, yet she didn’t know any other way to behave. Her super-achiever behavior had gotten her pretty far up the ladder.
Martha had been to tons of leadership and teambuilding programs. She had followed their advice: give clear directives, have definite timelines, hold your people accountable. What was missing?
Like most super-achieving executives, Martha had never taken the time to look into her own behavior. She was too busy telling others what to do. And so, as Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist once noted, “If you do not look at the shadow parts of your life, fate has a way of stepping in and doing that for you.”
Fate stepped in to become Martha’s teacher when her mother, the queen of control, had a stroke. Watching her mother’s savvy home health aide taught Martha about cooperation and collaboration. As everyone in the family learned to help with the recovery process, the aide modeled several key leadership skills, and Martha, who was pretty savvy herself, learned them.
1. Ask open ended questions.
Use the who, what, when where, how variety. Clue: Start by saying “I’m curious,” or “I wonder,” which creates a comfortable way to learn what next steps are needed. Then teach this to your whole team.
2. Listen without interrupting.
Then say, “Tell me more,” and continue to listen. Clue: This is when valuable information is offered. Then teach this to your whole team.
3. Make dialogue a way of life.
Dialogue is different from debate or casual conversation. Dialogue occurs when you keep going and don’t rush to solution too soon. Clue: you will find new ways of looking at old information this way. Then teach this to your team.
4. Be personally accountable.
Own your part in the situation and use “I statements” when you respond. Clue: Others will respond by being more accountable. Then teach this to your team.
5. Follow the OUT Technique.
Learn to Observe your behavior and make positive change happen. Learn to Understand your behavior to make even deeper, longer lasting change. Transform your old patterned behavior to its positive and healthy alternative. Inspire and lead your team effectively.
Once Martha saw how she had gotten locked into the same type of behavior she hated in her mother and was able to identify alternative behaviors, her pattern changed from super-achiever to creative collaborator. She learned that it is okay to ask for help, that it pays to be less judgmental and that perfection is an ideal, not a destination.
Word got back to corporate about the new, improved Martha and there were rumors of a promotion. Life was better, and so was leadership.
About the Author
Dr. Sylvia Lafair, author of Don’t Bring It to Work, is the President of CEO-Creative Energy Options, Inc., a dynamic consulting firm optimizing workplace relationships. Visit her websites, www.sylvialafair.com and www.ceoptions.com; Sylvia can be reached at