June 2, 2009 Chris Fuller

Learn the team first!

More than one leader has flipped the sled and had their race derailed by failing to learn dynamics of the new team.

At first blush, everyone will have their game face on (whatever that means to them). Some will come running up eagerly waging their tales and promising that they are the best dog in the kennel. They were meant to race. They were overlooked and underutilized by the last ‘Musher’ and they were just waiting for a new musher like you. This may be the case or it may take some time to realize that they are just licking one boot while ‘watering’ the other!

Others may come charging toward you with their teeth bared and their bark as loud as they can muster it. They will make all kinds of noise and let everyone in the kennel know that, regardless of who they install as the ‘Musher’, they are the real force to be reckoned with. In a vacuum of power or transition of power, they may be trying to leverage the opportunity to increase their status in the pack. Some of these may believe that they should have been promoted to your position and may tell you that. It’s ok – if their bark is worse than their bite, they will calm down when they know that you are not insecure. If you show weakness, they will smell the blood in the water and your days will be numbered. If you, immediately, start fighting someone’s going home in a body bag! At this point, you need the rest of the pack on your side – or it could be you being air-lifted out. Stay calm, look them in the eye, affirm their belief that they are a leader in the pack and then prove them out. Over time you’ll reel them in – remember the loudest skeptics can become the greatest and most vocal champions! If they do bite – you’ll drop them at the next closest checkpoint and the rest of the team will applaud you for it.

Most will sit back, wary of the new leader, waiting to see how many changes they will have to endure before you leave (through promotion or failure) and another takes your place. They are the cautious compliants. Time will prove your commitment to them and endear their commitment to you. They commit slow but once they do, they commit deep.

In any case, you will need to know the players that you have on your team: their capabilities and capacities. You must learn their “skill and will” to make sure that the race strategy on your clip board (coming in) is realistic for right now. If you, immediately, put your race plan into action without learning your team – you could flip the sled. And if I can be so honest – it’s your fault if you do. It’s not that they sabotaged your success – they were not at the right place, time, or mindset to implement that game plan and it’s the musher’s responsibility to know the team before leaving the chute. You’ll get there – hang on! You have great plans and dreams – and you’ll get there – it just may take a little more time to get started on the front end but you won’t lose time face down in the snow.

Early on – just take time sitting in the kennel – own the kennel – it’s your kennel. Take time to learn your people and give them time to learn you. Yes we need to get started. Yes we hunger for action and adventure! Yes we want those early wins! Just trust me on this one – flipping the sled early on is not pretty and it can cost you more than you want to pay.

Thanks for hanging out around this leadership “campfire”. Let’s talk about the terrain tomorrow.

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