Team Leaders

Teams are made up of individuals with different skill sets, expertise and years of experience, not to mention different personalities. Someone needs to be in charge and direct the diversified team to accomplish the objectives they have in front of them.

It doesn’t matter if we have a team of electricians, a team of software developers, or a team of doctors. Everyone has to know their job, do their job, and keep up with the latest skills to keep their job. There is no such thing as job security. The only job security you have is in the skills you possess (unless your father or uncle own the business).

I am sure many of you have worked at companies where Jethro is not only kept on board as an employee, but he is also the supervisor-in-charge, but not because of his professional skills and expertise. I advise people to avoid those companies. Not only will they be frustrated on a daily basis from bad decisions, but they will never be able to advance because the top jobs always go to a relative.

Educational issues

As I used to tell students, you earn more when you learn more. Learning in most technology-based areas is a continuous commitment. It doesn’t end when you get that degree or certificate of course completion. Continuous or lifelong learning is becoming more the norm in many technical industries. We need to instill that into many people taking courses and curricula focused on technologies and engineering.

Few jobs are not based in some type of project team environment. In school, many people are trained to perform projects and tasks on their own, yet out in the real world, they are assigned to a team.

What usually happens? They cannot perform as well as they did on their own because now they have to deal with others. Some people just want to sit in a corner on a computer or on their smartphone and pretend to be working hard. That is not the focus of jobs today.

When educating people for most tech jobs, whether software- or hardware-based, classes should include more group projects and focus on instilling team dynamics. Colleges and universities need to rethink some of their curricula. Companies need to do a better job in weeding out poor middle management as well.

Today, “Are you a team player?” is a typical interview question. The typical answer is, “Yes, I’m a team player,” whether it is true or not. Because it is such an overused question, it is worthless in the interview process.

I used to tell students who were going to be looking for technical jobs to answer this way:

“Are you a team player?”

“No, I’m not.”

And when the interviewer comes back up after falling down off his or her chair, I would tell them to say, “I am a team leader.”

After working in so many projects and hearing other people’s experiences, we have enough team players and self-starters, but we have very few team leaders and self-finishers in all industries.

Self-starter versus self-finisher?

Self-finisher? Someone who starts a job and completes the job without needing someone else's help or constant oversight. Self-finishers may not have been a common description you previously heard of—but it should be. That is the team player who always seems to be in short supply on the job.

If you have worked in any teams or project-oriented capacity, you have seen all these people on the job: slackers, self-starters (but never finishers), "players," chronic complainers, and all the other characters who are unfortunately more common than we would like.

One thing I recently heard was someone complaining that her job has changed and that it is becoming too much like work. She gets in every day at about 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. but is mad that she has to start showing up at the office three days a week instead of working out of the house as much.

Work is work. That’s why they call it work, and it isn’t play time.

Unfortunately, some people have become so casual-minded and lax on the job, they have forgotten what they should be doing. I know some frustrated business owners who have switched back from a casual-attire environment to a full business-attire environment. Too many people were pushing the envelope and coming in looking like they were going out to play.

We also need to groom more people to learn how to take charge and lead teams. Notice the emphasis on "lead." We also have a lot of “managers” on the job, and that is a bad thing.

You manage resources, but you lead people

Many people do not understand that difference between managing and leading. People do not like to be managed.

In the first decade or two of my career, I used to go buy different management books and would voraciously read up on all the new techniques and ideas of managing people and projects. Besides going for an MBA, I wanted to see other perspectives and current methodologies. Staying on top of ideas was something I thought was important for my career.

Theory X Management, Theory Y, Theory Z, Total Quality Management (TQM), Total Continuous Improvement (TCI), Kaizen, and Six Sigma books. You name ‘em. I read ‘em. I even developed a course on international projects managing multicultural project teams and teaching TQM concepts and later Six Sigma. It was very popular because I included the focus on team dynamics and small group projects. It was a course ahead of its time and was cut in a large across-the-board reduction of 120 courses. So much for being innovative and ahead of the curve.

With all the books and courses that have come out on management strategies and new ways to deal with people over the years, I would say we are worse off than what we were 30 years ago. We certainly have not made much improvements or changes to management curricula. And in many cases in various industries, Jethro is still in charge, or it’s someone even worse.

People do not like to be managed. They want to be led by someone who understands what the objectives are and how to utilize everyone’s strengths to accomplish those objectives.

We talk about diversity, but diversity is not a skill. We need to focus on old-fashioned quality and FACT-based (flexibility, adaptability, creativity and technology) skills when it comes to leadership and doing the job in the 21st century.

About the Author

James Carlini

Contributing Editor

James Carlini, MBA, is a strategist for mission-critical networks, technology and intelligent infrastructure. He has been the president of Carlini & Associates since 1986. He is author of "LOCATION LOCATION CONNECTIVITY," a visionary book on the...

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