Whether you are just starting out in a new job or at the end of a long career, you should always “stand up for the team.” You will find overall greater satisfaction in life in team accomplishments than individual achievements. By working within a team environment, you will develop skills that will do you in good stead for the future – the ability to set goals, recruit talent and provide focus and leadership towards a common goal are traits that are always desired by your peers and management.
During your career you will be faced with situations that will test your patience and management skills. You may have one or two employees who are not up to par. If they are also hurting morale of your team (it only takes one or two of these bad apples to adversely affect your team efforts), you need to get rid of them as tactfully and professionally as you can (see Mike’s post Compassionate Leadership: Cleaning Up A Mess). This needs to be done in private, not public. There is no need to embarrass someone in a public arena.
You may have a few on your team who are not top performers but are loyal and dedicated. They are still very valuable to your overall effort but it is up to you to get the most out of their talent. You will have some super performers who may require constant praise. Figure out a way to recognize them but do not go overboard on their individual accomplishments. Instead, praise them with emails and notes when appropriate (as mentioned in “The Thank You Note” post). Whenever you can, you should look for opportunities to praise in a public forum but emphasize how their individual accomplishments contributed towards the team goals.
You may have an occasion where your team is not accomplishing what needs to get done. This sometimes leads to criticism internally amongst the teammates and possible finger pointing to blame individuals. You should turn this quickly into a session where the team assesses where they are on the project, what may be wrong, and what the team needs to do to get back on track. Don’t dwell on individuals in this open forum. If your project is not on track you may get outside criticism from your boss or customers. This is when you need to stand up for the team. Let the boss or customer express their concerns to you as the leader of the team and not berate or criticize your employees, especially in public.
Let me give you a personal example from early in my career. As a new Army lieutenant in my first assignment in Germany in 1970, I (like many other lieutenants) was faced with a unit that had a shortage of experienced soldiers. We were under command of a no-nonsense, hard-charging colonel who was a well decorated Viet Nam veteran. In my second day in the unit, 500 of us were working on our 54 tanks and assorted vehicles in the motor pool preparing for a rail movement to a training area. One of my soldiers was trying to fix a weapon but evidently was doing it wrong and was seen by the colonel. I was not at the location at that moment but arrived as the colonel was chewing out the private for his actions. The private was distraught.
I saluted the colonel and politely told him that I was in charge of the platoon and that individual soldier. I told the colonel he needed to chew me out if something was wrong with my men or my platoon. That initiated a 45 minute chewing out session from the colonel to this new lieutenant. I was called everything from worthless to four letter words while the entire 500-man unit witnessed the event. Some were watching from the top of their tanks and others pretended to keep working – but they were a captive audience. Finally it ended and life went on. But I knew that my men would crawl through barbed wire for me after that and I had other soldiers tell me they wanted to be in my platoon. It was not pleasant experience and I questioned if a career in the Army was now not an option. 26 years later I retired as a colonel and the hard-charging colonel who berated me eventually became a general and still tells me today I was one of the best lieutenants he ever had (not that I condone his methods).
In short – here are the takeaways. Do projects with a team concept. Criticize in private and praise in public. Stand up for your team in bad as well as good. After all, “anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” – Publicus Syrus
SOME BACKGROUND ON BILL:
Bill Malkemes attended West Point, participating in intercollegiate tennis and squash. He was All-East in tennis with an Eastern ranking of 5th and an All-American in Squash with a National ranking of 10th. Upon graduation in 1970, Bill served in command and staff positions in Armor, Calvary and Aviation assignments in Germany, the US, and Viet Nam.
He earned a Masters Degree from Georgia Tech in Operations Research and Systems Analysis, an MBA from Long Island University and a Masters in International Relations from Salve Regina College. After 26 years of active service, he retired at the rank of colonel.
Bill continued contributing to the defense of the nation as a Program Manager for Camber Corporation and then for Northrop Grumman. In 2005 he became President of DMD, LLC. He is active in ethical forums within the defense and civilian communities.