What Great Leaders Do For Teams

1. Inspire.

Employees deserve to be inspired. Moreover, the number one reason people leave companies is that they are no longer inspired. They no longer feel a strong compass for success, and have lost the grit and energy to push through fueled by excitement about the possibility of what they could create tomorrow that does not exist today. User Experience Designers and Engineers are passionate advocates for the customer, for progress and for doing things the right way. Serve that well.

When times are hard for teams, I think of the words of laureate Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Our critical job is to make sure our work is inspired, and to fight for inspiring work strategies to higher levels of the company. This aspect of team leadership with which I aspire to — and struggle with — everyday. My colleagues want to build great things. More importantly, they want clarity to know why they are building and feel confident in the value it will have for customers (not the business). It’s my job to help fight for that clarity as much as possible.

2. Trust.

As a leader, it’s much more important that I believe in great ideas from teams, than getting them to believe in mine.

Most importantly, is that teams run better when they trust themselves. In his book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey says, “Without trust we don’t truly collaborate; we merely coordinate or at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.”

As well, it’s because I’m wrong often. So are you. So is everyone. The team exists to create better ideas than anyone can dream up on their own. As a leader, building trust begins when you trust those closest to the tasks to decide how to proceed. Trust UX, Engineeers, Data Scientists. Trust happens when teams are empowered with a voice.

3. Serve.

You should serve your team, not “run” it. To be sure, different product teams function in different ways, but what I do know is that the best leaders in tech (or in agencies, or anywhere) are not “mini CEOs”.

Jim Goodnight, an actual CEO says the same: ” “If you treat your employees like they make a difference, they will” Jim Goodnight, CEO, SAS To withhold ultimate decision-making from the team charged with creation and output, disrespects a much more subtle, difficult and higher duty of company leaders.

All leaders of organizations have the potential, in big and small ways every day, to serve their teams and ensure a better, and more loving (yes, loving) environment exists for all. With this comes greater creative inspiration and collaboration, which creates much more open networks of ideas, which is one of the most surefire factors for personal and corporate success.

And yet, if this is all true, the most obvious course of leadership in my eyes is not to become better at rallying people to ideas already decided, and not to create ideas and strategies for them to follow. Instead, my role has to be to follow and support them.

Christopher Ward
About the author: 

Christopher Grant Ward is the Vice President – Product at Shutterstock, a leading provider of digital content licensing.  Mr. Ward has also held executive-level assignments with Springbok, SUBTXT and Givegoods.  He has a Master’s Degree from Carnegie Mellon University. Follow him on Twitter.