People WalkingThis past week I had the opportunity to work on a big project with a group of colleagues.

It was hard, stressful work.  And a fair amount of the time it didn’t look like we were going to succeed.  Our biggest enemy was time.

But in the end we did it.  And as I reflected on this past week, there were two things that we could not have succeeded without.

The first revolved around using each team member’s special strength.  Intelligence or experience is important, but it’s not nearly as important as a person’s natural gifts.  As a leader, my job is to notice those gifts (or “gears” for my analogy), and then line them up with my other team members’ strengths so that all the cogs fit well together.

The word “well” is the key here.  In short, as a team leader, my job is to organize my people to maximize the team’s good.

That was mostly an intellectual exercise.  But the next thing I learned was a bit different.

Even if the cogs are lining up, troubles and set backs have a way of demoralizing the team.  The second thing I learned this week was the value of motivation.  I decided ahead of time to spend four out of five of all my words building up my team members.  I reserved—at most—the last 20% for correcting.  I tried my best to maintain this, regardless of the mess-ups (and there were mess-ups) because I wanted to keep our momentum.

Project momentum lives or dies on morale.  It was only the will to push harder and work later that allowed us to finish our job.  I didn’t have to cajole them—every single team member volunteering their sweat and working overtime because they believed in the project.  That was because we were able to maintain a high morale.

Without morale and without tailoring to my team’s strengths I would have spent all my time (unsuccessfully) trying to be a ring leader—a ring leader who had to explain to his boss why we missed our deadline and failed on our project.

Instead, we finished on time and were able to reflect on a job well done.

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