To call your organization, regardless of the enterprise, a team is to fundamentally rearrange the way you, as a leader, view your role. Many leaders want to feel in charge, in control, but I recommend taking a step back and viewing your organization or group through the lens of teamwork. As a team, each teammate is equally important and valuable. It’s just that some players have different positions on the field, different roles and responsibilities. If you happen to be the team captain, in addition to mastering your craft one of your vital roles is to take care of the team.
This is known as servant leadership. The leader exists to empower the other members of the team. What resources do they need in order to do their job to the best of their ability? Beyond material resources, what sense of buy-in and empowerment will enable them to perform better, and how can you contribute to this growth? Instead of the players on the team serving the team captain, the team captain is there to serve—to empower—the members of the team.
What gets in the way of fully being a servant leader? One thing: ego. Power, control, and authority all boost the ego. These are the wrong reasons for leading, however, and the members of the team will see right through it. Genuine concern for the members of the team, which is ultimately the best strategy for mission success, will be noticed and appreciated, trust me. It cannot be faked. To lead others is a privilege that carries with it enormous responsibility. No one owes the leader anything, but the team captain owes everything to the teammates to be in this position.
When confronted with a difficult decision, leaders should keep in mind the fundamental principles of leadership, which will help set priorities during times of distress. Keeping in mind the concept of “taking care of the team” will help prioritize decision-making. Often leaders find themselves in a tenuous spot between wanting to please their boss and also wanting to remain popular and liked by their teammates. And sometimes, to please the boss is to upset the teammates, or vice versa. Sometimes leaders must make unpopular decisions. But if the team knows that the leader genuinely cares about them, they will trust that the right decision has been made, a decision that in the long run will be best for the team.
When I was a very junior officer in the SEAL teams, I was forward deployed on a US Navy ship with a small contingent of enlisted SEALs. As per Navy custom onboard ships, the enlisted men have separate berthing and dining from the officers. However, the culture in the SEAL teams is different than in the “Big Navy” and I didn’t feel appropriate separating myself from the enlisted SEALs. I decided to berth in the enlisted spaces onboard the ship, and to eat the majority of my meals in the enlisted mess hall, with just one meal in the officer dining hall to try to find a compromise solution, albeit too-little, too-late. This caused tension onboard the ship with US Navy officers who were more senior to me. I felt, though, that my duty and responsibility was with my team. I don’t know in the end if I made the “right” decision, and certainly in this case my judgment was based on what would be more valued by my team as opposed to what would be valued by the Navy seniority, but in order to take care of the team as a leader you do need to have a sense of what it is like to play in all of the positions, and for me that meant sleeping in the enlisted berthing and dining in the enlisted mess hall.