Technical Leadership, Part 3: Cheerleader, Champion, Liaison
“A good leader leads the people from above them. A great leader leads the people from within them.” —M.D. Arnold
Effective leaders don’t lead from above. They lead from within the team—and thus propel the team to success. A leader’s greatest self-promotion is the unparalleled success of the team. Teams need a leader to fulfill different roles, such as being a cheerleader to highlight the team’s success, a champion to take innovative team ideas forward (regardless of political implications), and a liaison to communicate critical issues and challenges to people outside of the team. Each role comes with its own challenges, and your understanding of these roles should be part of your leadership toolkit.
Team accomplishments, whether recognized externally or not, are important to celebrate. Successful task completion, successful deliverables, customer kudos, and resolution of difficult challenges are all times when you should encourage your team to stop, cherish the moment, and celebrate. A characteristic of great teams is a winning environment. In sports, a score determines winners and losers. In business, successful teams continually deliver customer successes. You can leverage informal team happy hours, spot awards, or paid team lunches to ensure that your team celebrates when it meets important client goals. Effective leaders find new and innovative ways to take stock, recognize success, and find ways to repeat success.
A leader must spearhead innovative and important team ideas and/or capabilities. By leveraging the communication planning discussed earlier, you should, at times, present your team’s ideas externally and then follow up to ensure that they make their way to decision-makers. Even if you don’t get buy-in from decision-makers, it is important that your team sees you try. There are, after all, many valid reasons, such as financial challenges, why you may not get buy-in. Effective leaders champion their team’s ideas that could have a positive impact on the organization, ensure that those ideas get to decision-makers, and then follow up.
Leaders often need to share information from their team with those outside their team. To ensure internal and external transparency, you should communicate all information, even bad information, to all team members. Use the techniques and styles developed in your personal communication plan to ensure that everyone understands the information provided and that the appropriate audiences receive feedback. You must do more than just forward emails because all communication needs context. Effective leaders leverage their personal communication plan and conversation skills to effectively be a liaison between their team and those outside the team for all appropriate internal and external information.