Humble, hungry, smart. Communicative, collaborative, collegial. Driven but flexible.Tough, but easy going. These are just some of the many characteristics team members are asked to demonstrate. These attributes are usually layered on top of the “core competencies” that leaders and managers are asked to develop as part of their growth plan. It is daunting to think of all of the things we need to remember, overcome and practice as we go through our day. No one is that perfect. So, what can we do to be the best team member possible without having to live up to the impossible ideal? It starts with you being you.
First, be vulnerable. At the foundation of all good team function is trust and trust is rooted in allowing yourself to be vulnerable with your team members. Being vulnerable means that you admit when you are struggling, ask for help when you need it, acknowledge your mistakes. Vulnerability does not show weakness, but rather it demonstrates strength and engenders trust. Trust is, after all, the glue that makes a team a team. Without it, there can be no team. If you feel that you cannot be vulnerable with your team, it is a big red flag. It means you will not be able to optimize your team function. Being vulnerable is not always easy. People are fearful of being vulnerable as it opens up the possibility of criticism, emotional harm, and even worse. However, not being vulnerable prevents you from learning and growing and having meaningful relationships. Spending time with your team members in a personal setting is a good way to build vulnerability. It can often reveal that you are not alone relative to your fears. In Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly (2012), the author reminds us that vulnerability not only enhances our team, but also our lives.
Second, be courageous. Start by being honest with yourself about what you really think and feel, then express it—respectfully of course. Courage links to your ability to communicate effectively and listen empathically. Up the chain, down the chain, with your peers—whichever team you’re on, but especially with your Team One–the team to which you owe your highest loyalty. Your perspective adds value (especially when you are being exceptional) and diminishes group think. It is your reason for being on the team. When you are not courageous, you cannot speak out when the team: is not living up to its shared values; strategy is going off track; or, is engaging in destructive behaviors. Being courageous is rooted in being vulnerable. Being honest and courageous has several benefits as well: a) It ensures that your team/leader factors your ideas and input into whatever decision is being formulated; b) it builds your commitment to shared outcomes; c) it reduces the likelihood that you “shut down” from suppressing your honest emotions; and d) it makes you happier.
Third, be exceptional. As a team member, if you come to a meeting unprepared, you suffer, and your team suffers. Don’t accept mediocrity in yourself or in others. Sometimes this means you need to say “no” to opportunities that divert your focus and are not important to the team’s or your priorities. It also means that you need to pursue learning and “sharpen your saw” on a regular basis. Carve out time in your day/week/month to just think. Daniel Goleman in his article The Focused Leader (HBR, December 2013), discusses the concept of “open awareness”, where you allow yourself to be open to all that is around you. It promotes reconnecting the dots in a way that may benefit your thinking and your team’s as well. Seeking out data and knowledge to form new connections are key to producing better than average results.
Finally, be yourself. In the pursuit of being the “ideal”, we can lose those personal qualities that make our team contributions meaningful. Discover the unique talents that you possess—no one else has them but you! Are you a good writer? An abstract thinker? In possession of extraordinary speaking skills? Sharpen your talents and develop them into skills that are valuable to you and your team. If you mask those natural qualities, then you are not bringing your best self forward. Often, we believe that something is “obvious”, when often it is only obvious to us. That is when being vulnerable and courageous allows us to share our natural strengths and talents.
Teams need individuals to pursue being their best selves in order to benefit the team. The “I” in team is actually YOU. Being a great team member requires focus on the elements above. For more on how you can develop your team and unlock the secrets of teams that grow more and win faster, contact Trinitas.
Meet Our Team Of Experts
Susan M. Diehl
Partner and Advisor
Susan Diehl is a is a partner with Trinitas Advisors, an executive coaching firm that helps business leaders build the leadership alignment they need to win more, grow faster and succeed longer. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.