Great Leaders Don’t Have Followers; They have this.

By Blog, Innovation, Leadership

Leaders are usually defined as people who have a massive line of lemmings attempting to mimic their actions. But great leaders don’t have followers. They have something way more powerful. I learned that on a particularly difficult project.

I was asked to lead a project that was already $16M in the hole and 3.5 years behind schedule. The team was beaten down and I was the last hope of getting this project out of the gutter. Everyone thought I would fail, but I knew that my methodology was almost fool-proof. All I needed was a team that believed what I already knew to be true.

After I whittled down the scope and modified the timeline I was ready to take the next big step in my plan – transform a beaten down team into superheroes.

Dawnna St Louis - Professional Keynote Speaker

At my first presentation, my goal was to eradicate negative beliefs.

I stood on the podium and reminded them that they were the chosen ones pulled from every corner of the organization to deliver a game-changing innovation. I showed them the successes they had earned along the way and how a slight change in direction would garner even more success. I told what the future would look like and asked them to make it happen with me.

The team dynamic changed over time, but I didn’t know how much until winter break.

The last two weeks of the year, around Christmas and New Year’s Day, I give every person on my team time off. The issue was that an external change was going to impact our project by 30 days and cause us to miss our first delivery date in almost a year. This was a huge blow to a team that had gone from never delivering anything to always delivering on-time.

hands in the middle

I went into action and got the change order approved. My team had nothing to worry about. The delivery date was moved back by 45 days so they could enjoy the holiday.

On December 26th I called Kim, the Direct of Business Analysis, to wish her a Happy Birthday. During the call I commented that the person laughing in the background sounded like Mark, the Director of Data Management. She said, “Oh, it is. I am at the office with the team.”

I was in complete shock. Why was my team at the office? I rushed in to find out what was going on.

Upon arrival to the office there was music, food, drinks, presents, family members, and a team of 28 people hard at work.

When I questioned what was going on Kim explained,

“The five people on the data extraction team were not about to be the ’cause’ of missing a delivery date, so they decided to come in to get a head start. The reporting team said they would come in to get the reports done if the load team would make sure they had data to report on. So the load and reporting team came in too. Then the QA team said nothing can really get approved until they do the work they need to do. And the BA team decided to help do some QA work to get the final approval ready for Jan 2nd. Oh… it’s the holiday so we invited family and friends who brought food, drinks, decorations, and music… of course.”

I said, “You know it’s your birthday and holiday week… right?”

Kim laughed, “Of course, that’s why we have a menorah, santa hats, kwanzaa decorations… oh and I got bottle of Grey Goose Vodka for my birthday. YAY!”
Kim continued in a whisper, “By the way, you weren’t invited so we don’t have a Santa hat for you.”

Within one week my team had delivered 30 days of work.

At our Jan 3rd delivery meeting, Mark made a few remarks on the behalf of the team.

“You knew we would be successful and we thought you were crazy. You defined the future and dared us to be a part of it. You saw that in us which we forgot existed. You have converted team members into kool-aid drinking believers. You always said, ‘I don’t want followers; I want a team that believes in our vision; a vision that they know is possible and will work to achieve.’ Thank you for transforming us into believers.”

Laeders that have a team of team of believers will find themselves surrounded by people that will move heaven, earth, and holiday weeks to get the job done.

What do you believe?