What Every Team Needs from a Leader

These are the three burning questions every follower secretly asks of their leader.

People want to be taken somewhere.

How do I know this?

It's the reason people watch movies. They want to be taken somewhere through a story.

Donald Miller, author of Building a Storybrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, describes a story as, “somebody who wants something, who has to overcome conflict in order to get it.”

For example, Luke Skywalker wants to defeat the Empire, he overcomes conflict, then destroys the Death Star.

Similarly, teams look to leaders to be taken somewhere. Effective leaders use story to engage their team and then activate them by inviting them into the compelling narrative.

Here are the three questions every follower asks of their leader, and how leaders can answer them using a compelling narrative.

3 Questions Every Leader Needs to Answer for Their Team

1. What are we doing? 

Leaders are tasked with discovering something that the team wants, and the “want” really doesn’t matter that much—as long as it's ethical. It’s the journey towards the “want" that matters.

In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker’s “want” was to defeat the evil Empire.

Teams fail or disengage when they are invited into a narrative void of zero direction. Story compels people.

Whenever a void exists, a good or bad leader will rise to fill it. If leaders don’t lead their people to somewhere desirable and prosperous, then someone might lead them to somewhere undesirable and unfortunate. Leaders influence what hangs in the balance of their teams.

Use story to cast a compelling vision of the preferred future.

2.Why are we doing it?  

Once leaders have invited their teams into a compelling narrative, they then must communicate why its important.

One way to do that is to identify what’s at stake if this vision does not happen. In Star Wars, what was externally at stake was evil triumphing over good and internally for Skywalker was not discovering if he had what it takes to win the day.

Emphasize why the story matters.

3. How do I fit in? 

Lastly, leaders must identify the role each team member plays in the story.

The answers to the first two questions should be the same for everyone on the team but the answer to this third question will be unique to the individual.

Miller suggests that "leaders should always position themselves as the guide (Yoda), not the hero (Skywalker), of the story." When leaders remove themselves as the hero, it creates room to invite the team member to be a part of the story.

Besides, in their own eyes, every individual is the hero of their life story and are looking for guides (leaders) to help them pursue worthwhile goals. 

Leaders should help team member's script their role in the story. 

Leadership expert and author, Andy Stanley, helps his team members create a "one-sentence responsibility statement.” The responsibility statement goes well beyond a job description and provides the individual with extreme clarity on how they fit into the story and what their important contribution is. 

An engaged, motivated, and loyal team will be the reward for leaders who answer these three questions for their teams.

Ryan Jenkins, CSP® (Certified Speaking Professional)™, is an internationally-recognized keynote speaker, virtual trainer, and author of Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All-In. For a decade, he has helped organizations lessen worker loneliness, create inclusive cultures, and prepare for the future of work. He is also co-founder of LessLonely.com, the premier resource for addressing workplace loneliness. Follow his latest insights at @RyanAndSteven.

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