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Have You Improved Your Team's Game Lately?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Joe Lindsey
  • 43rd Services Squadron commander
Over the past couple of years, I've heard a lot of our senior Air Force leaders use the words, "commitment to excellence" to inspire members to stay dedicated to the standards that define exceptional performance. I must confess, I've used those same words during speeches and discussions with Airmen and civilians. Powerful words that clearly support one of the Air Force's core values, "Excellence in all we do."

Hearing the phrase evokes thoughts of one of my heroes, Michael Jordan. If there is anyone who personifies a commitment to excellence, it's No. 23. However, as remarkable as Michael Jordan was as an individual performer, his greatness is defined by the success of his team.

Most know what to focus on to improve our own game, but have you asked yourself lately, "What areas can I work on to improve my team's performance?" I believe communicating, building confidence and setting priorities are absolutely essential to creating a winning team.

Communication is a prerequisite to good leadership and vital for Airmen, civilians and contractors to want to be on your team. You can't build a team, working in concert towards your objectives, without clearly telling members what you hope to achieve.

A leader must establish a clearly defined vision. The vision should paint a picture of the future state, clarify the direction of the organization and help members understand why and how to support the organization. If members understand what's expected and what the organization is trying to accomplish, it becomes possible to make important decisions at lower levels and create a climate in which results and progress continually occur. It comes down to this ... how can you expect someone to reach your destination, when you haven't provided the address?

It's common sense that people like to be around people who strengthen their confidence and avoid people who don't. Collaborative team leaders bolster the self-assurance of team members. They build confidence through exhibiting trust by assigning responsibility, being fair and impartial, and by saying, "job well done."

Building team confidence begins with achieving results. The most authentic confirmation of confidence is being part of a well-earned, winning experience. I once read, "Confidence begins in the mind, but it is nurtured by success." A manifestation of success obtained from achieving goals and winning awards is what I call the "swagger." If you've ever been part of a winning experience, you know what I'm talking about. Members feel invincible and have a bring-it-on mentality. What a great feeling!

There's nothing more frustrating to me than leaders who consider everything a priority. Their inabilities to set priorities create an environment where members feel they're just spinning their wheels and not moving ahead. When a leader struggles with identifying critical tasks that must be done to make the most systematic progress toward the team's goal, members start to question the leader's technical knowledge, decisiveness and confidence in the eventual outcome. The key to keeping this from happening is for the leader to remain focused with a steadfast commitment to the goal and be absolutely clear about the activities necessary to achieve it.

I'll be the first to admit that it's much harder to raise the performances of teammates than to just concentrate on improving your own skills. If everyone on the team does what is required, winning is a foregone conclusion. Right? Well, it's not that simple because everyone won't understand where the team is trying to go and the roles they must fulfill to help the team get there; everyone doesn't realize they know and can do more than they think; and everyone won't realize what they must concentrate on most. We have the responsibility to communicate, build confidence and stay committed to team priorities.

This great Air Force mission is accomplished by team effort ... not individual effort. So, the next time you hear someone stress the importance of commitment to excellence, what will it mean to you?