1. Every Team Member Is Actively Replacing Themselves
Usually, we think of replacing ourselves as the thing to do when you're about to retire or transition out of a role. However, a culture of replacing yourselves across a management team is a secret to unlock leadership development across your organization.
To maximize your leadership development culture, there should always be someone coaching someone to replace them, someone learning how to replace them and someone waiting in the wings to learn how to replace that person. I haven't come across a better solution to create a multiplication of internal leadership talent.
Ask yourself, "Am I replacing myself?" Ask your team, "Are you replacing yourselves?" Ask your team's direct reports, "Are you replacing yourselves?" Once the answer to all three of those questions is yes you'll be well on your way to a strong management team and leadership development culture.
2. You Regularly Don't Turn Up For Work
You read that correctly. When you don't turn up for certain work it's a sign you have a strong management team. I think a strong management team is a healthy work-life balance integration where everyone has trust to do their work in their way.
This won't happen overnight. If you want to see this culture take hold then there'll be lots of moments where you'll be the 'first to arrive and the last to leave'. Sure, you don't want to create a culture of slouches where you do the bare minimum.
But don't expect your management team or wider culture to have work-life integration if you don't! When was the last time you didn't turn up for work? When did you miss a meeting to see your daughter's sports match? When did you not go on a trip because you and your partner were travelling somewhere you'd been planning for years? Work-life integration is exactly that - integrated. If you don't model it, no one else will do it.
3. Your Organization Has Had Multiple Failures In Recent Times
When was your last significant failure as an organization? Or as a team? “Amazon will be experimenting at the right scale for a company of our size if we occasionally have multibillion-dollar failures,” Jeff Bezos said in his annual shareholder letter. “We will work hard to make them good bets, but not all good bets will ultimately pay out.”
We look at Amazon and marvel at the massive bets that have paid off on things like Amazon Web Services. But we quickly forget the massive failures they had at the same time. It's all the one pot of gold. If you want to build a strong management team, create a failure culture.
Most teams and organizations are far too shy about failure. I get it. We don't want to encourage waste. But the pendulum usually needs to push far the other way. As a management team, pride yourselves on leaning into failure. And then you'll see that culture flow through your organization and innovation will follow.
4. Your Meetings Often Get Awkward
Feedback means telling someone how they are doing and how they can improve. We all love the idea of giving each other feedback. But teams are often really bad at it. The truth is, it will ALWAYS be uncomfortable.
Except for some people - I recently had a team member realize in a session that he wasn't uncomfortable in conflict. Everyone else was. He looked around and said, "That was awkward for you? I thought it was just a good discussion!" I envy that perspective. For me, I feel the awkwardness. The uncomfortable grit-your-teeth-and-look-away moments.
But that's what great teams persevere through. You want to have moments regularly in your team that are like a championship winning basketball team. In that team, a player will confront another player who doesn't give them the ball when they're open. "I was open! You shot, you've got to look up and send it my way when I'm open."
That's awkard and a bit uncomfortable but it's what high performance teams do. If team members can't handle that over time, then it's a sign you DON'T have a strong management team.
5. You And Your Team Are A Bit Weirdly Connected
There's a myth that you can't be friends with your team. What a weird thought. If I'm spending that much time with people, isn't it strange if we're NOT friends? In my experience, your friends are the people you laugh the most with. People want to be part of a high-performing team where you work hard and laugh harder.
A healthy management team should create bonds between you and your team that others look at and say, "What's that about?" I think of the bonds that were created in wars between veterans that lasted for decades. They were literally in the trenches. But a strong management team should also be 'in the trenches' of whatever the work is your organization does.
If I see some weird connections, in-jokes and bonds between you and your team then I think you're on the right track! If we take ourselves too seriously for that to happen, then I think we're sacrificing lots of potential for our team to go from good to great.
6. Your Team Would Pass The Blind Project Test
"Oh yeah, we're SUPER clear on who does what!" We all think we are but often teams aren't as clear as they think. If there's any misalignment in your management team is will create gaps throughout your organization.
Have a consultant come in, or do it yourself if you need to, and get every person to list the projects, tasks, assignments and goals that are their responsibility. Then ask everyone to share exactly what they wrote down and to change nothing! It's a fun exercise to get on the same page about any areas of confusing overlap.
7. Your Team ACTUALLY Loves Your Meetings
Meetings should be the best part of your day. Offsites should be intense but gratifying because you're making the high-level and high-stakes decisions. If your team hates your meetings then you're doing it wrong.
There is no greater tool to transform your management team than your meetings. If you transform your meetings so your team loves to come together and have robust discussions, that's a telltale sign your management team is getting stronger.
Use Patrick Lencioni's framework from his book Death By Meeting. Have quarterly offsites where you discuss people, strategy and when you have important unstructured discussions. Use strategic adhoc meetings of 1 hour to 4 hours with an agenda. Have everyone prepare for the meeting and discuss significant strategic issues. Meet weekly or fortnightly in a 'same page' meeting where you have a real-time agenda. Use colour-coding to get on the same page as a team about how you're going overall and how you're going with your top priority, right now.
Start off those meetings as Lencioni says, by getting everyone to share the two or three key activities they think they need to do in the coming two weeks. Meet daily in a stand-up 'on your toes' meeting where you touch base on schedules, red flags and admin to nip miscommunications and potential fires in the bud.
8. You Can Answer This Question
"What's Most Important, Right Now?" Does your team have a top priority? If you have multiple priorities then you don't have a priority. If everything is important then nothing is important.
When you have a clear top priority your team has a clear direction. This alignment flows through an organization. It's not forever and it can change any time when something like COVID hits you from left field.
Meet with your team for a couple of hours and discuss that very question: 'What's most important, right now?' If only one thing could be true for the next six months in order for your organization to be successful over that period, what would it be? It's a great discussion regardless of where you land!
9. You Know What You Punish And What You Put Up With
Every company has its own way of doing things. It's important to make sure the people on your team fit in with the company's values and beliefs. If you're unclear about what you're willing to punish and what you're willing to put up with, you'll have a weak culture in your management team and across your organization.
Get brutally clear on what behaviour is punishable - even leading to dismissal because it's so culturally important. And get brutally clear on what behaviour you will willingly put up with even if it goes too far because it's on point with your culture.
The best example I've heard of is an airline where fun was a true part of their culture. When they hired, they excluded people who weren't willing to make fun of themselves. And when they had complaints from customers who thought the flight attendants were unprofessional by being too fun, they just wrote back, "We'll miss you."
Everyone at that company knew exactly where they stood on fun. What's your 'fun' value?
10. Your Management Team Has High Emotional Intelligence Or Is Growing In EI
Emotional intelligence is how aware you are of how what you're doing and saying impacts other people. Patrick Lencioni hits the nail on the head in his book The Ideal Team Player when he talks about the 'mess maker'. The mess maker is effectively a driven and humble person who lacks emotional intelligence.
Are you a mess maker? Do you have a mess maker making messes all over your management team and wider organization? If so, uh-oh. It's time to confront your messes as a management team. It's not about being perfect at emotional intelligence. But if it's a weakness for you, for any of your team or for your whole team, then you need to be aware of that and work to improve your emotional intelligence.
11. You Can Tell Me Some Of The Deep And Long-Term Goals Of Your Team
Different people like different things as rewards for doing a good job. By finding out what each team member likes and giving them a reward they like, leaders can show that they care about each person's work. But I'm not just talking about knowing they like a gift card for this store compared to that store.
Go deeper! Find out from the people around your team members' lives what they've been dreaming of. Have they talked to their friends about taking their family to Italy? Are they always watching the Australian Open and secretly dream of attending a final? Or maybe they're wine mad but you know their favourite wine region is Napa Valley.
You don't have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on them. But if you have the budget, spend tens of thousands! Give them a big bonus, sure. But pay and plan for them to do that winery tour, to travel to Italy all expenses paid with their family or take them to the Australian Open final yourself for a week.
12. Your Team Shares More Stories Than Hans Christian Andersen
Stories are unique. Every story contains a seed of the vision, values and strategies of an organization. The strongest management teams are out there capturing these stories and they're bringing them up left, right and centre to the management team.
Then, they're spending way too much time and money getting these stories recorded. These stories are shared with shareholders, customers, employees and anyone else who'll watch or listen! People will look on and wonder why on earth you're so obsessed with stories. But these stories are the foundation for the massive oak trees you want to see grow across your organization and around the world.
13. People Keep Telling You To Spend Less On PD
"Is it wise to spend that much on PD?" "What if that young team member leaves?" "Aren't you worried they'll network with others and get a better offer elsewhere?" If you're not hearing these questions from everyone around you, then you're not spending enough on PD.
Invest in your management team! What are their goals professionaly and personally? How can you do anything and everything to help facilitate some of those goals? If it means they leave you for greener pastures at some point then I believe that's a win. Leadership isn't about creating more followers, as someone once said, it's about creating more leaders.
Invest in your management team - and in your people - so much that others frown and look confused when they see the numbers. I believe investing in people changes everything. It will change your culture, it will change your bottom line and it will even change the world.
14. You Are Probably The Dumbest Person In The Room
Picture this. I'm a consultant, I come and join you with your team. Half an hour into the session, I'm struck by a though: "I think [insert your name] is the dumbest person in this room!" If that happened you'd be embarrassed, right? Well I'm here to tell you this is actually the goal of great leadership!
You want to build a management team and invest in your people so you are always as close to being the dumbest person in the room as possible. Don't be an easily-threatened-defensive boss who everyone knows is a bit 'touchy' about your ego. Let go of that rubbish. Go for the big stuff. The big stuff is a legacy where you invest in people who are smarter and better than you are.
That's the sort of legacy where people will turn up for your funeral one day because you actually had enough humility to get out of their way and help them become everything they can be. Even if that's more than what you become! If you go the ego route, forget your funeral, they probably won't turn up for work one day because they'll go and find a boss humble enough to lead them well.
15. When I Mention The Company Vision People Shake Their Heads And Roll Their Eyes
I'm on thin ice here with the eye-rolling. We all know toxic people who roll their eyes. That's not what I'm talking about. What I am talking about is such an obsession with reminding your team of why you do what you do as a team and company that they shake their heads in humour.
The litmus test for sharing enough of your vision and sharing stories about it is when your people are saying, "Jonno... seriously... we get it. We get that [insert vision statement], you tell us every meeting." If you haven't heard that then KEEP GOING! This is the Mount Everest to climb.
As Patrick Lencioni says, be the CRO - the Chief Reminding Officer. I heard recently that we feel like we're repeating ourselves once we've said the same thing 2 or 3 times. But it often takes employees 7 times until they believe and receive what we've said. That means we probably need to say it 30 teams with our management team to help them go and do the same with their teams.
16. You're Always Staring At A One-Page Playbook
The one-page playbook Lencioni talks about in The Advantage is one of the best tools for leaders. It is a simple and clearly articulated answer to six questions that fits on a page and gives everyone clarity around the most important areas of your organization.
Unfortunately, like strategic plans, many playbooks are created and then filed. Don't file yours. Make it crumpled. Print it everywhere. Have it as your background. Reference it daily. The point of clarifying these six questions isn't to have a great document, it's to create consistent alignment and clarity in your team.
17. Your Team Is Obsessed With Data
Your team should be like that accountant we all know. The one whose eyes light up at the mention of an excel document. The person who dreams of pivot tables and VLOOKUP. I know some of you hate Microsoft Excel. That's okay. But as a team, if you want to be a strong management team you need to learn to love data.
If there's one thing that's a clear pattern across all of human life, it's that we regularly get it wrong. We think we're right. We make predictions. And we end up way off the mark. We can't afford to lead that way. Data isn't everything but it's certainly a big part of avoiding big problems.
A strong management team knows this and is determined to have clear data and listen to what the data says. Even when it's uncomfortable and everyone wishes it was irrelevant, your team needs to look at that data and address it headlong.
There you go! Leadership is challenging and not for the faint-hearted. I believe if you have these 17 unexpected signs then you're well on your way to building a strong management team. If not, then now is the time to go and do the hard work to see some of these signs come to life in your team.