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Where team-leadership magic happens

How embracing the unknown can enhance team performance

Calm empty sea - Louise Brown Coaching

The unknown can trigger insecurities in all of us. When we're leading a team, we're sometimes afraid to create space - the very place where team-leadership magic happens...


“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor E. Frankl


I could write a book on examples of this quote coming to life in my work with clients, but I thought I’d speak from experience and share a little story about my 24-year-old self with you instead. And if you read until the end, you can see where I believe the magic of great teamwork happens.


Once upon a time, many years ago when I used to work in agency-side marketing, I was part of an interagency team on the P&G account. We hosted a weekly call with the brand manager of one of the many P&G brands we ran campaigns for, with the partner agencies responsible for designing and delivering different elements of the campaigns. This was back before the days of Teams and Zoom, so the weekly call was a faceless interaction during which each agency updated the client on performance and ran through any questions to help inform upcoming planning.


The trouble with this (and the reason why it has stuck in my memory for nearly 20 years), was that the client would often take up to 10 seconds to respond.


No that’s not a typo.


I experienced 10 long seconds of silence between me finishing my update or question, and the client starting to speak. In a fast-paced business environment a 10 second delay between stimuli and response is incredibly unfamiliar.  


So guess what? It was uncomfortable.


REALLY uncomfortable.


That 10 second gap promptly filled with all manner of insecurities. Is she angry with the results I’ve shared? Did I use the wrong words? What is everyone else on this call thinking?!


Space - or more specifically, the unknown - can trigger insecurities in all of us. When we’re leading a team, we’re sometimes afraid to create space in-case it doesn’t get filled (the tumbleweed moment), or it gets filled with something we don’t like (where we have to somehow manage our way back out of a directional cul-de-sac), or because we’re not sure what it will say about us that we’re creating space rather than filling it (when we feel we need to have all the answers).


Ironically though, the best leaders give us space. They allow us to step forward and engage our whole brains, use our creativity, share our vulnerability and be ourselves. The space they provide allows us to move from passive to active engagers in problem solving. When we’re part of a team that has space, we become bigger than our role on paper, and our team goals become more than a tick box exercise.  We've fed into them, they are part of us, and we care.


You may have grown up through your career being told that as a leader, having all the answers is a strength. In today’s world, no one has all the answers. The answers are changing on a minute-by-minute basis. But what gives successful teams the edge, is the ability to work out different solutions together in real time – because they have the space to do so.


As a leader, you play an instrumental role in creating that space. It doesn’t mean you need a 10 second delay in your responses. It might mean you ask your team for ideas on how to solve a problem rather than presenting a list of solutions from which they can choose. Or you might say straight out when you don’t know the answer and see how your team respond. Or you might wait just a little longer before jumping in when your team aren’t immediately forthcoming with their thoughts.  


As humans we all want to add value, but we need the right conditions. Start creating them now by getting comfortable with the space between a question, and an answer. That unknown, is where the magic of great teamwork happens.  

How tuned in to your human are you when you're leading? Are you harnessing your superpower as a leader? Get in touch or subscribe for more inspiration, tools and support.

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