Reversing the Bastardization of Leadership in Tech PR, Part 4: Team Leadership in Tech

Make every team member an X-man (or woman!). Credit: Rob Young / Lego X-Men
Make every team member an X-man (or woman!). Credit: Rob Young / Lego X-Men
Make every team member an X-man (or woman!). Credit: Rob Young / Lego X-Men

In this last installment in our XTC (Examining the Change) series on the bastardization of “leadership” as a concept in technology PR, we look at team leadership. And just like leading marketspublic discussions or innovation curves, leading teams requires that we hold true to the central tenet of leadership: being in service of something greater than yourself.

Sadly, many of us have a knee-jerk skeptical reaction when we hear things like “Don’t we need a vision statement?” And to a degree, that skepticism is warranted. All too often an exercise around creating a vision or values statement is reduced to a group grope in which everybody’s opinion is sandwiched into the world’s longest and least meaningful sentence. In short, it reads like a buzzword wordle coughed up by a corporate life coach. It does everything except what it was meant to do—namely, create focus and purpose.

After all, a strategy is not a strategy until it tells you what you’re not going to do. And being in service of something greater than yourself requires you to know—and articulate—what that is, and what that is not. That’s why the vision statement matters so much: it tells your group of highly talented but likely overworked people what they don’t need to spend their precious time doing. The same goes for the values statement: it tells you and your leaders how you’re not going to behave when faced with difficult choices.

So if you’re leading a fast-moving technology team, or you’re responsible for communicating the leadership attributes of a high-profile tech leader, here are a few practical pointers for how to articulate vision, values and leadership agenda:

–       Start with “why”. As Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Purpose matters. It attracts talent, engenders patience, and gives people a reason to want to see you succeed. Most of all, it calls forth the best in your team. So be clear about why your company does what it does, what win-win scenarios it creates, and what impact you’ll have.

–       Be clear about what you’re notEspecially for early stage companies, it’s hard to close the door on future opportunity if you’re not quite sure with how your market is going to take shape. But unless you’re clear with what opportunities you’re not going to pursue, you’re going to end up with a loose confederacy of distantly related teams and tactics. Close some doors and create some focus.

–       Coach, don’t dictate. This is tricky for those of us trained in client service who think we’re suppose to have all the right answers. But for team leaders, having all the right questions matters more. Choose to believe in your people and their ability to make the right call. See their full potential before they do, and ask the questions that wake them up. In short, coach.  And if you don’t know how to coach, go learn.

–       Remember who works for whom. As a leader you work for your company. The cult of personality is a short-term strategy. True, many people enjoy working for a charismatic visionary who knows exactly what to do and say at all times. But too often that dominating figure casts a long shadow and inhibits talent development. So don’t try to be an Iron Man superhero, where yours is the only opinion that counts. Lead a league of X-Men, each with their own mutant power. See that power within them, nurture it, and remember that you work for them even more than they work for you. That’s the true leadership story to tell.

This concludes our four-part series on saving “leadership” from the b.s. scrapheap in tech PR. So what do you think? We’d love to hear from you.