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One of the more important challenges a leader will ever solve is: How can I get more out of my team without crushing them?

Unmercifully squeezing as much as possible out of team members until they burn out is not good leadership. Neither is manipulating or coercing your team to get them producing more. Bullying your team is a short-sighted way to lead. It’s abusive, unhealthy, and eventually will blow up in your face. Talented, self-respecting people won’t tolerate that kind of leadership very long.

Productivity isn’t necessarily a function of how many hours your team members work. Great effort should be recognized of course. But getting the results you desire is more likely the outcome of helping your team answer four key questions about their work.

Is it possible for you to lead your team to amazing levels of production without killing them? Yes. Can you get more from your staff without grinding them into a fine powder? Yes. Helping them answer the following four questions will help you get there.

Question 1: Why?

When my boys were toddlers, they would ask me why about everything. They possessed this inherent desire to connect dots between what I asked them to do and its meaning.

So it is with your team members. Except as adults, they tend to ask “why?” under their breath. They need to know why what they do matters. This first question has to do with vision.

A well-thought out vision answers the questions: “Why are we here?” “Why do we do what we do?” A clear picture of a desired future helps your team achieve.

Casting a mouthwatering vision for the team you lead may be your most important leadership role. It taps something deep within your associates that motivates them to roll up their sleeves and work. It helps them connect the dots of their daily work to a vision that is both clear and compelling.  Teams that produce know the answer to why.

Question 2: What?

Ever wonder: “What are the reasons my team isn’t getting more done?”

Laziness? Perhaps. Lack of skill? Maybe. Attitude issues? Could be. But I wonder if their lack of production has another source: a lack of clarity. Clarity is king in highly-productive organizations. Ambiguity, on the other hand, is the enemy of productivity.

It’s easy to assume your team knows what you want from them . . . often times they don’t. Here are some questions you need to answer for them to help with clarity: What is their specific role? What are their objectives? Are those objectives in writing? What happens when they achieve their objectives and what happens when they don’t?

Don’t assume your team knows what you want—tell them, write it down, and ensure they understand. Then hold them to it. I’m 100% in favor of accountability flavored with love and kindness. You can hold your team accountable without being a jerk. But you can’t hold them accountable for objectives/expectations/goals they’re not clear on. A productive team member is clear on what.

Question 3: How?

A college degree doesn’t guarantee your team member knows how to execute his or her role. The marketplace is changing so fast, often they’re learning while they work and adapting on the fly. Continuous learning is not a luxury, it’s essential. You’ll get more from your team by making room for their professional development.

You as a leader will provide some of the training, Other organizations will provide part of the training. Funding opportunities for ongoing education helps your team stay fresh. Learning from other leaders who do what they do will pay off. If you want more from your team without crushing them, they need to be developed. A productive teammate knows the answer to how.

Question 4: When?

Your staff needs you to work collaboratively with them to stamp reasonable due dates on their assignments. I don’t understand why we allow team members to get away with missing deadlines. Leader, if you struggle with this, do some soul-searching to figure out why. What’s preventing you from planting a stake in the ground when it comes to agreed-upon timelines?

It’s not in your best interest, nor in the organization’s best interest, to allow your team to get away with letting things slide. It’s not even in the team members’ best interests. When due dates mean nothing, everybody loses.  After every staff meeting, do a quick review of who owns what, and confirm when it’s due. This five-minute exercise will increase your team’s productivity immensely. The most impactful players on your team have a good grasp of when.

You may be thinking: “Getting more out of my team without crushing them sounds like a lot of work.” Right on bro. Who ever said leading a team was easy? It requires you to answer why—what—how—and when—on a regular basis. The better you get at answering those four questions, the more you’ll get out of your team. And the less likely you’ll crush them in the process.

I’m rooting and praying for you!

John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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