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Leading the best teams

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Maggie Vencius
  • 90th Maintenance Operations Squadron commander
Great people surround us in the Air Force. Leaders often face the desirable challenge of figuring out how best to add value to teams full of commitment, experience, and expertise. More bluntly, how do we lead people smarter than us? Below are ideas on how to contribute to an already high-performing team.

The first tools in the starter kit are listening and asking how to help. Though this sounds basic, it defies a stereotype of the leader "on transmit." Proactive and competent teams achieve better results with leaders open to input.

The most experienced people may accept an obstacle as "just the way it's always been." Accepting difficulties can increase the mental toughness required for the mission, but it decreases the initiative to make improvements. Resolving even a small problem can help raise expectations and encourage others to do the same.

According to Laurence Gonzales, a writer on outdoor survival, experts' brains streamline accomplishing routine tasks with efficient mental models of what's normal and expected. So, the most proficient people no longer think about every little aspect of the work. That's good for speed and bad for noticing details outside the expected mental picture. Incorporating risk management stopping points provides the chance to take another look and find dangers and vulnerabilities.

Self-inspection remains essential to a top-notch team. We apply to today's work the collected knowledge in technical orders and other directives. Steeped in a culture of compliance, when we find a discrepancy, we scrutinize it and standardize a way forward. However, the best teams can learn not only from something going wrong, but also from something going right. We can capture those lessons, too, for continued success.

Every combination of coworkers creates a unique mix of capabilities. Each individual, including the team leader, can contribute a unique perspective. Each team together can accomplish something no previous team could have done.