The 2 Mortal Sins of Team Leadership Pt. 1

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In my life I’ve been a part of a lot of small teams and volunteer groups and while some were well-managed, many weren’t. I can’t even count the hours of my life I’ve wasted in teams with poor facilitation, no clear objectives, and a variety of other problems too long to list.

Running a great small group, team, or organization is one of the hardest things you can do. You have to be able to communicate, to plan, to take care of people, and most importantly think of the groups well being before your own.

Running a small team, group, or organization can also be extremely rewarding. Because if you lead them well, you not only achieve amazing objectives, you help every member on your team grow and thrive.

But in order to run an amazing team you must avoid the 2 Mortal Sins of Team Leadership.

These two sins are:
SIN #1 – Misusing People
SIN #2 – Long Boring Meetings

In my life I’ve worked in over 28 small businesses. I’ve served on countless committees and volunteer groups. And I’ve run several small teams of my own. Of all the mistakes I’ve seen people make in leading small groups, these sins are the worst. Not only do they waste time and energy they fail respect the group members on a fundamental level.

If you want to be an amazing leader and run an amazing group, you must first start by understanding how to avoid these two deadly and all to common leadership flaws.

SIN #1 – Misusing People
The biggest misuse of resources I’ve seen on team after team and in business after business isn’t money, time, or equipment. The biggest misuse of resources is the misuse of people.

Let’s just look at people as a resource for a minute. People are essentially the worlds fastest computer, on top of one of the worlds most effective mechanism for completing complex and varied tasks. There’s a reason even the best robots we produce can’t do half of what a determined human can.

But because we perceive that they come in such large supply, small teams often misuse people in either subtle or large ways.

Here are my suggestions for how to avoid the misuse of these fantastic machines:

1. Identify and Retain Key People –
In every group there are a few people with really important skills that no one else has. Sometimes they are the most technical people like sound techs and content experts. And sometimes they are people with a lot of experience doing what you need people to do.

The rest of the group is made up of well-meaning but not super skilled folks. And while groups need both expertise and manpower, not everyone in the group is equally important, no matter how much you might tell them that.

The hard truth is that the key people ARE MORE IMPORTANT!!! and you should treat them that way.

These people should receive extra support, personal attention, and love. And their time and resources should be guarded with greater care and attention.

But this rarely happens. What happens instead is that these people are treated the same as everyone else. They’re asked to attend all the meetings, and they don’t get any extra attention or accolades, all in the name of fairness.

If you want your team to succeed you have to take care of your key people, and if this will offend the group, then be sneaky about it. Invite them to private coffees, get them little gift cards, whatever it takes, because if you don’t, then you’ll tap their wells of enthusiasm and lose them super fast which. And that will only hurt the group as a whole.

So don’t make this mistake. Instead make time to help your key players, talk with them more, see how things are going in their lives, ask how you can help them grow personally and professionally. If you invest in them, they will invest in your team and that will make all the difference.

2. Improve Your Intake of New People
New people have a HUGE amount of potential to change a group. They bring in new ideas, new skills, and new energy the group needs to survive and grow.

But despite their value new people are rarely brought into groups in the right way. Here’s how most groups bring people in:

  • They have some small contact with a group member
  • They are invited to an impersonal meeting
  • They attend and are asked to talk and to contribute
  • They are asked to do stuff

This seems like a good system, because it works for large groups, but for small teams and groups this is all wrong. Joining a new group is like going on a blind date. And blind dates mostly suck because they are totally awkward. And with big groups this is what happens because well everyone expect that. But joining a small team should be less like dating and more like getting a job, because that’s the end result.

Before a new person joins a group, they should fill out a form and meet with a member of the group before the first meeting. The whole purpose of this meeting and form should be to determine the following:
– What is their skill set – What do they know how to do that can help the group.

– What is their level of commitment – Some people have no job and lots of free time. Other people are very busy. Both can add value to the group, but you have to know which is which so you can know how to access their help accordingly.

– What do they hope to get out of the group – This might be the most important question of all. Everyone joins a group because they want to get something out of it.

  • They may want to meet new people.
  • They may want get that warm feeling they get from serving their community.
  • They may want to get to know the leaders.

Whatever it is you should find out why they want to join the group and how you can help them get that result. If you help people connect with what they will get out of the group, they will give you so much more.

– How you can help them create personal connections within the group – The hardest thing about joining a new group is creating connections within it. New groups are scary and have their own personality.

I’m very outgoing, but I feel weird in new groups. If the interviewing member of the group can create a personal connection, then any new person will feel more comfortable. Again it’s like dating. You meet the person, then you meet their family. Same in groups. You make a personal connection with one person, and then you branch out from there.

3. The Group Should Serve The Group Members First and Foremost –
One of the biggest reasons groups fail to retain members, to hit outcomes, and to create cohesion is the group forgets to take care of itself.

Too often groups are created to serve a cause, to launch a product, or to plan an event but while groups are great at achieving objectives teams and groups must serve their members first and foremost. This doesn’t mean that the groups should be selfish or expect less from their members, but it does mean the growth of group members should be as closely supported as the stated objective.

Group leaders should always be asking themselves, “How can I help these members be better people? How can I help them grow? How can I make being part of this group one more step on their path to achieving their dreams?”

If a leader does this, they will not only lead an amazing team, but they will help fill the world with amazing people.

4. Leaders Must Guard the Group’s Time –
Most groups (esp volunteer groups) will let you work as hard as you want whether it’s in your best interest or not. It doesn’t matter how much of your free time it takes or if it means you won’t be looking for work. If you want to give, the group will take.

But this is a mistake, because everyone wants approval when they join a group, and offering to do things is a way to do get approval. Which is why after helping everyone in the group grow, a great leader’s #2 job is to honor people’s time and energy. (This is twice as true in volunteer groups). Overworking group members leads to burnout and high turnover which in big and small organizations alike is one of the biggest drains on production and growth.

5. Group Members Should Be Treated Like The SHIT!
Praise is the easiest, cheapest, and least time consuming thing you can offer any member of a group and yet I’ve been amazed again and again how rarely it is offered. Sure there are polite thank you’s and small comments of appreciation, but authentic praise and gratitude is rare.

In big groups this is hard, because the leaders can’t possibly connect with each member and find something to praise. But in small groups where the leaders have a clear and simple opportunity to praise and support individual members, they rarely do.

The best groups I’ve ever been in were led by leaders that saw each member, appreciated them, and shared this appreciation with the world. The praised their members in private and in public. And not just as a nicety but because they understood that to lead is to truly serve the people you lead. In order to lead well you have to praise and honor the people who are willing and gracious enough to follow.

Final Thoughts –
In my next post I’m going to cover the second mortal sin of small team leadership – Long Boring Meetings.

While this post was all about honoring the people in your group, my next post will be all about how to use the time an energy of each group member effectively so you can get more done, kick more ass, and keep your members happy from day one to launch day.

In the next post I will cover the second mortal sin of small team leadership: The Long Boring Meeting.


I have been in lot’s of small groups, most of which were painful and ineffective. And what I’ve found is that most groups fail not because they don’t meet their objectives, but because they misunderstand that their most important mission is to serve each member of the group powerfully and consistently.

Great leaders don’t just lead; they serve their followers. And in order to do this in small groups you must focus on avoiding the 2 Mortal Sins of Small Group Leadership:
1. Misusing People
2. Long Boring Meetings.

In today’s post I’m just going to talk about the first.

Most groups misuse people, not out of maliciousness, but instead out of carelessness. If you want to be an amazing leader who produces not only results be happy productive group members you must do the following consistently.
1. Identify and Care for Key People – Some people in your groups are knights and some are pawns. Everyone deserves respect, but treat your key members like key members. Spend more time with them, praise them more, and make sure their objectives are being met. If you do this you will keep your key people happy and get more done.
2. Understand and Value New People – Groups need new blood from time to time. When new people enter your group take your time to get to know them and understand their skillset, their level of commitment, their objectives, and who they might mesh with in your group. If you do this new people will adjust faster, give more, and help your group grow amazingly fast.
3. Always Serve Your Team – Serving your team has to be your top priority as a leader. Teams whose needs are met and interests are being considered go above and beyond. Teams ruled by power or pressure soon crack and crumble.
4. Love Your Team – It’s pretty hard to overpraise your team and very easy to under do it. You may be the leader, but treat your team like the stars. If you do, then they will give you more and be much happier in every task your do.