MP spoke with Bridgitt Haarsgaard, CEO and Founder of The GAARD Group, a team of executive coaches and facilitators known for their outstanding work with Fortune 500 executives worldwide, about team leadership.

The GAARD Team believes leaders are forged from the inside out and utilize the GAARD Method to create actionable and lasting behavioral change in the business world and beyond. Haarsgaard specializes in leadership, strategy, change management, individual and team effectiveness, and women’s leadership.

She uses her clinical psychology education to prepare professionals—from entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 executives—for the challenges of today’s business environment.

CEO and Founder of The GAARD Group Bridgitt Haarsgaard / Photo courtesy of Bridgitt Haarsgaard

What are three non-negotiable things a team leader must do for their team, and why?

1. Leaders Must Lead

As obvious as it may sound, the most important thing that a leader needs to do for their team is lead them. 

All too often, people in leadership positions are leaders in titles alone. This can happen when people are hired for their expertise but lack managerial skills, when leaders are more interested in wielding authority over their teams than taking responsibility for them, or when they are new to the role and still need to develop leadership skills through education and experience. 

Leaders need to understand that leading means they must take an active role in developing the skills of their team members. 

True leaders gain followership, not compliance. 

They motivate their people through connection, by consistently demonstrating the qualities they value, and by fostering environments of positivity that lead to productivity. 

2. Communicate

There are messages from leadership that seem one-way. Instruction and announcements can fall into this category. 

Leaders often want to rattle off a list of action items and call that a meeting, but if those messages aren't crafted to engage the people who need to hear them, they aren't honestly communicated; they're just spoken. 

Very often, the onus to understand is placed on the listener, and while they can do their part, the more considerable responsibility falls to the leader. 

One of the best things a leader can do is to learn how they should craft their communication to effectively lead their teams and their team members in ways that build an understanding of expectations, purpose, and results. They can do this by paying attention to how their communications are interpreted and listening to the feedback from their teams on how they need to receive information.

3. Support

The American Psychology Association considers stressing 2020's national health crisis. We are juggling many demands on our time, energy, and attention in and out of work. 

Leaders need to recognize that humans are creatures of emotion who carry those feelings through their day. 

They must support their team members to create environments conducive to productivity and success. 

This support starts with paying attention to what is happening and noticing the signs of overwhelm, disengagement, or apathy. Then, stepping in to help alleviate the stress or other underlying emotion that has moved them to this state. 

This may mean taking the lead in a meeting that tends to leave team members unsure of the project expectations and then providing clear directives, so everyone walks away with confidence. 

It could mean encouraging open communication and sharing within a team, sharing weaknesses to illustrate how a team can work to solve problems when they are willing to reveal their vulnerabilities and how that affects their collective performance. 

Or it could mean simply extending opportunities for rest for those who need a break by tasking them with something they can handle easily or increasing challenges for team members who feel underutilized. 

Support comes in many forms, and as leaders, it's our job to determine how to best support our people.

How important is it for a team leader to provide feedback, how detailed and frequently should feedback be delivered, and why?

It's vitally important for a team leader to provide feedback and to do it often. 

Positive feedback can happen naturally and in many interactions. Everyone likes to know they are on the right track and appreciate their efforts. Don't be stingy with compliments and encouragement. 

The same goes for light constructive feedback. Showing someone a small mistake, teaching them to correct it, and encouraging them to continue with positivity should be routine leadership behavior.

Of course, there are times when your feedback needs to be done privately to address more serious matters. 

When it comes to this type of constructive feedback, especially when a leader needs to address behaviors that affect the team's morale, this should be done as soon as possible - when the leader is prepared to respond thoughtfully - and privately. 

At The GAARD Group, we teach The COIN Model (Context, Observation, Impact, Next Steps) as a guide to navigating situations like this. Following the model, you could respond with something as simple as, 

"In today's meeting, I noticed that you cut them off whenever one of your team members started to challenge your plan. I understand that you put a lot of thought into this project, but the voices of others are important for examining potential issues you may not have considered. When you dismiss the views of others, they are less likely to be motivated to make your plan work. In the future, you should make an effort to be open to their suggestions to make your system better and energize a team around a project you will need their help to accomplish."

Feedback is essential for reassuring your team members that they are heading in the right direction. 

On a cloudy night in the middle of the ocean, a map can only do so much for a boat captain. They rely on feedback from their instruments. Often, otherwise, winds and tides can quickly take them off course. 

One degree this way or that way can make miles of difference if their course isn't corrected early. 

The same is true in a work environment. 

It’s better to course correct early rather than have a team member work for hours on something and take it in the wrong direction. 

Leaders need to provide that instrumental feedback.

How do you determine what things to delegate and the team members to delegate things to, and how has this changed over time?

In the beginning, as an entrepreneur with a big plan, determining what to delegate was difficult. I had a vision of my business, but I knew many things I didn't know. Because I was working on those things I did know, I didn't have time to learn how to do everything. 

As I started to build my team, I started close to home. I hired friends, some family, and people who came recommended to me by people I trusted. I delegated tasks that I knew I couldn't do and had to get comfortable delegating, but I played a big role in quality control, which helped me learn a lot about their work and processes.

I'm also a big fan of letting people do what they love, so I delegate that way. I know each of my team member's strengths and interests, then play to their strengths and encourage them to contribute their ideas and take on challenges that might be a little stretch for them, but that can help them grow as they help The GAARD Group grow. 

In smaller businesses, delegation can be a great way to evolve organizational structures naturally. 

Over time, you build trust, learn where you need to be more or less hands-on, and discover who among your existing team can offer other skills, step over into other areas, or step up into leadership roles.

How important is it for a team leader to communicate with their team, and how detailed should such communications be? 

Again, vitally important. 

Leaders should communicate with their teams as much as necessary to ensure that they are on track working toward the team or project goals. 

Communications need to be effective. 

Sometimes less is more because it is possible to over-communicate. 

But when more is more, communicate more.

Also, to this point, communication needs to be a two-way street. 

Foster an environment where team members feel comfortable asking for guidance when needed, and you will know where the holes in your communications are so you can plug them.

What are three communications mistakes you’ve made with teams in your charge, and how could those mistakes have been avoided?

The early days of leadership are difficult. 

There are so many new skills to learn and knowledge to gain. 

You quickly understand that what made you successful as an individual contributor will not make you successful as a leader. 

I have made many communication mistakes as a leader, and I have worked to learn from those mistakes. 

Here are my top 3 communication blunders:

1. Lack of Clarity

I believed that if I were too directive with my team, they would think I was controlling and micromanaging. 

I wanted to be seen as a collaborative leader and therefore did not give clarity when clarity was needed. I would give them tasks with little direction. 

I would delegate tasks without telling them their authority level to complete the task.  And I would give very high-level direction in team meetings about our priorities. 

All these things lead to confusion and frustration. 

How could these mistakes have been avoided? 

I could have recognized that clarity is kindness. The more clarity people have, the more secure they feel with the presented work. 

When individuals feel safe, they will be successful.

2. Adjusting to the Communication Needs of My Team

Each person has unique communication preferences. 

What the leader needs while communicating can be very different from what a team member needs when communicating. For example, I tend to be a very big-picture communicator and less concerned about diving into the details. 

On the flip side, one of my team members may need all the details, and in the absence of those details, they may not feel safe making a decision. Early on, I failed to adapt my communication style to the needs of my team members. This led to several miscommunications. 

How could this mistake have been avoided? 

I should have diagnosed the communication needs of my team members. Understanding that some individuals need all the details and facts is critical. Others need you to be very direct and get to the point quickly. 

Some, like me, stay focused on the big picture and new ideas. And others want to feel respected and value relationships over completing a task. 

Understanding the unique communication needs of your team will lead to fewer communication breakdowns and team members who feel like you “get them.”

3. Conflict Resolution

Teams are going to have conflict; that is a given. 

Early on, I was afraid to address conflict. I didn’t like conflict, and it was far easier to pretend that the conflict didn’t exist than to proactively address it. This only allowed the conflict to grow, and I am confident that my team lost trust in me because I did not address it head-on. 

How could this have been avoided? 

I should put aside my worries and dislike of conflict. 

I should have forced myself to face, address, and solve it immediately. 

Doing so would have been much better for the team.

How have you used conflict resolution as a team leader, and what conflict resolution principles should team leaders know about, and why?

Conflict resolution is a critical leadership skill. 

As a leader, you constantly solve conflicts with your teams, peers, and your customers. Strong conflict resolution skills and strategies are vital to your success. 

If you do not address the conflict, emotions like anger, fear, distrust, defensiveness, stress, and resentment can become part of the fabric of your team. 

Once I became comfortable with conflict, here are the five principles I started to live by:

1. Do Not Bury Your Head in the Sand

If a conflict exists, address it head-on. If you delay addressing it, the conflict will only grow.

2. Make Sure You Fully Understand the Issue

Gather all the facts and make sure you understand the different perspectives.

3. Bring All Parties to the Table

Good conflict resolution means that you get people talking. Bring parties to the resolution table and ensure that you create a safe environment.

4. Jointly Create a Solution

The best solutions are made together. Work to find common ground and a solution that both parties agree on.

5. Monitor and Make Sure That the Problem Has Been Resolved

There is a big difference between commitment and compliance. For a resolution to “stick,” it must commit both parties. As a leader, make sure you are monitoring the progress.

I suggest that leaders become aware of the five types of conflict resolution. It is crucial for them to understand:  

  1. Their conflict resolution style.  
  2. What conflict resolution style is best used in certain situations.  

The five types of conflict resolution are:

  1. Avoiding
  2. Competing
  3. Accommodating 
  4. Compromising
  5. Collaborating

How do you approach building relationships within your team, where is the line drawn that shouldn’t be crossed, and why?

Building solid relationships and deepening trust with your team is more important now than ever. 

For me, there are six guiding principles that I follow: 

1. Set the Culture

As a leader, you set your team's tone and culture. Set a culture of open communication where team members are not afraid to ask questions, share their opinions, and give feedback to you and each other.

2. Use Your Emotional Intelligence Muscle

Emotional intelligence is a gift. 

It has the skills to read and manage the emotions of ourselves and our teams. It is using those skills to guide them to positive business outcomes. 

Emotional intelligence is using our self-knowledge and social awareness to become effective and empathetic leaders.

3. Show Gratitude and Praise

Team members need to feel respected and appreciated for their work and efforts. Catch them in the moment, give positive reinforcement and say, “thank you.” 

Small positive reinforcement interactions will significantly impact your relationships with your team members.

4. Keep Your Chin Up and Have a Positive Outlook

As a leader, if you look at the world of work through a negative lens, so will your team. 

Conversely, if you look at the work through a positive lens, your team will too!  

Say “good morning,” give compliments, take time to ask about their day, be genuine, support, and treat mistakes as learning opportunities, not failures.

5. Lead

Be a leader who successfully balances their power vs. their positional power. 

While personal power is best for building trust and relationships, positional power is needed to manage conflict, make decisions, and provide direction. 

Do not be afraid to use both forms of leadership. 

Your team needs you to be both. 

6. Fail To Build Followership

We all have lives outside of work. 

Respect their boundaries if you know that your team member does not like to be contacted after working hours. 

If a team member has a family routine of putting their cell phone away at home, do not be critical when they don’t respond to texts or calls after a specific time. 

Understand their boundaries and respect them.

What are three unique team leadership mistakes you see entrepreneurs make, and how can these mistakes be avoided?

1. Micromanaging

Following the thought on delegation above, micromanaging is the opposite of delegation. 

Delegation involves appointing someone or some group to take on a specific task or responsibility and then leaving them alone to complete or manage the situation as best they can. Micromanagers think they delegate, but they can't step away. 

Delegation should be a tool that allows everyone on the team to focus on their work, ensuring that tasks are completed efficiently. 

Micromanagers burn themselves out and frustrate their people with overzealous supervision. They diminish morale and decrease their productivity as well as the productivity of their teams. 

2. Poor Self-Awareness

While it's essential for leaders to recognize the emotions of their team members to support and lead, it's equally important that they recognize their own emotions and regulate them. 

If you can't control yourself, you cannot lead others. 

When a leader is unaware of how their emotions affect their behaviors, and their behaviors affect their team members, they can create conflict and tension that makes work unpleasant for everyone involved. 

3. Fail To Build Followership

You aren't leading if no one is following you. 

We all know those leaders who could take an entire department with them if they decided to leave. They build this loyalty by consistently delivering on their promises and being responsive to their people. 

We also all know leaders who could disappear in the night, and no one would notice. Leaders who fail to build loyalty among their team members will struggle to be effective. 

When a leader feels their higher position automatically garners the support of their subordinates, they will find their teams quickly disengage. 

To gain authentic followership, leaders must build genuine relationships with their teams.

Those who fail to do so fail to lead.

How do you handle resistance from your team, and why?

Like conflict, I handle resistance head-on. I have found that if resistance is not addressed, it can lead to increased resistance and a breakdown of trust, respect, and relationships. The key is to face the resistance, lean in, and ask questions to seek understanding, advocate for your position, and find solutions to the resistance as quickly as possible.

Responses provided by Bridgitt Haarsgaard, CEO and Founder of The GAARD Group.

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