“There comes a time when what is needed is not just rhetoric, but boots on the ground.” —Baldwin Spencer
By Elizabeth Stincelli, DM
The Utah Jazz played their last home, regular season basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks this year. It was a must-win game for both teams. A win by the Mavericks would place them in the playoffs; a win by the Jazz would keep their playoff dreams alive. I was lucky enough to be sitting in the 2nd row behind the Mavericks. I wasn’t lucky because I am such a big basketball fan, I was lucky because I got an unobstructed view of boots-on-the-ground leadership.
When I first took my seat, I looked up and there he was, Mark Cuban, standing right in front of me. After all the articles and books I had read, podcasts and interviews I had listened to on this successful business man, author, “Shark Tank” investor, philanthropist, and Dallas Mavericks owner, here he was, just feet away. I was surprised and impressed. Here was a man worth 3 billion dollars in 2015 according to “Forbes”, a man with countless balls in the air at once, yet, what was Mark Cuban’s priority on that night? There he was, in Salt Lake City, with his team.
What an incredible example of leadership. Not up-in-a-luxury-box leadership looking down on his team; but, boots-on-the-ground leadership sitting right behind his team. Watching Mark Cuban supporting his team, a team he actually owns, inspired me. That is the type of leader we need in our organizations, leaders who do not observe from a distance in their luxury suites but who join their teams, on the floor, right in the thick of things. So, how can you and your team benefit from boots-on-the-ground leadership?
When you are on the floor with your team you see their needs first hand. How do they accomplish their work? Are there resource that would help them do their jobs better? Do they work well as a team? What might help them work together better? Are they satisfied with the work they do? What would make their work more meaningful? This is the kind of information you can only get from spending time on the floor with your employees. I’m sure that Mark Cuban has a much better understanding of the needs of his team because he has spent time on the floor with them.
In order to be an effective leader, you must be visible. You can’t lead like the wizard from Oz from behind a curtain; your team must see you, they must know you, and you must know them. Being visible shows employees that you are interested in them as individuals, that you care about what is happening on the floor, and that you don’t place yourself on a pedestal above them. If Mark Cuban being visible on the floor with his team inspired me as an outside observer, I can only imagine what an impact his visibility has on his team.
Understand the differences
Every employee is different, each team operates differently, and every situation is unique. Each team member has something unique to offer, each team has a distinctive approach to achieving goals, and every situation requires an innovative solution. When you spend your time on the floor with your employees you learn to understand these differences. And, it’s only through understanding the differences that you can learn to use them to the team’s advantage. The Mavericks are made up of players with different skill sets, a coaching staff and trainers with differing experience, and each team they play offers a different set of challenges. Only a boots-on-the-ground leader can really learn to understand and utilized these differences to the team’s advantage.
Recognize the strengths
Once you understand the different skill sets and knowledge that your team members possess you can start to see where their individual strengths lie. Then you can determine how can you help them build on their strengths. As a leader, you want the right people in the right positions. Get out on the floor, see who is strong where, and get employees working on tasks where their strengths give them a great advantage. Every player who is a member of the Mavericks team has a strength, something they excel in. By being on the floor, as a leader, you get a better perspective on who is strong where so you can play the right player in the right position.
Last, but certainly not least, boots-on-the-ground leadership builds the strong, trusting relationships that are the foundation of all successful leadership. Everyone has the need to feel safe, to feel that they belong, and to know they are part of something important. Spending time on the floor with your employees builds a sense of community, a community that you are part of. Community builds the trusting, strong relationships that you need if you are going to have the influence of a leader. I can guarantee that Mark Cuban has a much strong relationship with the members of his team because he is on the floor, in the trenches with them rather than watching them from afar.
Show that You are Part of the Team
Mark Cuban said, “The key is having great players. But there are a lot of teams that have All-Stars and haven’t been able to put it together.” The key might be having great players but without great, boots-on-the-ground leadership great players fail to put it together.
The Mavericks ended up beating the Jazz 101-92 that night. What separates great leaders from average ones is not position or rank, it’s all in the attitude of the leader. Boots-on-the-ground leaders show that they are part of the team. They are right there, sitting on the floor behind their team showing support; now that is how you gain powerful influence as a leader.
Get out on the floor; learn what the needs of your employees are. Be visible. Learn to understand the differences. What make each employee unique? Recognize and put the strengths of your employees to use in the positions that they are best suited for. And, build strong relationships with employees that are based on trust. I saw Mark Cuban as a great example of boots-on-the-ground leadership that night in Salt Lake City. Now it’s your turn; get out on the floor and show that you are part of the team!
© 2016 Elizabeth Stincelli
Liz Stincelli is passionate about recognizing and inspiring the leader in each of us. She is the Founder of Stincelli Advisors where she focuses on helping organizations engage employees and improve organizational culture. Liz holds a Doctor of Management degree with an emphasis on organizational leadership.
Learn more about Liz by visiting her website, stincelliadvisors.com and connect with her on Twitter @infinitestin, Google+, and LinkedIn. You can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.