Leading a team is by far the most important skill a leader needs to master if they desire to be more successful. Over the past 24 years, I have participated in an annual Thanksgiving tradition, a two-hand touch football game called the Turkey Bowl. Over this almost quarter of a century, I have learned seven key leadership lessons about building a team, leading a team, and navigating through challenges. Here are my takeaways:

1. Draft Talent and Get Out of Their Way: As a leader, you will only be as successful as the collective skills and talents of the people you surround yourself with. There is no sense in recruiting and hiring talented people if you are going to micromanage them out of their gift zones and passion. Your main job is to build their capacity, place them into positions of success, and remove any barriers. If you are not finding the talent you need to achieve the organization’s goals, you need to take a look in the mirror.

There are only two ways to improve an organization: (1) Hire better people or (2) Improve the people you have. The Law of Magnetism says you are who you attract. In order to attract talented people, you need to change the reputation of the organization in order to attract better people. In the meantime, you need to work diligently and train the people you have. A good friend and fellow speaker Norman Wood once said, “If you think the price for training is high, just wait until you get the bill for incompetence.”

2. Solve Problems Through Imagination and Innovation: Because I didn’t want to travel to Pennsylvania anymore for Thanksgiving, In 2007, I founded the Turkey Bowl South (TBS). Over these eleven years, we have played at four locations (including school fields, the beach, and a backyard). Each location had its advantages, but there was always none were comfortable for families. To address this, the other TBS founder, Matthew Charles Saggese, and I brainstormed, attempting to answer the question, “How we can create a welcome and fun environment for families and players?” Through some imagination and big picture thinking, we now have a location that provides all of the amenities that families need to feel comfortable.

To best solve problems, school leaders cannot operate in a silo. You need to bring in your team, especially those closest to the problem, to brainstorm multiple ideas, to establish a clear picture of the problem, and to ask questions to help solve the problem. Taking these steps will create a values-based, collaborative problem solving environment where no problem is too big.

3. Get Everyone Involved: A giant mistake many leaders make is counting on only one or two people to solve all of the problems and deliver all of the work. This creates burnout and overload on one side and a feeling of no-confidence or mistrust for the rest of the organization. Not many people want to be part of a team and just watch the others play. As a leader, your job is to make sure everyone feels as if they are contributing to the ultimate goal. You’ll never get to know the talents and passions of your people if you don’t give them a chance to show off.

During our last Turkey Bowl, I was very intentional about everyone having a chance to play quarterback and possibly score a touchdown. As a result, we won easily. Also, because everyone had a chance to play quarterback, two players who have played in TBS for years got to show off their talents for future games. Take a risk; you are only as good as your weakest player. Imagine how good you could be with all team members playing all-in.

4. Be Aware of Your Conditions: Since we were playing in a backyard, the field had some obstacles: a deck, a tree, bushes, and small garden. The field itself poses an issue because it is shaped like a giant L. The trickiest spot on the field was getting stuck behind the large tree at the base of the L. As the quarterback, if you were too close to the tree, it was challenging to see the entire field. You also had to be careful where you walked because there were roots to trip you and mud to slow you down. The opposing quarterback learned this the hard way when he took a step to his right to avoid a sack, and within a millisecond, he found himself face down in the mud. The next time our team got close to the tree, we ran a play in the opposite direction to find our quarterback solid ground to throw from and a better angle to see the field.

Leaders must always see more and see before. This means that they must have a vision and see it before everyone else does. Then they must be aware of the conditions and current reality, so they can navigate around challenges toward success.

5. Do Your Job First: Late in the game, our team was working to expand our lead, and we put in a brand new quarterback who was throwing for the first time ever. He threw me a very short pass that was a little low, but very catchable. Instead of watching it into my hands, I turned my head to run before I caught the ball. I dropped this easy pass and put more pressure on our quarterback during the next play.

Too many times as leaders, we are focused on making sure everyone else does their job while not focusing on our own priorities. As a result, we end up dropping some balls of our own. This creates more stress on the entire team and in a poor culture, this creates a blame game.

6. The is No Success Without Succession: As I mentioned before, this is the 24th year I have played football on Thanksgiving morning. I have played this game in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and even France one year. Each time, we organize the game; we work hard to incorporate new families; and we test new traditions. My number one goal is to see The Turkey Bowl span for generations to come. This year was very special for one Turkey Bowl family. In Turkey Bowl (North), the 24th game played, three generations of Dryzga’s played in this game.

It’s critical for you as the leader to intentionally pour into your top leaders in the organization, empowering them to make critical decisions and solve problems under your mentorship and development. Remember, your legacy will not be left in your organization; it will be left in the people who built it.

7. Celebrate the Small Wins: My co-founder, Matt, has this awesome tradition of giving small pieces of bacon to any player who makes an outstanding play. He keeps this bacon under his hat (it’s wrapped). This bacon is sought after, and it keeps everyone in the game eligible for accolades. As a leader, it is critical to learn how to do the following:

  1. Recognize your team as individuals for the effort and work they put in;
  2. Learn to celebrate the small wins along the way, it builds momentum and keeps the team positive; and,
  3. If you don’t learn to celebrate along the way, the end goal won’t be as appreciated!

If you’re asking yourself, “Where do I start?” remember that great organizations first begin with the people in the organization. Do you have the right people around you? If not, where can you find them? Maybe they do not work for you now, but could support your goals and needs in executing your current goals and developing the people in your organization now. Remember, nothing great was accomplished alone. Do not operate as Lone Ranger leader; instead, start building your team today.

Check out some other team building blogs and resources on our web page.

This blog was written by Dr. Thomas Miller, transformational coach and strategic thinking partner for Leaders Building Leaders. To schedule a complimentary discovery call with Tom click this link. Your discovery call will consist of questions like:

  • What challenges are you or the organization currently facing?
  • What keeps you up at night worrying?
  • What challenges and obstacles do they foresee over the next 6-12 months that may test the team’s weak points? What is it that they personal struggle at in meeting this challenge?
  • What would their organization look/feel like operating at its optimum level?
  • What does personal success look like to you?
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