Lions and Tigers and Bears… Lead a Team

The flying monkeys in the Wizard Of Oz have probably terrified more children than any other movie characters.  A nasty bunch, those monkeys. They still make kids uncomfortable today, even though the film is 80 years old.

We aspire to lead a team like Dorothy.

Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion were an interesting bunch.  There couldn’t have been a more diverse team. Dorothy was the unlikely leader of this crew, but she was able to convince and lead her team to work together and they ultimately prevailed in the end despite their differences, both as individuals and in reaching their goals.

It’s very, very common for a founder or CEO to formulate an idea that requires a team which possesses expertise with different skill set.  So, how do you lead a team just when you’re not ‘the expert’ in the domain required for your company to prevail?

One example of a team structure

One example of a team structure —  comprises a business leader and software developers.  The business leader has a plan for software developers to build the business that he/she envisioned when that business was just a napkin concept. Put yourself in the shoes of this business leader/founder.  How will you be successful when you’re so reliant on a team that contributes in a way that you don’t understand? It is not easy, but it surely can be done.

Leading when you’re not the domain expert

If you can’t build the product that is required to propel your business forward, here are some tips for being an effective leader:

  1. Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions. You’ll never know as much about code as a developer, but by asking questions you can perhaps begin to understand and appreciate the minutiae that your team works in on a daily basis. Acknowledging that that will help you to be a better leader.
  2. You need to understand what motivates your team. Everyone wants to do a great job.  But you need to get to the more aspirational drivers of your team.  Great teams almost always are driven to put a high-quality product into the marketplace and see that customers will pay for that product.
  3. Your team needs to understand what’s happening outside of their domain.  Regular company meetings to communicate how the business is doing can provide everyone an appreciation for the contributions of the other people in your company.
  4. Beware the prima donna. Every working group includes a person who is more competent than the rest of their peers.  And they’re great – they produce the highest-quality output and are often the most creative problem solver in their group.  However, when this high-performer is overly critical of the rest of the team or other functional areas, and you have a difficult decision to make. If you truly believe that team output and morale will improve, make the difficult decision and carry through.  This will cause short-term pain, but may better for your company in the long run
  5. Sometimes you just need to be present. Let’s say that your team is grinding to hit a deadline.  16-hour days, personal sacrifice and no social life – there are times when these work bursts are required.  Even though you can’t contribute directly, just being present communicates your commitment and acknowledges the sacrifice that is being made for the good of the company.  Bring in pizza, help to keep the tension in perspective and help your team keep the goal front-of-mind. Besides, you have too much work to do anyway. Why not stay late and get ahead of your own tasks? 

We all experience situations where we aren’t the expert ‘in the room.’  That’s ok. Maybe you’ll learn something or provide a bit of insight yourself.

At Black Ice Strategies we work with you to build and market your business, to achieve the goals that your enterprise aspires to accomplish.  We’d like to learn more about your business, and how we can help. Drop us a line at