5 lessons from 'The Hero's Journey' to empower your IT team

Want to lead a team that’s confident, productive, and prepared to take on any challenge? Consider this expert advice
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To survive and thrive in today’s fast-paced IT industry, you must stay on the cutting-edge of technology and techniques. This can put enormous pressure on individuals to take risks and try new things. As a leader, you must support your team members in taking on these challenges and help them grow their skills and confidence.

Looking at the story of The Hero’s Journey from a personal perspective can help us relate. But more importantly, it can help us understand the importance of this journey to those we lead.

[ Want more on this topic? Watch the full session, The Hero’s Journey, on-demand from Red Hat Summit. ]

The following five tips will help you cultivate a team of superheroes that can tackle any challenge.

1. Practice active listening

The first and most important step is to actively listen to your team. This means listening for tone, content, and context to fully understand what the person is saying and what it means to them.

[ What makes a leader transformational? Read 8 transformational traits for IT leaders. ]

Address any stated concerns first, but also consider your understanding of the situation and any known issues and existing concerns, needs, or passions, and combine that with your assessment of the environment and any other less obvious factors. Understanding what your team needs, what motivates them, and where and how you can best support them is key to developing trust and respect.

2. Reciprocate trust and respect

Along with ensuring productive listening and dialogue, you must reciprocate trust. This is a two-way street: You can’t expect others to trust you unless and until you offer trust yourself. Don’t be afraid to explain what you know and what you don’t – this shows maturity and models a safe environment for employees to do the same.

Too often, leaders spend time perfecting their “management style” when they should instead be taking cues from associates and supporting them in the way that best suits their needs. Just as you would cheer for the protagonist of a story, embody empathy that enables you to understand and support your team through whatever challenges they encounter.

Embody empathy that enables you to understand and support your team through whatever challenges they encounter.

In recent years, for example, we’ve had associates who were returning to school, starting a family, or caring for elderly parents. These folks didn’t need concrete guidance about their daily tasks; they simply needed reassurance that they were doing all the right things and could come to their manager for a supportive shoulder. Other times, we’ve managed associates who accepted a stretch assignment or were dealing with difficult stakeholders – the way we engage and support these individuals is far different but equally impactful.

3. Provide support, guidance, and coaching

Depending on the circumstances, your approach might ask team members to take specific actions, helping them find answers themselves, or simply offering encouragement and support. There is no formula to determine your level of involvement; use your understanding of the situation, the relationship you’ve honed over time, and your judgment to determine how to help. You should also review how well (or not!) your support is working and adapt your approach accordingly.

To determine the success of your approach, start by simply asking for feedback – has your method of providing guidance been effective? Was your advice helpful, and if so, how?

If your team member is distant or reluctant to share openly with you or shows little progress in their endeavor, you might need to adjust your approach. Remember, negative results can be as valuable for growth and eventual success as victories.

[ Also read What's the difference between a manager and a coach? ]

4. Encourage growth

Growth is hard, even for the most experienced leaders. It requires stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and embracing situations that might feel uncomfortable.

Taking the first step toward change is difficult, and there will be many challenges and obstacles along the journey. Nevertheless, it’s important to encourage your associates and team members to challenge the status quo, even if it leads to feelings of self-doubt. During these times, it’s important to support your associates by helping them anticipate challenges and persevere. Your coaching can drive new growth.

5. Step back when needed

Sometimes the most appropriate way to manage a situation is to get out of the way. If you’ve done your job well and your employee is prepared to take on challenges alone, your participation will at best slow them down, and at worst derail their progress and damage your relationship. As a leader, you can share in their success from a distance.

Leading and growing a team is not as simple as delegating work to individuals. It requires a mix of art, science, and psychology to understand feelings, concerns, and intentions and then help align people to support the organization. Effective coaching requires understanding, experience, and intuition, and your technique will change depending on the situation and the individual.

Try a variety of these tips to foster the growth of your heroes, and you will be on your way to leading a powerful, productive team.

[ Want more expert insights on leadership, strategy, career development, and more? Download the Ebook: 37 award-winning CIOs share essential IT career advice. ]

Cecilee Billett is a Director in Red Hat's Products and Global Engineering organization, and throughout her career that spans industries ranging from higher education, defense, and now software engineering, program management has been a constant area of focus.
Scott Lewis is a Director in Red Hat's Global Engineering organization. He leads a team of program managers who deliver multi-product and customer-centric solutions for various industries and use cases across the Red Hat portfolio.