Cairn Leadership

Core Team and Leadership Skills

Develop the competence you need to grow your teams sustainably.

Work on the leadership skills that will make the biggest difference.

1. Select one to three core skills through the diagnostic process.

2. Apply skills in real time practical situations.

3. Get coaching and seminars to build competence and language across your organization.

Trust for teams


We like Charles Feltman’s definition of trust: “Making something you value vulnerable to other people’s actions.” (Hear more here.)

He breaks trust into four domains:

  1. Care: People have other’s interests in mind when making decisions and taking action. Intentions toward others on the team are positive. 
  2. Sincerity: People say what they mean and mean what they say. People express valid and useful opinions backed by sound thinking and evidence.  
  3. Reliability: People fulfill the commitments they make and keep promises. 
  4. Competence: People have the capacity, skill, knowledge and resources to do what they say they will do. 
Help teams communicate effectively


A major component of high performing teams is creating shared understanding of the goal and of expectations. Here are some key communications skills we find help teams the most: 

Feedback: the transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event, or process to the original or controlling source (Webster)

Coaching: partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential (International Coaching Federation)

Strategic Communication: relentless and creative communication of the mission, vision and values and the priorities that support them

High Performance Culture


According to Edgar Schein culture is “the pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered, or developed in learning to cope with its problems…” 

Teams craft and nurture a strong and positive culture to align values and vision, create healthy norms, and clarify the behavioral expectations of the team. A good culture becomes self-sustaining. 

Communicating clear values and norms and linking them to your strategic vision, hiring, and performance management strengthens your culture. It is also important to notice and celebrate behaviors in line with your culture. Learn more about culture on this episode of No Turning Back with James Kerr. 

Get team dynamics fixed

Team Dynamics

Team dynamics describe the intentional (or unintentional) design and structure of the team. According to Dr. Leigh Thompson from Kellogg Business School, most teams succeed or fail because of their structure and dynamics, not their people, relationships, or leaders. We broke dynamics or team fundamentals into the following components. 

Clear and Appropriate Roles: Getting the right people into the right formal (job description) and informal (social) roles makes or breaks a team. Communicating those roles so that everyone knows what they should and should not do is also critical. 

Clear Priorities: Ensuring people are all working on the right tasks at the right time leverages talent and creates collective outcomes. 

Clear Shared Mission: Crafting a vision or mission or communicating a mission from higher in the organization that aligns with team members individual purpose and values drives sustained performance. The mission should be specific and difficult. 

Information Flow: Creating and maintaining the right flow of information diffuses hierarchical structures and gives people the tools they need to succeed. Read this HBR article The New Science Building Great Teams for some ideas. 

Motivation and engagement for employees


Leigh Thompson from Kellogg Business School found that creating and sustaining long term motivation is one of the toughest challenges for teams. Oxford defines motivation as “the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.” We measure motivation from many angles including:    

Engagement: Often maligned by gallup polls, engagement measures the amount of attention team members invest in their day to day role. 

Discipline: The tendency of a team to get their work done on time regardless of their motivation level. It’s the 1% improvements every day that ultimately lead to success. 

Total Motivation: Developed by Lidsey McGregor and Neil Doshi, ToMo balances motivators directly linked to the work like enjoyment and purpose with other drivers that occur outside of work like money and inertia.  

Dan Pink’s triad of motivation factors: (Watch this for a primer)

Purpose: Work is linked to an outcome larger than the team or the individual

Mastery: Work helps the team and members build skills and knowledge

Autonomy: When appropriate, members can dictate their own schedule and approach to achieving outcomes

Psychological safety for teams and leaders

Psychological Safety

We base this component on the groundbreaking work of Dr Amy Edmondson at Harvard Business School. She defines psychological safety as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” This means sharing hard feedback, new ideas, and speaking up when something seems wrong. Psychological safety gained visibility from Google’s Project Aristotle. 

This does not mean it’s ok to lack competence. In fact Dr Edmondson compares psychological safety to taking the brakes off in a race car. The team must have high standards and clear expectations to ‘hit the gas.’

Flow and Productivity for teams

Flow & Productivity

Flow is a state of mind that includes maximum engagement and maximum effectiveness. Certain pre-conditions including clear goals, immediate feedback, challenge- skill match and limited distractions among many others make flow more likely. In a 10 year longitudinal study of 5,000 leaders, McKinsey found that being in flow makes executives five times more effective.  

Problem Solving for teams and organizaitons

Problem Solving

Ideally you have a strong mix of the following problem solving approaches that likely skews toward an industry norm i.e. engineering might favor critical thinking and movie making would require more creative thinking. 

Creative Thinking: The ability to combine observations and data into novel and useful ideas. 

Systems Thinking: A big picture approach that considers each component of a problem as an interrelated piece of a larger system.  

Critical Thinking: A rigorous approach to applying logic and validity to data before making decisions. 

Collaboration: A preference on your team to work together and leverage different strengths to solve problems faster.

Emotional Intelligence for Teams

Emotional Intelligence

This score assesses the level of personal and collective awareness of emotions as well and how well members of the team and the collective team manage the impact of emotions.

Proactive risk management on teams

Risk & Decision Making

This score assesses your team’s risk awareness and mitigation skills. Often teams don’t have the language, culture or tools to effectively manage strategic risk at lower levels. In Risk: A User’s Guide Gen. Stanley McChrystal outlines risk management as a core function of leadership that encompasses communication, diversity, countering bias and many other skills. 

We can help you make these skills and behaviors your superpowers.

Reach out now to learn more.

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