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Team Leadership Requires Actually Being There for Your Team With Len Covello

An Interview With VENTEUR Magazine

Published October 16, 2022

VENTEUR spoke with Len Covello, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Engage People, about being a team leader. Covello leads Engage People’s long-term technology vision and drives continued innovation in the loyalty sector, including integrating the ability to pay with points directly into online check-out processes.

A seasoned technologist, Covello’s insights around the emerging pay with points trends have been featured in industry publications. He has also spoken at industry events on topics covering  technology industry transformation, the new world of payments and rewards, and the future of gift card, loyalty, and branded currency programs.

Covello is a cornerstone of Engage People’s Executive Team and a member of the Board of Directors. He holds a number of patents in payments and speaks on the topics of engagement, loyalty, payments, and fraud around the world.

What are three non-negotiable things a team leader must do for their team, and why?

1. Support Your Team, Champion Their Activities, and Work As Much as Possible
By supporting your team, it reinforces the positive and builds teamwork and bonding within the team, with the leader, and with the organization. Be the barrier if a client is pushing in an unreasonable way to keep from exacerbating emotional responses. 

2. Provide Guidance and Direction As Required
Check-in regularly with your team to make sure progress is being made but also to help course correct as necessary. Help guide the team to deliver what is required.

3. Motivate the Team To Achieve All They Are Capable Of
Be the cheerleader, the coach, and the mentor when spirits may be low, and celebrate wins to inspire confidence further and build connection.

How important is it for a team leader to provide feedback, how detailed and frequently should feedback be delivered, and why?

Regular feedback is essential in helping a team learn and deliver the required project or activity on time in a way that benefits the organization. It can help provide additional guidance when needed to avoid going in the ‘wrong direction’ and wasting resources or time, creating frustration.

The feedback should help support the endeavor and be delivered consistently, even if everything is going well to help reinforce the direction. It’s essential to understand the specific team member and the type and frequency of feedback that best meets their style.

The feedback should only be as detailed as is required, which can be time-dependent. The tighter the timelines, the more detailed the feedback that may be required. If longer timelines, then feedback can be less detailed to allow for the team to develop a solution.

How do you determine what things to delegate and the team members to delegate things to, and how has this changed over time?

In the past, the focus was on just getting things done. The team was smaller and the organization much more entrepreneurial, resulting in fewer team members and quick delegation. With a smaller group of people and strong players, it meant utilizing a core group of individuals to deliver a project was necessary and the only option for me as a leader was to be more hands-on.

As the organization has grown, we’ve added more clients across a variety of verticals, and customer requirements have become more stringent, and regulations changed, the teams grew and represented more specific skill sets. This meant larger projects and larger teams. This required greater delegation and responsibility to teams versus individuals. 

These teams are made up of cross-functional areas to deliver better results for a project’s success. Growing and delegating brings its own sets of challenges as your ability to be close to all aspects of a project is lessened. However, having the right team members and trusting in their abilities alleviates the “loss of control” feeling.

How important is it for a team leader to communicate with their team, and how detailed should such communications be? 

It is incredibly important to communicate with the team at the outset of a project and throughout the project to make sure the direction is still clear, and there are no roadblocks. Ultimately, communication helps make sure that everything is being delivered in a timely manner. It’s also essential that communication continues after the project or task is complete and to celebrate the result.

The level of detail required is dependent on the type of project being completed. Simpler tasks require less discussion and communication just to define the objective, provide a deadline, remain open to questions as needed, and then check in. Larger projects require more detailed discussion, including a timeline for each stage to complete the activity, check-in points for the project, regular (weekly or bi-weekly) updates, and an open-door policy to deal with any urgent issues or ad-hoc questions.

What are three communication mistakes you’ve made with teams in your charge, and how could those mistakes have been avoided?

There are a number of areas where I have made mistakes that could have been avoided, in retrospect:

1. Assuming That Everyone Understands the Objective and What Is Required To Be Successful
Team members often leave a meeting with a different understanding of what the objective is or what they’re being asked. To avoid confusion, I’ve found that clearly outlining what is necessary to complete a project or task at the outset and then asking everyone to articulate their understanding of what is required can help avoid this issue.

2. Not Including Someone From a Complimentary Team That Has an Integral Role in Helping Deliver the Final Project
Making sure you have all the necessary team members required to complete a task helps to avoid duplication and delays. I found that by reviewing the project with my peers, and during a project kick-off, flushing out all the team’s questions helps define the resources needed. Including them in the communication from the outset is critical.

3. Taking On More of the Task Than Is Necessary and Not Delegating Is Also a Mistake
This was a particular issue early in the development of the business. With limited resources, it required a more hands-on approach and often meant taking on a team member’s role. The challenge here was not educating the team on how to execute the task in the hopes of saving time. 

Although this may be faster in the short term, it does not benefit the team or me as a leader in the long term. The more knowledge a team has, the better they can support the organization long-term and contribute to our overall success. Taking the time to communicate the how and giving team members the scope to develop means more knowledge on the team.

How have you used conflict resolution as a team leader, and what conflict resolution principles should team leaders know about, and why?

No organization is immune from conflict, and healthy conflict can be perfect for an organization. As a leader, you are often asked to deploy conflict resolution to help move everyone to a successful outcome. I always start from the perspective that team members share a positive and passionate commitment to delivering the result, but they may have a different approach. So I pursue the following steps to help diffuse conflict:

  • Don’t ignore conflict
  • Clarify what the issue is
  • Bring involved parties together to talk
  • Identify a solution
  • Continue to monitor and follow up on the conflict

This has consistently shown to be successful in reducing conflict. I would also add one more point to this discussion to help avoid potential conflict in the future: make sure everyone understands their role on the team and what is required in that role. This helps alleviate concerns around who is responsible for what and ultimately avoids finger-pointing. This is necessary at the very outset of a project to hopefully reduce the potential for conflict in the future.

How do you approach building relationships within your team, where is the line drawn that shouldn’t be crossed, and why?

This is an interesting question. 

Building relationships within the team is about defining a shared objective that everyone can clearly identify with and collectively work toward. Making sure the focus is on the job at hand helps reduce emotion, particularly if timelines are tight or customers are pushing. Making sure everyone on the team understands their role and responsibility increases cooperation and clarity to create a positive and collaborative connection between team members. 

Relationship building needs to be natural and organic. Because of the time our teams spend together and the type of work we do, many team members build a strong connection that can extend outside of work and cross boundaries.

Ultimately, the relationship needs to be professional and, at a minimum, built on respect for each other. I try to mix team-building strategies into our plan to ensure everyone feels they are part of the team.

What are three unique team leadership mistakes you see entrepreneurs make, and how can these mistakes be avoided?

1. Not Being Open to New Ideas or Ways of Working… Not Listening to Others
Sure, an entrepreneur’s way of working got them to where they are and made them successful but not being open to input from the team can limit future success or make their current efforts obsolete as new competitors enter the market. Solicit feedback and be open to seeing new opportunities regardless of where these opportunities have come from.

2. Looking Outside Their Core Team for Growth
Leaders can get comfortable with a select group or team and not be open to growing that team.  Adversely, they can hold back individuals who are ready for growth in fear of disrupting the current chemistry. Providing an opportunity for everyone to grow and move on is the only way to attract top contributors to your organization and thus your team.

3. Not Sharing
Entrepreneurs can be very protective of their ideas. If they do not share details and their thinking, it can be detrimental and create significant frustration for the team as they try and ‘figure it out’ without guidance. Entrepreneurs should be open to sharing the vision, thinking, and approach to help team members do their job. This is also a great learning tool to foster creative thinking amongst the rest of the organization.

How do you handle resistance from your team, and why?

I try to understand where the resistance is coming from. Identifying what’s driving it can help to establish the best response. 

Are one or more team members pushing back on a specific decision, or is it personal? 

Are there underlying concerns that are coming through in particular behaviors? 

Dealing with resistance is about unpacking where it’s coming from and then addressing the core issue. Ultimately, you can manage most scenarios through dialogue and open conversation. I prefer this approach as it also opens up the team for further discussions and should establish additional respect.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

As an entrepreneur, you are always learning, being flexible, resilient, and listening to others. These traits are a necessity for long-term success. Your team is your most valuable asset, with significant expertise from diverse backgrounds. These skills can help separate a good team from a great one.

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