My leadership journey began many years ago, and ever since I’ve become fascinated with the both complex and rewarding process of managing other people. When I was assigned my first direct report, my boss handed me a copy of The One Minute Manager and told me, “There’s nothing to it, you’ll be fine.” Unfortunately, this book did little to prepare me for real life leadership, and I know many other leaders have similar stories to tell about how they started managing people.
Since that time, I have been honored with the opportunity to lead many people directly, as well as coach others who lead entire teams, ranging from first time managers all the way to CEOs. Over the years, I’ve learned many invaluable lessons, and one that continues to hold true – whether you are leading one direct report or a division of 20,000 – is that a strong and prepared leader will result in a strong and prepared team. Given the weight and importance of management, I’ve noticed a disparity in leadership training with organizations often treating it as something you simply learn by osmosis. Whether you’re new to leadership altogether or joining a new corporate team as a manager, training and preparation is key, which is why I’ve compiled tips to help leaders feel confident in propelling their teams to success.
Co-Create Team Structure and Rules
One of the now-defunct beliefs of managing people was that it was one-directional and top-down, meaning the manager or “superior” barked orders at the team member, who had to jump however high they were asked. As leadership styles slowly shift, those days are gone for many, and so are those ways of working. Leadership should no longer defined by titles, status or amount of money in the bank, but instead defined by values, intent and impact. Everyone is a leader in their own right, whether it be at home, at work or in our communities. As leaders, we share responsibility to help co-create our team, including the ground rules of how to work together. These collaboratively-constructed ground rules will help teams determine, how to communicate, how to measure success, what does work/life balance look like or how to ask for help. And, when things go awry (and they will), how to check in with each other to either re-commit or re-design the ground rules as needed.
Recognize an Individual’s Value Goes Beyond Work
A common trap for many, whether we are just starting to lead others or have been doing it for years, is to see those we lead in one-dimensional terms. We may view them through the perspective of their function (a marketer, an analyst, etc.), their seniority (entry level or peer) or performance. We often fail to see them as a whole person with multiple dimensions (creative, or adventurous) and lives (parent, community leader, etc.). By expanding our connection to our team members authentically beyond work, we’re able to create a stronger team. This change can lead to more honest feedback and communication, a newfound loyalty among team members that are willing to work for their beloved leader or a renewed sense of purpose due to the camaraderie. It’s important to note that some people prefer to keep their personal lives private, which is also something that must be respected. In these cases, try exposing these team members to new projects or skill sets, to reveal a strategic or creative side you may have not seen otherwise, which will still allow you to learn about their personality and hidden talents.
Provide a Map to Help them Soar
One of the simplest and most effective ways to support your team members is to provide clear direction. While this may sound simple enough, we’ve all suffered from receiving vague, conflicting, or confusing direction. Several questions to ask in order to determine a clear direction include:If I were to describe the intended direction as a place on a map (metaphorically), how would I do it?If I were to literally paint a picture of the intended direction, what would it look like? As leaders, we can think of offering direction in different “elevations,” much like a plane flying above the Earth. At high elevations, we can offer high-level direction in the form of a mission statement. Here’s an example from the outdoor retailer, REI: We inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship. At lower elevations, we can offer direction using the classic structure of Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time Bound.
Give them a Reason to Fight
As humans, we have a fundamental need for a sense of purpose and meaning in what we do. For your team members to follow you, they need to understand what they’re fighting for and why it matters. Too often, as leaders, we presume that those whom we’re leading both understand it and care about what we’re pursuing. When considering ways to best support your team, ask yourself the following questions, which essentially come down to a “So, What?” reflection.Why should they care about what we’re seeking to achieve? What would the impact be if we didn’t pursue this? How will we be better off with this in place? A common approach for articulating this concept is a Vision Statement, which helps to articulate the change that you aspire to make in the world. Here’s a particularly inspiring one from Unite, an NGO focused on serving those in need: A world in which people unite in service, crossing borders seen and unseen, so that every human may live with health, hope, opportunity and dignity.