The art of leadership resides in a leader’s ability to communicate a clear vision to his/her staff. The well being of their employees in the modern economy is paramount to organizational success and there can be chaotic repercussions if this is ignored. So how can you be in control of the narrative when it comes to your team, if you’re the last to know that your employees have issues, or worse, that those issues are with you– that’s a problem that can have side effects ranging from talent retention issues, employees not performing at their best and contagious insubordination. Here are 8 (contemporary) leadership tips that will help you master team management.
- Take Responsibility: You’re in charge. That’s it. If your team underperforms it means you didn’t take the necessary steps to acquire the right talent, build effective relationships, communicate a clear vision or invest all that you could have into your organization. If your company fails, your fault. Sound like tough love? It’s the nature of the economy, it’s competitive and the market is your ultimate boss. The market has no emotional intelligence and doesn’t care about excuses, so understand what’s within your control and what isn’t by mapping it out. Develop a contingency plan with your team in the event of tough times where external factors go beyond your control. Bad leaders are quick to blame others for their failures and shortcomings because it’s easy to do, take some time to ask yourself how much credit you dish in comparison to blame.
- Dish Compliments: When your team and company thrive, it’s because of you and them; dish compliments because without your team you wouldn’t be where you are. Do not hoard credit, your leadership will be acknowledged by media, employees themselves and everyone else who understands how organizations work naturally, so be sure to share the praise with those around you. This acknowledgement of employee efforts boosts moral, makes them feel appreciated and motivates them to do more. Not doing this can make you look inexperienced, opportunistic and worse, a bad leader.
- Don’t Miss Your One on Ones: This is assuming that you have consistent one-on-one meetings with your team in the first place. Building one-on-one relationships with your team increases trust and loyalty within your organization. One-on-one meetings are sacred for your employees, it gives them an opportunity to get to know you intimately, speak about their work concerns to you and discuss their personal stresses. Try not to reschedule, rush or use these meetings as opportunities to talk about their work no matter how tempting. The time you think you’re saving by hijacking the meeting with work-related instead of them-related material, is time that you will lose in the long run if issues arise. Having an open-door policy can help, if employees feel that you are too ‘above’ them and unapproachable, the work of your organization will suffer especially when taking sick leave becomes a company wide trend.If you’re one-on-one meeting is wrought with awkward silences and a bunch of surface-level, “soooo, about that weather eh?” don’t be afraid to ask how they’re doing at work and personally. Some people will share more readily with their superiors than others, so recognize this complicated power dynamic and don’t necessarily take the “everything is great” response as what your employee truly means. This is where emotional intelligence and learning how to identify non-verbal cues comes in, if they say “things are great” while their voice tone drops, their shoulders are slumped and they loose eye contact often, then this could be an invitation for an “are you sure?” but of course you don’t want to come off creepy or overbearing. Empathizing with your staff by using words like “I understand where you’re coming from” and opening up about your personal situation, will help them to more readily confide in you on issues that could be affecting their work.
- Maintain Respect by Mastering Communication: In tip #3 I mentioned that opening up to employees is a good idea. The caveat here would be to not over share. There’s an obvious power dynamic between employees and employers—psychologically, the more human and relatable you are to your staff, the more likely they are to subconsciously see you as an equal. When you need to make tough decisions, reprimand an employee or give constructive criticism your authority and experience needs to be respected and deferred to. In today’s workforce leaders need to understand how to maintain respect by being confident and assertive at the right times, balancing their image as being approachable and empathetic while strong and respected. Ensure that when you speak you communicate with confidence and knowledge on your subject matter, if you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to say that you are looking into it, but don’t pretend to know. Be honest, but also demonstrate why you were chosen to lead through your actions and your knowledge. The leadership bootcamp training that I offer in public speaking and communications for leaders is highly sought after because being able to speak effectively and confidently asserting your place as team leader can mean the difference between life and death for your organization.
- Discipline Quickly and Frankly: Tough conversations are inevitable, don’t make them more awkward by delaying them or saying “this is an awkward conversation.” If you have to discipline or provide constructive criticism to an employee, do so privately in your office, in a calm, confident and respectful manner. First, start off with what they’ve done well and what you appreciate, then provide the feedback, clearly articulating what it was that they did wrong and why it negatively impacts you or the company. The how and why is very important to convey so as to not seem like an attack and to have them clearly understand why their actions need to change. Before they leave the meeting, make sure that you ask how they’re feeling, if everything is ok and a compliment that changes the tone of the meeting to a positive one. I highly recommend this book Leadership: The Success Leader – Maximize Your Potential and Lead Like You Were Born To by Steve Williams, it’s short, to the point and effective.
- Don’t Pick Favorites: Remember how everyone teased the teacher’s pet? Don’t give your employees reasons to resent each other or not feel appreciated and therefore insecure about their work or their time with you. There’s nothing wrong in acknowledging good work but when you publicly acknowledge the work of only a handful of individuals and it is not spread equally, then you have to ask yourself why that is. Are your other staff members just not performing? Or have you not had enough communication with the others to understand why their work isn’t standing out as much? I’ve been in countless meetings where managers have publicly congratulated the same 4 out of 6 staff members constantly leaving the other 2 to wonder why they were even there in the first place.
- Be Transparent and Truthful: If your position depends on secrecy that’s one thing, but try and be as open about your decisions, your pressures and your challenges to your staff as often as possible. Staff cannot perform without understanding the context of their work; so while giving clear and contextual directions is obvious, have them understand what you and the company are up against. This is an extraordinary opportunity to provide professional development as you allow staff into your world temporarily and into a position that many of them should strive to be in one day. This was probably one of the most effective ways that I was able to lead teams in both a political campaign (staff were unpaid working full-time) and NGO and maintain a 99% staff retention with extremely limited resources. Employees will feel even more so a part of the team and operate accordingly.
- Be Hungry for Feedback: One of the biggest ego-breakers is having a system that allows your staff to provide anonymous feedback on your leadership style. Distribute an anonymous survey that staff can fill out privately and have them provide feedback on your leadership. How you take this feedback is very important, you must listen to the constructive criticism even if you don’t disagree. Some claims may be outlandish and untrue which is fine to ignore, but others that seem somewhat possible, common amongst responses or reasonable, require your immediate action. Take immediate steps to develop a plan that allows you to change your direction. Treat it with the same urgency as you would a disciplinary note from your superior, trust me it’s just as important. If you haven’t done this at all, do it now.