Leading a team is tricky, especially at first. Some fall into the role and seem to navigate the waters with ease. Others have a rocky road until they find their rhythm and flow.
Leadership is a key factor in whether employees stay with a company or look for a new job. Several recent studies have demonstrated this: one found that 63% of employees with a bad manager are considering leaving their job within the next year. Despite the best intentions and efforts, a leader’s limitations can prevent them from charting the best course. And this leads employees to lose faith in the organization.
The following practices will help you get where you want to be as a leader while building up your team to become leaders themselves.
Step 1: Build trust among your team.
Trust is always the toughest step — almost as challenging as leading itself. This step can take some time. I’ve found that you build trust most quickly by being motivating, decisive, and a partner. Be motivating by caring and listening about things your team cares about. Be decisive by creating a plan for shared success: The collective must become aware of the benefits of working together. Be an authentic partner by being approachable.
Step 2: Have empathy without being a pushover.
Often, having empathy is seen as a weakness. It’s not. It’s recognizing and understanding another point of view, especially regarding those on your team.
A recent poll by the Australian College of Applied Professions (ACAP) found that 39% of respondents were reluctant to interact with their managers due to a perceived lack of emotional intelligence. As ACAP CEO George Garrop states in the article cited, it will be increasingly important for managers and leaders to have strong people skills going forward.
Being involved doesn’t mean hand-holding your team through their day. It does mean taking the time to consider your team when they express a concern, inquire about challenges and then listen to employees’ responses. The more you understand an employee’s basic needs and struggles and offer to guide them, the more they will feel connected and comfortable. Get to know them outside of work and work-related functions. Where are they from? Do they have pets? Kids? Hobbies? Favorite books or TV shows? Connect with them on non-work-related topics. Because when we feel connected, we feel more comfortable and understood. Empathy is built on trust.
Step 3: Create accountability without micromanaging.
Is it possible to be empathetic yet firm? Absolutely. Creating accountability within your team involves being firm and fair with deadlines, learning from every situation and leading with trust, even remotely.
Deadlines are unavoidable, but they have varying degrees of importance. Managers should set clear expectations each day and week regarding what their priorities are and what determines success. There should be regular check-ins and systems for building trust and accountability.
Failure is inevitable. However, it can become a mindset. You cannot have your team approaching a goal, deadline or project thinking that mistakes are going to happen. That’s being a little too comfortable with failure. How you approach the situation after failure is what matters. Creating an environment of learning rather than reprimanding is key.
Working remotely is more common than ever. The same rules should apply to remote team members; treat your team as you would if you were working face-to-face. Building connections is more of a challenge when remote, so making team members feel comfortable might take some extra effort. Cultivate time and space where information, ideas and innovations can be shared. In return, employees will feel more connected to the task or project at hand.
Step 4: Empower your team to lead.
Surround yourself with adaptable team members. Whether on vacation or retirement, is your team able to run without you? Author and leadership guru Raj Sisodia says in his book Servant Leadership In Action, “Conscious leaders are like golfers with a full set of clubs; they know how to select and implement the right approach for each situation.”
Once you have a team, evaluate their performance, and allow them to lead when they’re ready. Along the way, provide feedback rather than instruction. Give your people the tools and freedom to learn their job and how to adapt to an ever-changing environment. The aim is to ensure that everyone on your team is enjoying working toward the same goals and that they want the same outcome. Provide “why” they are doing something, not just the “how.”
Step 5: Communicate proactively and frequently.
Communication with and among your team must always be active. Being a solid leader is not about being a specific style of manager. It is about knowing three things:
- Your natural leadership style. I recommend the work of Douglas McGregor to help determine this, especially his Theory X and Theory Y.
- What combination of leadership styles is needed for different phases of work.
- What combination of styles is appropriate for the team being led and the individuals within it. Individuals come with their own personalities and methods of operations, but they must all work together toward a common goal. It’s important to understand that various styles can and will be put into practice to reach that goal and to be able to communicate across these different styles.
Within your style, I encourage you to become a learner. Become an active listener, focus on nonverbal communication, manage your emotions, ask for feedback, develop a filter and practice public speaking. Be a student of the communication you receive to determine what will work for you and your team.
With leadership, there is no one map to arrive at the right destination. Leadership must be in constant evolution. Whether you are leading a team of one or twenty, get to know your people, have a (flexible) plan of approach and explore implementing these practices. Watch and see what happens.
Schwantes, M. (2021, October 30). Why Are Workers Really Quitting? You Can Boil It Down to This Simple Reason. Inc.com. https://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/why-are-workers-really-quitting-you-can-boil-it-down-to-1-simple-reason.html
Coade, M. (2021, December 14). Almost a third of workers don’t like their managers, new survey finds. The Mandarin. https://www.themandarin.com.au/177821-almost-a-third-of-workers-dont-like-their-managers-new-survey-finds/
Wikipedia Contributors. (2019, February 10). Theory X and Theory Y. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_X_and_Theory_Y
Angie Wolfe is the Owner and Master Trainer at Ideas at Dawn Marketing Consultants. Angie is a proud member of APMP and very active in the AEC marketing industry. You can contact her at Angie@IdeasAtDawn.com
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