Whether you lead a department or a whole organization, sometimes it just feels lonely at the top. Here are some tips how to survive and thrive as leader-manager.
Photo credit: Pablo by Buffer
When you do a great job at work there is a good chance that you will progress up the career ladder. Before you know it, you manage people, a department, and perhaps the whole company. All of a sudden it is like you have moved from one aisle in parliament to the other. People who used to be your colleagues are now your direct reports and their eyes are on you as well as from the people whom you report to. Game on: It is you versus them. You did not want for this to happen at all though.
Being the boss is sometimes not at all what you thought it was going to be. You figuratively move up the ladder and the higher you step the less of a handrail you can hold on to for support and guidance. It can be outright lonely and while you are moving up, there is less and less support to grab a hold of. The stress rises and you are going to miss feedback where you stand with people. Watch out, because it can get worse. What you do hear may be carefully chosen, pre-filtered, and sometimes outright blatantly incorrect information. Candor is difficult to come by.
Before you know it, your stomach is in a knot because you may not know whom and what to trust anymore. Why do you think celebrities and really rich and successful CEO’s are in the news about their sometimes questionable public behaviors and organizational decisions? Very often they have no one brave enough telling them the truth.
Sound familiar? Painful, isn’t it? One powerful example how a successful manager avoided this dead end situation, was that he had been lucky enough to have an ex monk on staff. In the book titled “The CEO and the Monk” the monk became the spiritual adviser to the CEO more or less due to serendipity. Any of the CEO’s decisions – good, bad, or indifferent – had an impact on the organization and the monk provided extremely candid feedback that no one else felt safe conveying. The CEO was thus able making more long term sustainable decisions. It helped increase employee morale and engagement. He was in luck because he had had help. That is not what the average leader will experience. You need not look for a monk though in order to organize a well working support structure for yourself. With a few tips you can do just as well on your own:
Listen well. Actually, what comes before that is to simply park your ego and ponder how you can make the life of your people better. When you do this the better listening part comes all but automatically. What does park your ego mean? Do not take yourself so seriously. It is not whether or not you succeed; it is about that your job is such that your team and team members succeed. Criticism is ok as long as it is about what you do and not who you are.
Seek candid feedback. Sounds easier said than done. Then again, you have the greatest impact on this. Candor can only happen when your team works in a trustworthy and safe environment. That is your choice. Nothing is worse than reaming people out, chastising them in front of others, taking their information and immediately turning it on them or others, etc. They all destroy trust. You just managed to never again get a good picture of what is going on again. Remember: It is all about trust. Trust is what your organization sells and needs in order to survive and thrive. With a team that trust each other, friction goes down. Less friction leads to increasing processing speed and therefore your cost goes down.
Manage by walking. Walk through the office and shop floor from wall to wall. Get to know your folks. You think you may not have time, well, then make time. Not only is it good for your health to get up and move around at least every 90 minutes, but you have the prime opportunity to bond with people on a personal level. Sometimes you will notice people struggling with their jobs, calls, the busted printer, etc. Help out and while you are at it you may want to ask if there is one thing is that should be addressed asap. Be ready to do something with the knowledge and provide feedback and you help improve the organization and your team member’s work life.
When you mutter the words “open door policy”, mean them. If your door is only left open because you like a fresh breeze or you like the view, I see some really intense self-reflecting and re-adjusting in your near future. Or your chair may be attracting a different occupant soon. Seriously, so much has been written about how important it is providing genuine and sincere one-on-one time for your employees. Put the phone on do not disturb, look at the team member and not your oh-so-important paperwork or Outlook schedule. Be in the moment with the one who interrupted her day to speak with you. This is show time for some candor and fertile ground for growth of you, the employee and the organization.
Speak with your peer supervisors and leadership. Often, the people reporting to you would rather confide in other people. No need to get upset about this (remember? Park your ego!). Embrace the trust that your fellow manager enjoys. You two can really do wonders for the employees and the organization if you are using the information wisely and to the benefit of everyone. You can help the other supervisor by returning the favor. Keep in mind that the common denominator for all of the above measures is trust.
Make no time for favorites. Here you do not want to only listen and speak to people that you are the most familiar with, or that you like dealing with the most. Favoritism will no doubt lead to an unsustainable form of leadership. People who need to listen to you all the time, will only do so reluctantly and at the end tell you what they think you want to hear. On the other side of the spectrum, folks that you normally do not speak with you, will be even less likely speaking with you if you do not make the effort first.
Hopefully you got a little comfort out of this blog post. Candor flourishes when you as the leader allow for it to happen without any, and I mean any, repercussions. Provide a safe, ethical and positive environment and you will be amazed how many problems seem to fix themselves. It is like nailing guard rail extensions to your success ladder. There is no way but up for your team, you, and the organization.
So you advanced your career because you did your job well. Avoid getting promoted into oblivion using these tips
So you worked your bum off and now you got promoted to leader-manager. It is really not all that difficult for you to get put into this position. Now comes the tough part: You are expected to “manage” people and how they spend their productive time. What changes is that you will need to spend some time on developing your leadership skills. The people you are supposed to serve (lead) – your former colleagues – may start losing trust in you and your company. Most companies unfortunately do not spend any time or effort helping you learn these important skillsets. Here are 14 quick tips that can make a huge difference for how well you lead your team.
Park your personal agenda and ego: Did you ever like a boss that is only concerned about his / her own issues, but never yours? Turn that down a notch or two. Have you ever seen the movie “Saving Private Ryan”? In it there is a great line about leadership: “Never gripe down, always gripe up.” Your folks are not interested about your woes; their’s are big enough the way they are.
Be fair: Kick up the old golden rule to platinum level. Treat others how they would like to be treated. Never treat people differently. You will regret it in the end. The moment you lose their trust you will no longer be privy to vital people and company information. There has to be clarity about what applies to everyone.
Help promote your team members: Nothing shows more respect than to be a great career steward. Help your team advancing in their careers.
Give them a great reason to spend their time at work: Purpose, perspective, and impact is what people are looking for. Especially GenZ and Millennials will emphasize on this point.
What happens at the work place, stays at the work place: Other than the heavy hitters of employee safety, harassment, discrimination, moral, and ethical problems, no other team member information is supposed to leave your lips. Confidentiality is the keystone to how much you will be trusted as a leader.
Make sure having a great one on one contact with your team members: Nothing beats being able to help and assist your team members on a one on one basis. You get to know about their struggles and aspirations and you can help make a difference happen.
Listen, listen, and listen: Your organization can tell you anything you want to know about the state of mind of your folks and also the strategic and tactical progress you are making (or the lack thereof). Boy, did that take me a while to learn how to do this better. Asking engaging questions is the tougher but better thing to do and you get to listen to your organization’s creativity come alive.
Communicate, communicate, communicate: No leader has ever been accused of over-communicating. Make sure to know company vision, mission, values, and goals by heart. Make sure that there is a steady trickle of this information shared with your team members.
Embrace transparency and collaboration: This builds trust. Trust begets creativity. Realize that you cannot and should work alone. You need all the help you can get working toward common goals. The worst that can happen in business is to have success. Success can outgrow and outspend you in a heartbeat. You need a team that is nimble and fully engaged in order to make it through the ups and downs of the economy.
Create a safe working environment: Praise in public and critique in private. If you want candid information shared with you then learn how to not chastise any team member for having made a mistake. Go by this rule: A mistake is a mistake; otherwise it is intention and I need to speak with you. I also will need to have a serious performance type conversation with you if you have a pattern of the same mistakes. Every other mistake is just that – a mistake. Being in business comes with risks. Risk taking is essential in learning what works and what doesn’t. Mistakes happen when you take a risk. Remember that good people are tough on themselves. All you have to ask is: “What have you learned?”
Be humble and grateful: Nothing beats a little self-depreciating humor when you make mistakes. Admit them and make them public. No one – not even you – should be able getting away with not learning from your mistakes. At the same time you want your team to stay informed enough such that they will not have to make the same mistakes either. Be grateful for the openness your team affords you. Not allowed are intentional or pattern of mistakes.
Do something with what they tell you: When your team is trying to tell you that there is a systemic problem with a process, policy, people, etc. do something with this info. That is why you became the leader-manager in the first place. Do not let anyone else handle this important detail for you. This needs to come from and through you. Taking charge of difficult situations is (unfortunately) something you will to get to deal with. Do it well and people will trust you.
Be mindful of other people’s time commitments: Knowing when to end a conversation is tough. Sometimes it feels great speaking with like minded folks about issues you are mutually facing. Cut it short if it no longer serves the purpose. Do not fall victim to scope creep either. One issue leads to the next and then there is another one, etc. etc. Trust me, there are more challenges than you can shake a stick at. Keep it to solving one short and effective issue at a time.
Prepare meetings well ahead of time: Most meetings are really not necessary, or the are simply not effective. Too often leader-managers look at them as a “working meeting”, meaning that the problem, problem statement, and possible solution finding happen with the attendees hearing about this issue for the first time.
Start and end meetings on time: Do this religiously. Yes, there are times when it may be necessary to run over. Attempt your very best to get a reputation for beginning and ending on time. Your folks want to get their tasks done.
Do not be afraid to fail with any of the above topics. Only very few business schools are providing leadership and soft skill training – yet. I am hoping that one day leader-manager training will become a mandatory topic at graduate and undergraduate level. Plan, Do, Reflect, and Correct your future behavior and you will have made the biggest change already. Good luck!
Being productive and doing as much stuff as possible is important in our work life. This race for more, faster, better, etc starts as early in school. We are groomed to get stuff done. Doing is more important than being. Or is it?
Problem is that working your bum off and getting stuff done can easily distract you from realizing what is truly important to you. Years can go by and you can easily go head on into a midlife crisis.
So periodically stop what you are doing for a moment and ask yourself that if what you are doing is truly filling you with energy for a long time to come.
Feel like you have to do everything yourself so it will be done right? Well, you shouldn’t.
Entrepreneurship and leadership are fun, but they also can be a huge challenge. How do you grow your business in a way that is long term sustainable whilst also rendering enough profits such that you can invest in your people and infrastructure? How do you do this without totally giving your own life up because you feel like you have to work exorbitant hours? How will your family see you again and how will you manage stress to a manageable level?
Chances are that you have asked yourself these questions over and over again. Regardless whether you are the key leader in a small business or are the CEO of a large corporation the questions are typically very similar. Fortunately, the answers are amazingly simple as well. Key question here is only how comfortable you are to commit yourself to opening your organization up to a more transparent platform. The more you are ready to open up to true collaboration the greater the chance that you will soon enjoy your co-leaders and employees becoming your co-entrepreneurs.
What I am inferring here is that you have the opportunity developing your own brand that can become self-sustainable. This allows you to focus on planning the future development of your organization without you having to worry about that the day-to-day operation goes awry without you being there. It helps reducing your stress and that of everyone in your organization.
Start with a quality product of service: Absolute important is having a quality product and/ or service to start with. It does not hurt if your product is clever or really unique, but it has to be of high quality. Excellent execution of what you have to offer to customers is essential in making sure that there is long term sustainability for your organization.
Ego management: Skip this blog if you are not willing to of your ego. Long term sustainability can only happen when you as the leader are willing to not be the only one who speaks, directs, manages, generates ideas, etc. Egomaniacs make for miserable working conditions and no one needs another toxic work place. No wonder they are working insane hours.
People need a perspective and purpose: When you want to delegate you had better provide a clear vision and mission for your organization. Then position your team members to their strengths. Watch what happens. The majority of your employees will engage at a much greater level and you will do less “managing” of people.
Safe working place: This is more than the physical safety at work. I am speaking about candor. Only when it is safe to speak about your company’s challenges will you get to the bottom of what your folks will need to fix.
Communication management: Great conscious leaders make a huge commitment to open communication. Department meetings held regularly and also allowing for your managers meeting with their team members one on one regularly will provide ample information about where and how your organization and people need help. If you are really good, you will hold weekly company meetings where everybody can get a pulse of the organization and where their contributions make a difference.
Collaboration heaven: Collaboration amongst your leadership team is just as important as allowing for this to happen with your customers and all of your employees. How else can you tap into the brain power and creativity of the people who do the front line work every day? Create a conduit and place where this information exchange can happen at strategic and tactical level, step back, and be ready to be amazed what your folks can help create.
Servitude: This point of course assumes that you have made it beyond point 2. above. Really great leaders realize that they need to view their role as the one who serves the folks who work for them. That does not mean that leaders must do the work of the people reporting to them. It definitely does not mean that everyone can do whatever they feel like. What is more important than anything else here is that the team members feel respected, are taking seriously, and that their contributions count. Helping develop your employees by helping them excel increases the trust in you and the company and makes for very loyal followers – team members and customers alike.
Commitment management: First and foremost that is your commitment to invest all your efforts to make the changes happening that your team members helped develop. That fosters even more trust and ensures your organization making a lot of progress. Once your team knows that when they come together and help co-create their future with you and you deliver the commitment allowing for continual improvement to occur, you will enjoy success almost guaranteed.
This is not an easy road to travel and not necessarily a fast one. It may represent a cultural change and those typically take 18 months to come to full fruition. If you expect your people to change, make sure asking yourself first how you must change. Invite your team members – and I mean all of them – to help collaborate about if and how / what kind of changes need to be made in order to serve your organization’s purpose (your “why”). Then leave them be, check your ego at the front door and be ready to be amazed how many people step forward with the desire helping to achieve your growth goals.