Friday, July 10, 2015

Recipe for Better Leadership

It’s a simple, if not secret, sauce……

On any given day, you’ll see a number of articles – on business sites, career sites and associated publications – telling you how to be a good manager or a better leader. There will be the "flavor of the day" recipes (holocracy –WTH is that, anyway?), or more classic types (democratic, affiliative, visionary, authoritative, etc.). What’s best for you or your organization? The answer to that will depend on many factors. But there are constants regardless of what model you may follow, or at least, there should be constants!

I believe there are traits and characteristics that are part and parcel of any good management or leadership strategy. Skipping these, or executing them poorly, can derail any other vision you have for your company or whatever part of that company you’re leading. Here are some of them:

1. Be the role model.
This is often expressed as "walk the talk", but goes a bit beyond that. As a leader, your actions and behavior set the standard for what is expected and allowable. You have to actually display the behavior you want your team to display. A great way to destroy your credibility as a leader is to go with the "do as I say, not as I do" approach. You want honesty, integrity and hard work out of your employees? Make sure your actions are reflective of those qualities.

2. Be humble, be honest, be genuine.
We all make mistakes. If you make one as a leader, admit it, own it, correct it, and move on. Apologize if your mistake affects others or the work of your department. The world will not end if you admit you don’t have a solution to a problem. Your team will appreciate the ability to brainstorm a solution with you. Admitting your mistakes will also allow your employees to feel safer in admitting theirs and will decrease, or maybe even eliminate the "blame game" when something does go wrong. It’s so much more productive.

A further word about honesty: Don’t lie.  If you don’t know the answer, say so and go find the answer. Don’t use information (false or otherwise) or the access to information as a control tool. At best this is passive/aggressive behavior, at worst it’s a serious personality flaw that will be seen by your employees. Your management structure shouldn’t restrict your employees from speaking to higher levels of management, thereby keeping them in your own little bubble of influence and in the dark about what’s going in within the organization as a whole.

3. Communicate – Effectively and Appropriately.
If your staff don’t want to talk to you because they don’t know how you’ll respond, or are afraid of how you’ll respond, you’ve already lost the game. Let them know they can openly discuss workplace issues with you. Be approachable. Give them your full attention (and if you can’t, reschedule for a time when you can), keep an open mind. Don’t engage in gossip – don’t initiate it, don’t pass it along, don’t contribute to it. Essentially, you need to build trust. Communicateyour expectations about their behavior and work product clearly and often. Don’t leave them to guess what you want and actively clear up any misunderstandings when they become apparent. Be consistent! Unpredictability breeds nothing good. If you’re all sunshine and honey one moment and evil incarnate the next – fix that now.

5. Know and develop your EQ (emotional quotient).
The core of any business is the people making the product, providing the service. Good leaders will be aware of the sensitivities of others. They learn to acknowledge different opinions and consider background information to better understand the people they work with.

6. Encourage innovation, creativity and initiative.
Problems often don't have just one solution – yours. Solutions other than yours are not wrong, just different than yours. There are usually several ways to reach a goal. Let your team know you are open to their ideas. After all, they are the ones living the job day to day. You hired them for a reason – most probably because they had the skills and experience for the job. Respect that and allow them to apply those skills and experience. The concept of "employee engagement" is all the rage right now. The opportunity to present and try out ideas can generate far more positive engagement than an employee of the month gift. Reward creativity and recognize that these actions help your staff develop their full potential.

7. Have passion.
As a leader or manager you need to show a commitment to the goals of the organization – to the product or service it provides. Show your staff that you strongly believe in these goals. If you want employees who are dedicated to their jobs and your company, show them that you’re dedicated. Lack of any enthusiasm on your part, or displaying active negativity, will very quickly sink your ability and that of your team to be effective.

8. Know your employees.
Learn about them, get to know what motivates and excites them - workwise. Offer projects and autonomy that fit with that motivation for a more effective reward. Knowing something about them personally will also help you to know how to reward them. Does your company have some sort of award or recognition program? If so, what does it entail? A generic gift card for a job well done is ok, but if I like to ski or am a fan of a local sports team, a gift card specific to those activities shows you’ve paid attention to me.

9. Be yourself - always.
We all have our own style of dealing with people. Figure out your strengths and weaknesses. Seek advice (from your own supervisor, or a professional coach, etc.) on how to bolster your weaker skills and better employ your stronger points. Don’t try to copy someone else’s style if it doesn’t really fit with your personality. Be genuine.

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