Being a leader should mean that you maintain a learning mindset and constantly aspire to improve and grow. Being a leader is (or at least should be) a journey, not a destination.
There’s TONS of amazing advice out there on what leaders should do. The flip side of this is, that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the things you are supposed to do.
I like to focus on a few things at a time. Usually the power of three works for me. I can keep up to three things in my head. After that things will get messy and messed up. Here are the three things I focus on for growing my team, as well as the three things for growing myself. They are quite powerful and work beautifully for me.
Grow your team
Motivation has always been a big topic in leadership. It’s been established for a while that money alone doesn’t do the trick. Everyone wants to get a decent paycheck for what they do, but that alone won’t keep folks motivated.
A coworker recently pointed me to a TED talk by Dan Pink that really resonated with me. Dan explains that there are three major components that create or destroy job satisfaction and motivation. I won’t do Dan justice with my words and you should listen to the TED talk, but here are my three personal homework assignments from his talk.
We spend a LOT of time at work. We want that time to count for something. Understanding the purpose of what we do is very important (if you can’t find purpose in what you do, look for another job).
As a leader, that means that just delegating work is not enough. You need to engage people by explaining the ‘why’ and the broader picture. They need to understand, why the work that they do is important. They need to see how it fits into the broader mission of the organization.
Along the same lines: praising results is great. That acknowledgement or ‘thank you’ becomes even more powerful if you clearly explain, how these achievements helped advance a higher goal for the organization.
Work sucks if you aren’t empowered to make decisions. It also sucks if you have to explain your decisions to everyone again and again (in this case. in reality you actually don’t make the decision, you rather repeatedly have to ask for re-approval from everyone).
For many leaders this is a tough one. We usually think that we are so much smarter. That’s why we became leaders in the first place right!? Wrong!
However often we have more experience because we’ve been in the area longer. We are also often exposed to a broader picture of what’s going on in the organization. Having that experience and broader picture is awesome if it is used for coaching. It becomes destructive if it leads to micro-managing.
Let go of doing things by yourself or being ultra-prescriptive. Let go of making the decisions for your team members. Instead provide the right data and context. Guide your team in developing the best decision framework. Empower your team members. Ask questions to better understand the solutions your team proposed. And let them make the decisions – you can always jump in if they seem to head in a terribly wrong direction.
Of course there is a spectrum for this. If someone is new to a problem space, he will need more guidance. If someone is well versed in an area, she will want less direction. Situational Leadership II is a great framework to find the right level of management.
We all want to be great at what we do. And if we aren’t yet, we want to learn how to become great. Mastery of an area is an amazing feeling!
Mastery requires trying and learning. As a leader you need to create the right balance between freedom to experiment and gentle guidance. People need to try things. They have to be allowed to make mistakes in order to learn. They also crave for just enough guidance to be successful, while not getting too frustrated in the process.
This is where leaders really need to focus on being great coaches and mentors rather than mere managers. We need to force ourselves to stay away from doing things ourselves or prescribing the ‘right’ solution, because we think that would lead to quicker results. We must stay away from managing every detail and rather give feedback along the way, while we let the team explore possible solutions.
Honestly I’m still failing at this one too often. The important thing is that I’m now conscious of the challenge and I’m working on myself.
There’s also an exception to the rule: sometimes you just have to step in and take over because there is an urgent deadline. In those cases there is no time for trying and learning, things just need to get done right NOW. If you let your team know why you personally step in, it will be much less harmful for team motivation. Hopefully this is the exception, not the rule in your team.
Yes, you are a leader and most of what you achieve gets done by your team and not yourself. Leading and growing your team is your top priority. But that doesn’t relieve you from taking a hard look at how you perform individually.
I got inspired to this section by a post from Jeff Weiner talking about the three qualities in people he most enjoys working with.
Again I won’t do the breadth and depth of the original post justice, so please jump over there and read it for yourself. Below are the three homework assignments I took away for myself.
I’m a ‘getting things done’ person. That can sometimes mean, that I focus too much on resolving tactical issues and roadblocks, because I want to get them out of the way as quickly as possible. The problem is that there are always some tactical issues that will distract you from the bigger picture.
If you don’t dream big, you won’t accomplish anything meaningful. Mediocrity will be your world, not greatness.
As with everything else, awareness and consciousness already gets you 80% down the way to the solution. If you are a ‘go-doer’, block time to dream big. Reserve time, where you will not allow yourself to ‘fix stuff’. Look at the big picture and think about the impossible. Then make a plan how to get there!
I make it a point to spend time thinking about the bigger picture and bigger aspirations. I actually put a recurring time blocker on my calendar.
Get things done
This one comes naturally to me.
I write everything on a ‘to do’ list. Once it’s on my ‘to do’ list, I don’t have to remember it anymore and my mind frees up to think about more interesting questions.
My ‘to do’ list is always long, but I hate having a long list. That’s a great motivator to get things done, one by one. Sort your list by priorities. Then work your way from the top towards the bottom. Finish as much as you can achieve in the allotted time. Focus on finishing. Rather start fewer things, but finish the ones you started. And be ok if you got less done, than you had planned (hoped). Life happens. You’re good as long as you kept focus on the most important things and made progress on those.
From time to time you should also look at your low priorities. Most of them will turn out to not be as important anymore. Remove them from the list.
Instead of worrying about all the things that need to be done, just write them down, prioritize them and get on it.
Be great to work with
In think this one was ‘fun to work with’ in Jeff’s post. I’m a German and as such inherently not fun(ny), so I changed this one a little bit.
To me the important quality is to be great to work with (not necessarily fun). Greatness can have multiple aspects. It can mean that you are a fun person. It can also mean that you are a great mentor, a valuable resource for your coworkers, a supportive person or a critical sounding board to bounce ideas off.
Find what makes you great to work with and hone that skill. I cannot help you with this one, you have to find your superpowers and build on what makes you special. Bonus points if you also critically explore, what makes you suck and then work extra hard to get rid of those behaviors.
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