If you’re good at what you do and want to see it grow further, there will likely be a time when you need to increase capacity and scale (if you haven’t hit that crossroad already). That means relying on others to handle aspects of your work and adhere to the same standards and quality that you are known for. Being good at what you do is one thing, but being a good leader is entirely different. The sooner you truly understand this, the stronger your team will be.
Becoming a strong leader can take a lot of navigating – I’ve made many mistakes, but little by little I started to develop my own rulebook in management. And now several years later, I found myself surrounded by the most lovely, hardworking, and positive team. The learning never ends, but here are some of the things that work for me that may save you some time as you build up your own leadership style.
#1 – Have Their Back
Truly. This means to support them not only when the team is killing it, but also when they make a mistake. To the outside world, you’ll always want to own up to the mistakes collectively – never say, “We have a new person on the team and I don’t know what happened” – it’s a surefire way to make your staffer feel they are unsupported and that will hold them back from taking risks in the future. Don’t throw them under the bus. Discuss concerns and issues internally and face to face but never in front of a client or outside partner. Their mistakes are yours, but so are the wins. After all, you are the manager and must take responsibility for everything that happens on your team. Showing your team you have their back will give them the space they need to crush it!
#2 – Be Transparent
Be honest about what you are up against and how you are making decisions. Don’t sugarcoat or cover up less than ideal situations. When you’re working closely the truth is bound to surface, so you might as well show your cards right off the bat. The same goes for sharing your wins and good news as it happens! This promotes honesty and open communication – and you’ll find that you will receive the same level of transparency in return.
#3 – Protect Them from the Dirty Details
There is a reason you are a boss, leader, or entrepreneur and they are not. They did not decide to start a company and do not need to know the exact financial details when you have a rough month. They don’t need to know the finer points of a dispute you are handling with your lawyer. Protect them from some of the harsh realities that you have to face in your role and keep them focused on their work. As per the point above, let them know something is up and you are handling it, but saving them from the gritty details will save them from burnout or low morale. They will move up the ladder at their own speed and with that will come more details when the time is right. Until then, that kind of stress will only hinder their work and infect the whole team.
#4 – Let Them Fight Their Own Battles
If a client has a concern or someone in their department makes a mistake, don’t sweep in to save the day. This undermines and harms their authority. It’s always important to regroup with them and discuss what the best way to manage the situation may be, but let them lead the conversation. This shows their clients, team, or partners that they have the authority to make amends and will save you time in the future from those types who always think they need to call the manager to get something handled a certain way. This also gets your team comfortable with conflict resolution and familiar with how to avoid and handle such issues in the future. Read: you won’t feel like you’re putting out fires all the time.
#5 – Lead Always, Even When It’s Hard
Being a manager is like being on a stage. The bar you set is a message to the whole team as to what is acceptable and what isn’t. You may be really hung-over, or you may have just gotten in from a redeye, but you are still the boss and your resilience and consistency will send a strong message. For me, this means speaking last, leading by example, and always out-working the team. Whatever makes a good leader in your mind you must aim to live that every day through thick and thin.
I always hate when I hear “Oh, they’re in a good mood today” when people speak about their bosses. That means that if you were to ask for their approval on something today you would have a higher chance of getting a ‘Yes’ than on a day when they aren’t. Managing and leading should not be subject to one person’s mood swings. Decisions should be consistent all days of the week and always based on what is best for the company, team, or the client in question.
An important part about this step is managing your stress. Yes, your job is demanding and difficult at times, but getting snappy and managing like a zombie only creates more stress within the team – and that doesn’t get you closer to where you need to be. Keep yourself in check. If you slip up, say sorry. They will forgive you if you are real about it. Being humble will go a long way in all circumstances. Don’t take credit for the accolades even if it was your idea to begin with. Share the spotlight and your team will keep the great work flowing.
#6 – Be The Negativity Police and The Positivity Master
Someone on my team created the concept of the “positivity cloak” a few years back. It is a quick way to make sure negativity is not seeping into the team. If you hear someone being a negative Nance, you can quickly remind them to wear their positivity cloak and re-approach the situation! Negativity is the death of any good team. And I’m going to repeat that again because it is very serious: NEGATIVITY WILL KILL YOUR TEAM. It will bleed it of any creativity, squash any passion, and just drain everyone. At the first sign of a negativity leak into the team, it is your job to nip it in the bud. Be direct and get to the bottom of it. Often the root of the issue is different than what meets the eye. Protect your team from the negativity infection. If a new person comes in and doesn’t uphold the same level of positivity, address it, and remove them if it’s not going to change. One negative personality has the power to infect and tip the positivity scale in your closely connected family.
The good thing is that just as negativity can spread, positivity is highly contagious. As you set the standard you will see the good vibes ripple through to the team. Positivity leads to productivity and people feeling good about their work. Nothing is more important in your work environment, I can promise you this.
#7 – Forgive and Forget
So someone on your team makes a mistake and causes you an extra headache and you feel like you could potentially rip your face off! Don’t. Take a breather. You can’t only love your team when they’re making you look good! They are human beings and human beings make mistakes. What I always ask myself when these things pop up is one of 2 things:
1 – “is this a one off mistake because they were working too hard and trying their best?”
If the answer to that question is yes than I suggest you voice your disappointment in a private face to face conversation and let them know it is not ok and can’t happen again. Chances are if they care about their work and are doing their best they are already giving themselves hell for the mistake! You don’t need to rip them a new one, when they’re down. If you manage that way when someone makes a mistake you will find yourself with a team that is scared to do anything.
Or 2 – “Is this an ongoing issue that has arisen more than once”.
If the answer to this question is yes, then you need to address and work through why this issue is coming up yet again. Is this person the right fit? Are they in the right role to succeed? Do they need to take a course to help strengthen their skill set in a certain area? Deal with the issue and address it head on. Be firm and direct when addressing these issues.
You may come across people who are not the right fit and it’s important to cut them loose as soon as you recognize this. Keeping someone around who isn’t working for too long will send the wrong message to the rest of the team and standards will slip.
#8 – Talk About Your Feelings
Regroup weekly or bi-weekly to chat about how the team is feeling with their work, in their life, and elsewhere. Spend time with them to really understand what they’re up against and how they think. What are the things that really stress them out or make them happy? Pick up on those things and be sensitive to them in the future. Also being approachable whenever they need to bring something up is a great environment to ensure they are always bringing their best ideas to the table. Encouraging the team to be ok with being vulnerable with each other will bring forward the best creative work. Invest in the team and help them grow professionally and personally. Be there for them when things are tough and remind them they are doing awesome when things are great!
It is important to bring up that getting too close and buddy-buddy might make it hard to be a boss later on so always be sure to keep the ‘just right’ amount of distance.
#9 Communicate Standards and Expectations Clearly & Create Good Systems
When communicating how you would like something done and by when, ensure it is always in writing somewhere along with an explanation of the task. This may mean it takes extra time to walk them through it the first few times. Take the time to do that so you aren’t bogged down in the future. Trust me, it will save you time in the long run. Set up great systems that help you follow up and manage quality and deadlines. There are great tools available to managers these days that will make your life easier. Some of the ones I am a devoted believer in are Asana, Action Method, Google Apps, Dropbox, and Evernote. If you don’t communicate your standards and deadlines clearly you don’t have a right to be disappointed later. Set them up to succeed.
#10 Use Your Spidey Sense & Ask for Feedback
Being a manager is like having a sixth sense. You need to see the future and how everything impacts everyone that you manage. Are you bringing someone new in? Will this send a message to someone else on the team that their work in this area wasn’t valued when you have someone new take it over? Do you need to shift workload? Will someone harbour resentment if they were previously leading the project? Everything you do and say can and will be used against you. Get ahead by making sure change is handled smoothly.
In order to do this – LISTEN to your team. Listen to their feedback and ask them for it often. If they give you something good, thank them and implement it quickly. Show them how you hear them even when it’s hard to and rely on them to help you become a better manager. This will ensure when you give them feedback they receive it with the same grace.
Those are just a few of the many management guidelines that govern my space and have helped to make my life a hell of a lot loss stressful and my business a hell of a lot more successful. Remember, this isn’t meant to be tedious. It is actually quite fun, enjoyable, and rewarding! I hope it helps you and your team along your path to success!