When I Lead A Team, I Hope I Do So This Way

Somewhere along the line we’ve gotten too bogged down in management and not invested enough in leadership. We hire people for management roles based on their ability to produce work and not on their ability to lead, inspire and provide a vision. But this is the thing: There’s a difference between managing requests for time off and leading a team. It’s like one of my favorite quote says.

You manage things; you lead people. — Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopp

Management roles should be less about managing time off requests, expense reports and flex time and more about articulating a vision, helping to draw a roadmap and developing the team. Management, quite frankly, should be about the people. When management focuses on people, inspiring work is created.

It didn’t take very long in my career to become fascinated by the idea of leadership and management. Why? I think for a lot of reasons, really. As an introvert that is passionately career oriented, there are times I’ve felt misunderstood in the extroverted dominated leadership world. I’ve also realized how much people in the position of power shape your experience at a company, for better or worse. I’ve noticed how we promote people to management roles based on their ability to do work when they actually have no desire to lead a team. Management, I’ve learned, can be kind of messy.

I haven’t had the opportunity to lead a team yet, but I’ve taken lots of notes from experience for whenever that time may come. And when it does, I hope I’ll follow my own advice and lessons on leading a team:

Invest in employees.
I’ve had several different jobs throughout my career, and a large reason why I’ve moved is because I felt the urge to be challenged. Too often people are put in boxes and not pushed to expand their skill set. One of the most powerful questions a manager can ask an employee is, “what do you want to do long-term, and, how can I help you get there?”

Here’s the thing: If you hire good people, then more than likely they have long-term career goals. Managers should help their team members work towards their goals, develop skills and challenge themselves everyday. Eventually one day the best and brightest may spread wings and fly, but I guarantee they’ll stay around longer if you provide a vision for their future and help them grow. Investing in a person isn’t just a win for the employee though: Investing means you’ll have a more talented and well-rounded workforce that feels invested in the company too.

Set goals, expectations and a vision.
There’s nothing worse than doing aimless work, so give your team a vision to rally around. Managers must spend time setting a vision, goals and expectations for their department and each individual. Once you are ready to articulate the vision and goals, be sure you do with passion and zest. You’ll be amazed at how people work when they have purpose.

Give meaningful work.
Sometimes it’s easier to just do the work yourself because you know you’ll do the work “right”. Managers have to know how to delegate and delegate right. Your team wants work that is meaningful. They want to have a purpose, be challenged and know that they are making an impact (even in small way). Let your employees know that you trust them and give them work that matters (and don’t tell them how to do it, just tell them what needs to be accomplished). You might have to coach your team along the way, but it’s just another opportunity to develop, grow and challenge your personnel.

Be transparent.
No one likes guessing games, so even when it’s tough, be as open and honest with your staff as possible. People will spend less time stressing over who, what, why, when and more focused on the work at hand when their manager is transparent. It makes for a much better working environment.

Keep an open door and pulse on things.
The best leaders I’ve had kept an open door policy. If you’re disconnected from your team and culture, then you aren’t going to be able to understand issues until the bubble up and burst. Don’t become an invisible leader. Be present, listen, be open and approachable. When your team feels like you care and listen, there’s a very good chance they’ll be loyal to the vision of your team, step up and go to bat for you.

Show thanks.
Showing thanks doesn’t have to be anything grandiose, but a little acknowledgement can go a long way. All managers should take the time to thank and acknowledge your staff members who go above and beyond. Sometimes a thanks, even more than a pay raise, motivates employees to keep doing great things.

Encourage open feedback, both ways.
Don’t wait until a review to let an employee know that they need to work on something or that they’ve done a good job (show thanks). These things should be articulated all the time so an employee knows whether or not they are meeting expectations. 
 In the same vain, make sure you ask your employees if they have all the resources they need to do their job, if they feel challenged, etc. Seek feedback from them on what you can do from better as a manager. Feedback should go both ways, but unfortunately it rarely does.

Lead by going last.
This idea comes from one of my all-time favorite reads, Simon Sinek’s “Leaders Eat Last”. This summary from his book sums it up better than I can (read it, trust me), so I won’t even try:

Today’s workplaces tend to be full of cynicism, paranoia and self-interest. But the best organizations foster trust and cooperation because their leaders build what Sinek calls a Circle of Safety that separates the security inside the team from the challenges outside.
The Circle of Safety leads to stable, adaptive, confident teams, where everyone feels they belong and all energies are devoted to facing the common enemy and seizing big opportunities.
When it matters most, leaders who are willing to eat last are rewarded with deeply loyal colleagues who will stop at nothing to advance their leader’s vision and their organization’s interests.

Champion differences.
To build a more enjoyable work environment, managers should take the time to get to know their employees, their work style, how they like to brainstorm, etc. A well-rounded team will have a mix of extroverts, introverts, creative and dominate personalities: Understand all the personalities and play to each person’s strengths during brainstorms and creative processes.
Don’t underestimate someone’s value just because they work differently than you.

Be flexible.
I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have flexible managers. Having some flexibility in the workplace makes it easier for employees to juggle work and life, and they’ll be less likely to carry “life” stress into the office. Remember that everyone is human. Practice some empathy, patience and flexibility.

Come from a place of “yes, and”. 
No is a dangerous word to feed to your team all the time, especially if you want to get an ounce of creativity and energy from them. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re put in a corner because all you have heard from your manager is no.

Instead of practicing “no”, practice “yes, and”. Push openness on your team and push ideas to be bigger and better. The idea might not be solid right away, but with a little bit of improvising, brainstorming and challenging (in a positive way), an okay idea can grow into a great one.

Start with yes and you’ll foster energy, creative and brilliant ideas.

Put ego aside and put your team in the light.
I can promise you that no one likes a leader who takes the credit for the work. When your team delivers, don’t be afraid to put them in the light. When you elevate your team to other people in leadership roles, they grow. Leading a team isn’t about you, it’s about your people. Period.

I spend my days working in social and content for for the biggest, baddest brand in the world (and yes, all thoughts are my own). The digital and social landscape is my passion, so if you have an interest in it, connect with me on Twitter (@WarJessEagle) and follow my blog, Social ‘n Sport.

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