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Jeff Wichman of Semperis: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team

Empathy: I believe authentic leadership is founded on compassion for the team. We need to understand what struggles people have within the workplace as well in their personal lives. Everything should not be 100% work in my team’s life. They may have spouses, kids, elderly parents, or any other type of personal matters in their lives that is impacting their ability to focus on work. It is not important that I know details, but we as leaders must consider what someone else may be going through.

  1. Trust & believe in each of your team members: As leaders, we need to trust the team we assembled and believe they are working their best. I always trust and believe that everyone is giving 100% to the team until proven otherwise. Until a distinct pattern indicates an issue, I try to forgo any rash decisions. In my first leadership role I completely had it reversed. I thought most people were slacking to some extent. I had a couple of guys that really put a lot of effort into what they did but others seemed like they were not pulling their case load. I had grand expectations for the team and our services. I did everything I could think of to push them harder. This is one of my biggest regrets. I was lucky and had another great advisor outside my team that made me do some critical thinking and had discussions with me on the entire topic of performance variations between people.
  2. Regular and open communication: This goes for everyone on a team, not just the leader. Communication is a must for organizations and individuals. I like to provide information to my team once it has been cleared and authorized to be shared. Obviously, sometimes as leaders, we are unable to share details, so there is a right time, right place that must be considered. I have worked for companies that share monthly, quarterly, and semi-annual updates. Based on what I like and hear from my employers is we need, at a minimum, a monthly update on how the company is doing, what the state of the economy looks like, and general areas we might need to focus on or improve. The worst communication I have seen from companies is the “everything is great” and then a week later, a reduction in force of any type.
    I prefer to have a team meeting once per week and direct one-on-one meetings with my individual team members on a weekly basis (if possible). There are always things that need to be shared with the team. If there is nothing company related during the team meeting, I like to have teammates provide updates on items they are working on. It helps paint the larger picture for everyone to get an idea of where our specific branch is going.
    As for my one-on-one meetings, 80% focuses on what the individual needs and 20% on feedback for them. I would rather allow them this time to speak freely while I actively listen. I think it provides a better engagement model since no one wants to listen to their leader/manager/boss ramble on about nothing but work. There are days when we may even never talk about work during a meeting. I prefer that unless there is an obstacle, they need help with. Leaving that 20% remainder is important, though, so I can help them develop their longer-term career/goals.
  3. Ability to delegate effectively: In my opinion, having the ability (and confidence) to delegate can be a challenge for new leaders. I continue to see leaders delegate some tasks and then continue to micro-control the path to the objective. The only way we can build the next line of leaders is by setting examples, letting them take control, and monitoring the progress is. If it gets off track, simply work with the lead to refocus on what the original request was. A great example of a successful delegation from my experience was in upgrading one of our service offerings. One of my teammates, MD, really thrived at providing clients tabletop exercises for incident response. We were originally less structured on running these tabletops, and everyone followed the basic structure with their own details. Since MD was strong at everything and great at documenting, he was tasked with rebuilding the offering with much more structure. I cannot recall if I asked him to do this or if it was something he came to me with. If I had to guess it would be the latter. MD was great at leading people, clients, and documentation. This was one of those easy ones where I could trust him to get it done.
  4. Willingness to ‘go to bat for’ your team: If you are not willing to go to bat for your team the moment a complaint comes in, you are doing things wrong. When I was still early in my leadership journey, I had a new boss join the organization. Almost immediately he was looking to reduce the workforce across our entire services organization. I was a small part of that organization with close to ten people. Other service lines had hundreds of people. Everyone on my team was busy with work and performing up to my standards. He pulled me aside and said I needed to put someone on the list. Being somewhat new in my role, I immediately said no without taking even a moment to think about it (which looking back might have been a little too direct). However, after a little research, I was able to show my team was increasing our revenues, we had a list of projects to complete across the entire group and no one on my team was underperforming. Other service lines had staff sitting on the bench, were reducing their revenue forecasts, and had some of their team that were not performing to that team’s standards. Within a day of my blanket “no,” I followed up with this manager that it was not advisable to remove anyone from the incident response team along with my justifications.

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