Whenever I start to work with a new company to help it improve its leadership, the first thing I like to do is study the leaders in action and get feedback on how they are perceived by their teams.
Leadership can be difficult, but I am always amazed by the number of people who make it harder than it needs to be by forgetting some simple basics.
Here are nine things to remember about leadership that will stop you from making it more difficult for yourself than it needs to be, and help you become a better leader.
1. As you don’t do much of the actual work, focus on making life easier for your teams, rather than harder.
A leader’s role is to increase both the effectiveness and efficiency of the company teams to drive improvements. But adding unnecessary bureaucracy, holding long, boring meetings–especially those that could be replaced by an information email–or requesting reams and reams of reports that no one is going to read doesn’t fall into this category.
One of my former bosses used to insist on having afternoon meetings that started at 2 p.m. and would often run until well beyond 8. These were just talking shops, often with him doing much of the talking. There was very little direction setting, decision making, or support that was forthcoming. Even worse, he forbade the use of laptops, as he wanted everyone to be fully present, which meant that many had to work long into the evening to catch up on work that had been missed and emails received.
2. Your team of experts probably knows more about their job than you, so stop telling them how to do it.
As the leader, you’re not expected to be an expert on everything. In fact, you’re expected to be an expert on leadership and getting the best out of your teams. One of the best ways to do that is to tell your teams what you want and what outcomes you are looking for, and then to leave them to determine the best way to achieve the goal.
Few things disengage teams more than having their sense of value and self-worth undercut because the boss limits their contribution to just following instructions.
3. It doesn’t matter how long you stand behind people; it won’t make them work any faster.
Micro-management is a productivity killer. Not only that, but once you create a reputation for it, people will be reluctant to come and work for you, and many of your existing staff will look to leave.
You have to give your teams the space and freedom to succeed. It’s OK to check up on how they are doing, but don’t do it every 15 minutes.
4. If you give a job to people who do not have the skills, the time, or the tools to do it properly, then it’s your fault if they fail.
As a leader, it’s your job to put your teams into a position to be successful. If they lack some key component, then you need to be addressing it. People won’t accept accountability if they don’t feel they can do the job, or if they don’t have everything they need to do it. If that’s the situation they find themselves in, then you haven’t done your job.
5. Mistakes happen–it’s how people learn. If you punish everyone who makes a mistake, then people will stop trying.
Mistakes happen, and we need to be able to differentiate whether they were made out of negligence or for some other reason. If it’s negligence, then maybe you need to take action. In my experience, these cases are few and far between, and you need to create a safe environment where people can try new things without the fear of reprisals. Otherwise, you will stifle innovations and risk-taking, both of which are key to growth.
6. Good work-life balance applies to employees as well as management.
You need to take care of the health and well being of your teams, so keep an eye on excessive hours and weekend working.
Don’t create plans that rely on weekend and evening working, because when things start to go awry, and they will, the hours worked can get crazy. It’s also good to encourage people to go home if it’s getting late, especially if you are leaving. Nothing builds up resentment in a team like the boss leaving at 5 or 6 with the team having to work late to meet the schedule.
People will appreciate you more if you look after their work-life balance rather than just take them for granted.
7. It costs you nothing to say “good job, well done,” and it might encourage people to do it again.
Recognition is one of the best tools in a leader’s arsenal. First, it costs you nothing; second, it’s actually easy to do; and third, it will motivate people to work harder. We all need to feel like we did a good job, and recognition lets us know this. Don’t wait until people have done an unbelievable job before you praise them. Start by recognizing their effort because when you do that, it won’t be long before you recognize bigger and better achievements.
8. Your job doesn’t end once the orders are given; that’s actually when it starts.
Leadership is not just about giving orders. It’s about putting your teams in a position to be successful, supporting them on the journey by removing any roadblocks they encounter and then recognizing them for achieving success.
9. If you don’t do the lion’s share of the work, you don’t get the lion’s share of the credit.
There are very few things that kill the relationship between leaders and their team than stealing the credit for a good job well done. I use the word “steal” deliberately, as that is exactly how your team will see this, and it will have damaging consequences for your relationship with them.
Remember, you’re a leader, not a pirate–you’re not entitled to the largest share of the credit.
In fact, I would encourage you to give all the credit to the team, which will make them appreciate and respect you more as a leader.
Don’t make leadership any harder than it has to be. These simple reminders are not only easy to implement but they will also have a very positive impact on both results and your reputation.