“What advice resonated most with you when you started out in a leadership role?”
This was a question that a colleague recently asked me as we discussed leadership growth. Over the past 25 years, I have worked with many different leaders and have learned from each of them, receiving a lot of wise counsel along the way. Here are three key pieces of guidance that have impacted me and helped shape my leadership through the years:
“Whenever you can, give your team members the freedom to do their jobs unhindered.”
This was a piece of advice received from the school principal of my first teaching job. I was young and inexperienced, yet he gave me the freedom to do my job, take responsibility, try out new ideas, make mistakes (and recover from them), and develop my knowledge and skills – without me ever feeling that he was constantly breathing down my neck. And I thrived under his leadership as a result.
Most people don’t like to be micromanaged. Letting team members do their jobs without constant intervention does not mean that they are not to be held accountable, or that you are not giving them encouragement, support and guidance along the way. These things are essential. But it demonstrates your trust in them and their capabilities – and, in doing so, it is likely that you will get better results from them as a result.
Of course, there are times when intervention or extra support is needed – particularly when a team member is starting out in a new role or when concerns arise. Poor performance, negative attitudes or other character issues that emerge need to be addressed quickly and appropriately. But – whenever possible – let people do their jobs unhindered!
“Remember the impact that your face has on your team.”
As a young leader, I struggled when things went wrong – when each day seemed to consist of lurching from one mini-crisis to another. I became dispirited, and at times I let it show – through the things I said, in my posture, and by my actions.
Then, one day, one of my staff came into my office, sat down and said to me: “Matt, you need to know that the expression on your face is dragging everyone down and making us all feel discouraged”.
That conversation made me realize the impact that my words and actions – and the expression on my face – had on my team. No-one wants a leader who appears dejected and despairing.
That does not mean that we cannot be real, honest and truthful with our teams about what is happening around us. But we need to be supportive, encouraging and offer hope, even when the journey is rough. Remember the impact that your face has on your team!
“Accept that there will be some people that will think negatively about you – no matter what you say or do.”
This was a valuable piece of advice given to me by a much wiser friend during a time when I was wrestling with a particularly difficult leadership challenge.
Let’s face it, most of us like to be liked.
But, in reality, there will be times when even leaders – even the best leaders – have to manage people that don’t like them – and don’t hide that fact – no matter what the leader says and regardless of what they do.
There are two things that I have come to learn in such situations.
Always be fair with people, no matter their attitude towards you. Constantly check your attitude. Never retaliate. Provide even those who think badly of you with support as you would to any other team member.
At the same time, devote the vast majority of your energy into developing those people that are with you and who believe in your team’s mission. Your time and resources are limited, so invest them wisely – in people who are teachable, who have integrity, who are team players, and who are fully committed to your organization’s cause.