Just like fine wine, our own wisdom gets better with age.
With wisdom comes the desire to self-reflect on the past to look back and laugh or cringe about how we handled certain situations when we were younger. This past week my mind traveled back into the depths of my memory and brought me back to the beginning of my career as a people manager.
Before becoming a manager, I had no previous management training. I had no MBA. I never even had any ambition to become a manager.
But sometimes fate has a different plan for us. Fate constantly flashes signals at us to help guide us in the right direction. If only we would just slow down and listen patiently, we will feel fate.
My manager at that time convinced me to try taking the leadership path. Trust me it took a lot of convincing...
Looking back now, I owe a lot of my current success to my previous manager who decided to take a chance on me. I honestly don’t know if I would have took the same risk on myself if I was in his shoes.
As a newly minted people manager, I made a ton of mistakes:
- I got too much into the day to day operations of my team, hence my team didn’t feel empowered
- I provided too many answers for my team, hence my team didn’t develop as quickly as they could have
- I spent too much time trying to please my own managers, hence my team felt pressure to perform
- I didn’t have the self-confidence to develop employees who would become more successful than me, hence I held my team back
- I didn’t realize that it is no longer about me, but it is about the team, hence my team didn’t get my full attention
There are many more mistakes I made that I didn't list.
To me, a mistake can be viewed as a failure or a gift. Most people treat mistakes as a failure. But if you treat it as a gift, it becomes an opportunity for you to grow. All my mistakes were necessary for me to become a better leader.
Today, my interests in leadership focuses on inspiring and motivating teams to become better, to do better, and to reach their highest potential. There are many different ways to do this but I want to focus on three areas that are not talked about as much in the leadership space.
If you do these three things well, I will guarantee that your team will perform better and be much more engaged.
Challenging Your Team Beyond Their Current Capabilities
It’s disheartening to come to work and feel that your talents aren’t being utilized. Even more disheartening is the fact that many employees aren’t given the chance to reach their highest potential. Personal growth is a primary human drive that must exist and if it doesn’t, we slowly sink into the realm of mediocrity and unhappiness.
As a leader, it is our duty to challenge the individuals of our team and the team itself to stretch beyond the boundary of their current capabilities. Our job is to help identify their self-imposed limitations they put on themselves and help them defeat these demons.
Challenging your team to be better, do better means you have to do a few things differently.
1. You have to be honest when measuring the behaviors exhibited by your team. When they are doing a great job, you need to appreciate them. When things aren’t going well, you have to address the situation in the most respectful manner possible and tell them immediately that their efforts could and should be better.
2. You have to continue to dream their dreams with them. Help them paint the picture of where they could be in a year or 5 years if they continue on the path of excellence. Tell them about the potential you see in them. Some of these conversations may feel awkward but the greatest leaders are also the most courageous.
3. You have to constantly ask yourself and your team, “What more value can I bring to my company, to my team and to my customers?” Today’s business models are moving away from the traditional numbers based measurements for measuring performance. It is about value - the more value you bring to your company, the more valuable you become.
Unleashing their Creative Spirit
Within all of us, there is a unique and creative spirit that lays dormant. This creative spirit is dying to be unleashed because fundamentally we are all artists in our own ways. Creativity is a gateway towards inspiration and inspiration is a gateway towards employee engagement.
As we use our creative abilities to solve difficult problems or to find new ways to do old things - we become more satisfied. Everyone has some passion outside of work that allows them to be creative, whether it is painting, writing, sports or playing a musical instrument. These are activities that we do for free because it is our way of releasing our creative genius.
What can leaders do to enable more creativity?
1. Reduce the number of team meetings and replace it with individual thinking time. It is rare that a great idea gets generated from a group brainstorming session. Our best ideas come when we were alone and in a relaxed state.
2. Create an environment that isn’t toxic or stressful because negative energy blocks our creativity. Here are some thing you can do: Host a monthly team building event, encourage your team to spend time at the gym, or allow your team to work away from their desks.
3. Encourage your team to take big risks, while providing your support even if they fail. Your team will be more willing to implement their ideas if they know that you have their backs. Remember this, as a society if we didn't take big risks, we would have never have found out that the Earth was round or stepped foot on the moon. .
Congruency Between Your Words and Action
If you were on a diet, you would probably do your best to follow your dietitian's advice to eat less sugar. What if you go out to the fair and see that same dietitian eating cotton candy?How motivated would you feel to follow the same advice now?
Lead by example. Nothing is more demotivating to an employee than a leader who does not act in accordance with the words they speak.
There are the leaders who talk about having the core value of respect and then go off to berate their employees for making a mistake. There are the leaders who talk about diversity only to hire "yesman" to work for him. There are the leaders who implement cost savings program across their organization and then book a first class ticket for a work trip the next day.
Simply put, a leader must do what they say they are going to do and behave the way they want their employees to behave.
The best leaders lead by example because action always speak louder than words.
For all you aspiring leaders out there, never be afraid to make mistakes because each mistakes is an opportunity to learn to get better. We all need to start from somewhere.
For all you leaders out there, never forget the impact you have on the people that report directly or indirectly to you. Simply put, don't be a jerk.
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