The Leadership Caffeine series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader and manager seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!
A promising early-career manager was struggling with his new team and I was invited to help him find opportunities to improve. After observing him at different times and in different settings, and after talking with his team members, it was apparent that he did not understand his priorities. Instead of focusing on removing obstacles in front of his team members, he was throwing out new obstacles at an alarming pace.
He had increased the administrative burden of his team members by requiring a series of time consuming new reports. He doubled the number of operating meetings, which to his team members felt a lot like even more time spent briefing the boss so that he could brief his boss. Last and not least, he assigned a number of his team members to two new high visibility projects, which would have been fine, had the team members not been over-assigned on a number of last quarter’s top priority projects.
“My boss promoted me to help improve the performance of this team,” he offered. “He wants more visibility into our productivity and he wants this group to play a lead role in some of the new strategic initiatives. I’m making that happen,” he added.
His team members supported his interests (improved productivity and more leadership on key projects) but not his actions. “If he thinks he’s motivating us to do our best, he’s got it all wrong,” offered one of the more outspoken team members.
This manager is not alone. Too many that I encounter in my travels fail to lead with the philosophy of, “How can I help?” While part of management is about deciding what’s important and determining priorities and establishing controls, including reporting, the leadership component (and yes, managers must lead!) emphasizes direction, motivation and importantly, knocking down obstacles.
The best gift you can provide to your team members is the gift of time. If you’ve got the right team members (with the right values), they’ll respond to your willingness to clear the path with enthusiasm, creativity and commitment.
5 Diagnostic Questions to Remind You of Your Need to Clear the Path:
1. Have I shared my priorities from my boss with the team and asked for their input on how to meet those priorities?
2. Am I avoiding the tendency to ask my team to more with less in the name of productivity?
3. Am I working with team members to identify and eliminate non-value-add activities, including excessive status reporting, unnecessary meetings and low-priority project commitments?
4. Am I genuine in my efforts to secure added resources where needed to meet our priorities?
5. Am I providing ample visibility and kudos to the team members helping move the needle on our key priorities?
The manager in the above example turned out to be a great student. He quickly came to understand the error of his ways and dedicated himself to becoming a true enabler of success for his team members. He used the questions above to hold himself accountable to this charter, and after a level-setting meeting and a bit of time and reinforcement, his team members came to understand that he was genuine in his intent to help. The outcome was indeed a positive one for all involved.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Whatever influence you are under…a misguided senior manager, some false sense of how to drive performance or just being over-eager to please the boss, stop and remind yourself daily that your core job is to help clear the path for those doing the heavy lifting. You’ll be amazed at the results.
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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.