New Leader Tuesday—Learning to Adapt Your Approach to Individuals

Text image with New Leader Tuesday and a variety of management termsThe New Leader Tuesday series is dedicated to helping first-time, early career and even experienced professionals with a “beginner’s mind” progress on their journey towards effective leadership.

This job of being responsible for the work of others would be easy if it weren’t for the people!

As a first-time supervisor, I recall cloaking myself in a no-nonsense, my way or the highway persona. I suppose it was a style that I thought was appropriate given my newly anointed role responsible for the survival of western civilization and the timely delivery of answers on the support lines for our firm selling electronic cash registers. After all, the cash registers must ring…or roll…or calculate, and nothing was going to keep MY team from delivering the best service in the industry. So help me… .

I was taught quickly by the patient but perplexed team members who had no intent of responding positively to the new dictator in charge, that I had to change or perish in this role.

In reality, my approach reflected a lack of style…and awareness…and emotional intelligence…and social intelligence…all issues that many of us struggle with when thrust into first-time management role without background training or real-time coaching and feedback.

First-time supervisor burnout or flame-out is an all-too-frequent outcome that is costly and destructive to individuals and teams. Training, coaching and feedback are critical…with two out of three of these free. If you’re not getting the support and feedback you need in your new role, ask for it, find a mentor at work or find someone who has experience in your network of friends and family and ask questions and learn from their wisdom!

I learned several valuable lessons from this uncomfortable first-time supervisor’s boot camp experience: 

  • It’s critical to be clear and universal in reinforcing the firm’s values and in setting expectations and ensuring fair and timely accountability across the team.
  • It’s not only OK to adapt my style to the needs and approaches of the individuals, it’s essential to support relationship development and begin building leadership credibility. Again, no compromising on values, expectations and accountability…but definitely customization of my approach. While this seems intuitive, it wasn’t a reflex action for me. It was a learned approach. The hard way.
  • The wonderful thing about working with and guiding and supervising a team is the diversity of approaches and styles. They are in and of themselves the ingredients of creativity and innovation and learning, and the sooner you as a first-time supervisor or manager recognizes and adapts to this reality, the faster you will begin building credibility and forming productive working relationships.

Learn to Recognize the Preferences of Your Team Members:

While there are many and varied styles and communication or interaction preferences, a few examples include:

  • Individuals who thrive on regular care, feeding and attention. They thrive when their work is visible and they have an opportunity to engage, ask questions, showcase their progress and generally maintain a steady level of contact with you.
  • Others take pride in their independence and will let you know only when they need help. While it is reasonable for you to check in from time-to-time, make it as non-intrusive as possible…just enough to ensure your obligation for awareness and quality.
  • Some shine in group settings…and others…those filled with brilliant ideas struggle to engage and share in those environments. Others simply would rather walk on hot coals than be thrust into a group initiative.

A Public Service Notice: No Micromanaging Styles…Ever.

It is never acceptable to adopt a micro-managing approach. If you feel forced to adopt this style, you have a performance problem that must be dealt with as such. Sadly, too many first-time and experienced managers miss this memo on micro-managing. It’s toxic, ineffective and just plain bad form on the manager’s part. Fix or remove the problem, but don’t reduce yourself to standing over someone’s shoulder.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

You will cultivate a style over time…in large part by learning from trial and error. You can accelerate the learning process and improve your effectiveness by remembering to adapt your interaction style to the behaviors and preferences of others, while never compromising your commitment to fairness, your firm’s values or your obligation to drive results.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

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For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

Order one or both books for your team. Contact Art.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

 

New Leader Tuesday—The Hard Work of Leading Effectively

Text image with New Leader Tuesday and a variety of management termsThe New Leader Tuesday series is dedicated to helping first-time, early career and even experienced professionals with a “beginner’s mind” progress on their journey towards effective leadership.

Note from Art: this content is excerpted from my book with Rich Petro, Practical Lessons in Leadership—A Guidebook for Aspiring and Experienced Leaders.

If you’re new to the role of guiding others, here’s the preface to your real job description. Use it in good health and in pursuit of greatness!

At Least Nine Attributes of Great Leaders:

1. Great leaders realize that their role is less about themselves and more about what they can do to encourage and aid the development of the people around them.

2. Great leaders are driven every day to positively impact their business and their people.

3. Great leaders realize they are human and make mistakes. They understand that it is OK for everyone to see and learn from their own mistakes.

4. Great leaders understand that they are being constantly scrutinized to see if their actions match their words. The do of the leader must match the tell!

5. Great leaders are driven by a love of teaching and a passion for learning.

6. Great leaders understand the impact they have on the people around them and they keep this in mind when praising and criticizing.

7. Great leaders make decisions. They understand the power they wield to control progress through their decision-making.

8. Great leaders understand their primary role is to create the proper working environment necessary for success given the circumstances and talent at the time. They work at forming and framing this environment every day.

9. Great leaders understand that they need quality people to succeed. They constantly focus on the identification and development of these individuals.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Leading effectively is hard work. Slackers need not apply.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

Order one or both books for your team. Contact Art.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

New Leader Tuesday—4 Big Benefits of Coaching Your Teams

Text image with New Leader Tuesday and a variety of management termsThe New Leader Tuesday series is dedicated to helping first-time, early career and even experienced professionals with a “beginner’s mind” progress on their journey towards effective leadership.

“I have no question that when you have a team, the possibility exists that it will generate magic, producing something extraordinary… But don’t count on it.”  -J. Richard Hackman

The operative phrase in the late Dr. Hackman’s quote is, “But don’t count on it.”

Too often and with the best of intentions, we assemble a team of our best and brightest to tackle an important issue and then assuming our job is done and the task is in the hands of these capable people, we step away and wait for the results. And all too often, instead of something magical from our teams, what we get back looks and feels a lot like flailing heading towards failing.

Effective leaders understand the importance of coaching to team success, and they either remain involved in this capacity or, better yet, they ensure that a responsible and objective third party is placed in this role.

At Least 4 Big Benefits of Coaching Your Project and Work Teams:

1. Speed and Focus from the Start. The presence of a coach helps teams accelerate through the forming and storming phases by ensuring clarity of and focus on the purpose of the team. While there’s always some natural and healthy “storming” around the definition of the project and the design of roles and accountabilities, a team coach can help minimize the flailing and ensure prompt and safe passage through the fuzzy front-end of a new initiative. Getting start-up right sets the tone for the much needed collaboration and coordination in subsequent phases.

2. Social Loafing is Stomped Out. Teams are at their best when every member of a group is fully engaged. Sadly, much like the many miserable classroom group projects we experienced in school, there always seems to be one or a few members who are distracted or uninvolved or, afraid to get involved. High performance is only achieved when every team member is actively engaged and participating and a team coach is invaluable to ensuring this takes place.

3. Teaches Teams to Talk. While everyone shows up knowing how to talk, teams need to learn how to communicate. Emotions, opinions, agendas, power and all manner of biases serve to fight against effective communication in groups. Team coaches help parse those out in search of focus on the material issue…mission, scope, facts, framing, decision-making and execution.

4. Helps Navigate Around the Traps. We all know that people working in groups are potentially prone to various traps (e.g. group think, escalation of commitment, Abilene paradox, reliance on the wrong information/data) that threaten to adversely impact decision-making and project outcomes. An effective coach listens and watches for signs of emerging traps and helps teams navigate around them through careful use of questioning and polite but firm challenging of assumptions and issue framing.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

While some initiatives merit bringing in a professional team coach from outside, many project teams will benefit from simply inserting an uninvolved 3rd party who understands that he/she is there to deal with the above topics. Create a brief responsibility description for the team coach…make certain to build in and empower the role in the project charter. Evaluate the coaching component in the post-project debrief and refine the responsibility description to reflect lessons learned.

I’ve worked with organizations where functional managers or executives frequently participated in this activity by reciprocating with each other on different projects. In addition to a positive project outcome, the team members appreciated the help in navigating the sticky issues of group dynamics and performance and the organization took one more step down the road towards high performance.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

Order one or both books for your team. Contact Art.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

New Leader Tuesday: Teaching is More Powerful than Criticizing

newleadertuesdaygraphicThe New Leader Tuesday series is dedicated to helping first-time, early career and even experienced professionals with a “beginner’s mind” progress on their journey towards effective leadership.

Confession time. I started by titling this post, “Even Experienced Leaders Make Rookie Mistakes,” because I’m the culprit here.

I recently committed the classic gaffe of assuming that I had reasonably set expectations for performance around a set of fast moving, first-time activities. These were both new to the team and new to the individuals. They had no prior experience in executing on these tasks.

The fact that I’ve worked with other professionals experienced with these very activities lulled me into a false comfort level. I naturally assumed things would go as they always had with the other groups, which was historically close to perfect.

When the results didn’t meet my very clear (to me) expectations, I became a bit agitated until it dawned on me that I owned this issue.

I completely failed to take into account the learning curve challenges for the group and I compounded the issue by failing to execute on my responsibility to teach and to set clear performance expectations. It’s unfair of me or anyone else as manager to assume that people automatically understand performance or coordination expectations without proper context.

I work with great people who have high standards of performance in their own right and they conquer every new challenge placed in front of them. However, they clearly need more support from their manager as a teacher instead of a critic or a passive observer.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Don’t make the same mistake(s). Talk with your team about expected outcomes. Discuss potential roadblocks and headaches. Redouble your efforts to support their efforts if the activities are pioneering ones for the group. Just don’t walk away expecting everything to line up nicely if you haven’t done your part of the job.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

Order one or both books for your team. Contact Art.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

Hug a Front Line Leader Today and They’ll Hug Your Customers

newleadertuesdaygraphicThe New Leader Tuesday series is dedicated to helping first-time, early career and even experienced professionals with a “beginner’s mind” progress on their journey towards effective leadership.

OK, perhaps the “hug”in the title of this post might best be expressed metaphorically in the form of praise. Regardless of whether you work in a hugging culture or not, it’s critical to regularly show your appreciation for the individuals who translate all of the lofty ideas from corporate into activities that serve and please customers.

And for those of you serving on the front, here are a few reasons why when you’re great at your job, you’re priceless to your organization.

5 Big Reasons why Great Front Line Leaders are Priceless:

1. Front line leaders are closest to the customer. The leaders and their troops are THE brand to your customers. Nothing sells like a reputation for remarkable treatment and nothing hurts like a customer interaction gone bad. There’s no big data or heavy investment in analytics required to know that the single biggest issue you and your firm face every day is creating a great experience for your customers. Get things right with your front line talent and you are a long way down the road to sustained success.

2. Front line leaders are your best sources of customer and competitor intelligence and ideas for continuous improvement. Front line leaders know how the customers respond to every brilliant and not-so-brilliant idea that rolls out of corporate.  They know the tastes and habits and brand preferences and problems of their customers, and they know what’s going on with competition in detail, long before corporate types have analyzed the latest competitive press release. These individuals are treasure-troves of real-time, detailed customer and market information.

3. Front line leaders are the ones who execute on strategy. Everyone else plans, talks, reports, critiques and thinks about strategy execution…front-line leaders live it.  Want to do a better job executing on plans where it counts…educate and support the front line leaders and let them know how important they are in this process.

4. Front line leaders directly determine how right or wrong the working environment (atmosphere) is for the employees serving the customers. A healthy, respectful working environment where employees are given quality feedback, supported for development and encouraged to cultivate and implement new ideas goes a long way to creating the work floor hustle and flow so essential for productivity.

5. Today’s front line leaders are tomorrow’s general managers and executives. Take a page from Deming and invest in cultivating and developing your talent from the floor and front line to the corporate suite. Learning the business from the front is infinitely more valuable than attempting to absorb it from on high. Give me someone who has worked in the trenches with the troops over the classroom educated chair sitter any day.

The Bottom-line for Now:

Simply stated, great front line leaders drive great results. It’s sad to see how dumb-a@@ stupid corporate types abuse and misuse the front line leaders so critical to their success. From the great field sales manager who makes her team members stronger with every coaching experience to the retail or shop floor leader who promotes a positive environment through respect, support and deft use of feedback and accountability, these are the superstars of your success. Treat them well.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

Order one or both books for your team. Contact Art.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.