While I support your team members’ development through workshop programs and one-on-one coaching, my primary job is listening. Without violating our sacred commitment to confidentiality, here are some of the big themes I heard this year that might just help you manage more effectively.

At Least Seven Things I Learned From Your Team Members (that can make you a better manager):

1. I Had to Pay My Own Way

For the significant number of individuals who admitted at some point to me, they paid their way, kudos to them, and what’s up with you?

I checked. In the history of the world, no firm ever went broke from over-investing in their employees. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Null-set.

For the senior executives I spoke with who ran into the CFO or CEO who said, “Coaching is your job. We don’t have to pay for that, we already pay you,” it’s time to assert yourself. Coaching for growth is the closest thing to a guaranteed great ROI you or they will ever encounter.

For firms materially impacted by the pandemic, I understand why professional development budgets might have disappeared. As things get better, remember that you want to surround yourself and promote team members so motivated to develop as a manager or leader or tune their communication skills that they’ll pay their own way. As a reward, start paying for them!

2. Everyone You Care About Wants More and Better Quality Feedback

It’s a simple maxim: good people want input—positive and constructive—to support their growth. There’s a chronic shortage of quality feedback and a gross overabundance of hearsay, vague, sandwiched, and mutilated feedback that leaves people guessing what the usable insights are.

Our new remote existence has further exacerbated the quality, timely feedback problem. You have to work harder to both observe team members and engage in these critical discussions. There are a variety of programs out there and numerous books on the topic. I run a feedback boot camp from time to time, and I can point you to some great books if interested.

I encourage you to resolve to strengthen your coaching of your team members through better quality, timely feedback.

3. Your Team Members are Spending Too Much Time Dodging Your Traps

In my recent feature article at SmartBrief on Leadership (Fixing the Manager Class—It Starts with Top Leaders), I outline the top traps senior managers and leaders inadvertently set for their front-line and mid-level managers.

Cut it out. You can deliberately choose not to set these traps for your employees by simply adjusting some very controllable behaviors. (The article offers a bevy of ideas to help.)

4. Your People Want You to Trust Them with Bigger Challenges

I love this one. I get fired up for individuals who want to take on more to help the cause. Perhaps not surprisingly, a good number of these individuals aren’t comfortable raising this topic with you until they’ve received coaching from me.

The best managers listen and look hard for signs their team members are ready for more. This doesn’t follow the annual performance evaluation or goal-setting cycles. There’s a nearly limitless number of opportunities happening on the fly where you can trust your team member to do something new, different, are something at scale. Nothing catalyzes growth more than a boss who says, “I trust you on this important new initiative.”

And remember, sometimes, they’ll fail. Make sure they learned from the failure and then trust them even more moving forward. They’ll generally surprise you to the positive side.

5. You’re Wasting Your One-on-Ones

If, as I frequently hear, your one-on-ones are all status and no coaching, you are wasting a golden opportunity to support their development.

It’s a great time to rethink your one-on-one agendas. A starting point: let them own it. “What do you want to cover today?” is a fabulous tool for challenging them to organize thoughts, prioritize topics, and showcase what’s working and what’s not. You can gently encourage them to focus on material issues in future sessions.

If you’re a bit more disciplined than “What do you want to cover today?” split ownership of the session. You get an opportunity to share what’s going on at higher levels with strategy and goals and any priority changes. They get the chance to share what’s working, what’s not, and what they’re going to do about it.

6. Your Open Door Policy Isn’t Working

I know, this one sounds like heresy. Give me a chance!

First, know that “communicating with the boss” is one of the most frequently cited struggles of professionals in my programs. And while your “open door policy” might be well-intended, it is misfiring.

It’s better if you learned to flex to their needs and styles and to adjust to their situations.

Too often, the so-called “open-door policy” translates into, “You can approach me if you need to.” Instead, operate with, “I respect you enough to flex my style to your style and needs.”

As for tailoring your approach, here’s an example from my personal arsenal of management misfires. I had two great people on my team: Chris and Lou. I loved catching up with them early in the day. Chris thrived in these sessions. Lou wanted to bite my head off. I learned that Lou viewed the early morning as his time with his team, and I was a significant and annoying distraction. Alternatively, he loved the evening debrief to go over victories and challenges and get his mind right for the next day. I flexed as soon as I figured out the problem was mine.

7. You Must Model the Behaviors that Enable Discussions on the Big Issues

I’m moving beyond feedback here to the various difficult discussions that are fermenting in people’s minds but often go unstated. This should frighten you. I know it does me. (See: The Destructive Power of the Words You’ve Left Unsaid.)

There’s definitely science and art to successfully navigating tough topics of change, disagreement, or proposing radically new ideas. Yet all of the world’s training is no substitute for you modeling the behaviors that make it essential and comfortable to raise the challenging issues getting in the way of progress, including your behaviors.

The Bottom-Line

Some wise person offered, “You control the weather on your team.” It turns out it’s true. As you look at your approach to supporting your team members’ growth, the no-cost items might just have the most significant impact. Those no-cost items are your behaviors every single day. Commit to creating more sunny days for your team members, and they’ll do the same for you.

Art's Signature