It happens so often – you’ve been promoted for the first time to a managerial role, but you get no guidance on how to do it well – and unless you’ve got a great role model for a boss, you’re unlikely to know instinctively how to get the best from your team, and from yourself. This is the difference between being a manager, and a leader. A manager gets the job done – a leader gets it done well, with a team who know their part in it and their value.
You’ve probably experienced an incompetent leader. Without even knowing what they’re doing in most cases, they create a team of anxious, alienated people who are unhappy in their job, and end up spreading that unhappiness (consciously or otherwise), either by general negativity about the organisation, or through poor performance.
A good leader is the antithesis of this. Their team is motivated, creative and positive. They contribute, they come up with ideas, and they succeed – together. They want to achieve and they work together to do it. That’s the team we all want to lead – but how do you become the good leader, and not the incompetent one?
If you can start out on the right track, with clear knowledge of the basics, you’ll be well on your way. Establish a trusting, productive team environment, full of people who feel valued and able to contribute – including you – and you’re all set for the future.
So here’s just what you need: a Beginner’s Guide to Being a Good Leader. It outlines the characteristics of a good manager, and gives you some practical ideas to implement for you and your team – laying the foundations you need to become the leader you want to be.
Take the Time to Know your Team
You don’t have to know great detail about their personal life, but at the very least, find out what makes each member of your team look forward to coming to work – and what would increase that even more. It will tell you so about what motivates them, how they would like to develop – and what they don’t enjoy too. If they want to share their weekend interests and family life with you too, that’s great. The more you know, the better – it will help you to understand more fully and respond with empathy should life throw them some curveballs.
What to do: hold regular, frequent meetings as a team – at least once a week – and just as many one to ones with each team member as well. Giving them time in your diary that’s just for them is one of the most valuable things you can do as a manager, and will yield you the greatest rewards. Stick to it, even when times get busy. It really is the most valuable appointment in your diary.
Allocate Work Well
The work has all got to be done, but there’s an art to carving it up. Take your team’s individual skills, interests and development needs into account, and give them the jobs that are the best fit for each person. People always deliver more if they are interested and invested in what they’re doing. Of course, there will always be the more mundane jobs that have to be done for the needs of the organisation – and your skill as a good leader will lie in helping them to understand the importance of these tasks, and the importance of delivering them well, regardless of how boring they are.
What to do: discuss development regularly in your one to ones. Come up with an action plan that you can review together, and a team action plan that brings everyone’s work into one place. Use this as the basis of your team meeting, so that everyone can update the group on what they’re doing and ask for help if they need it.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Difficult Stuff
Developing people well means identifying their strengths, but also their weaknesses. Nobody gets any better without accurate and honest feedback with proper evidence – and if a team member doesn’t see the gap in their development, it could mean difficult conversations ahead. Remember that having evidence to hand helps to balance the emotion of those conversations, so prepare for it well and you may find it goes better than you think.
What to do: Effective communication is at the heart of it all, so start by explaining the standard you’d like them to be performing at, then outline their current level (backed up by your evidence). Remember it’s a two way conversation, ask therefore ask questions like: How do you see it? What’s your perspective on it? How are you feeling about all this? And most importantly, how would you like me to help you get there? Then talk about how you’ll support them to get there, and agree a plan together.
We all react in certain ways in stressful times, and the key to managing those times is being able to predict how you’ll react, and manage it before it happens. Think about what happens when you feel overwhelmed or frustrated, and observe your instinctive behaviour when you do: these are your stress responses. Name the emotion – that can be half the battle – and come up with strategies to derail them when the arise. Also, watch out for times when you might be feeling a little stubborn – do you stick by your convictions, even in the face of facts and evidence? That can be a stress response, too, so recognise it when it comes up, and make plans for what you’ll do to manage the stress, instead of falling into those behaviour patterns.
What to do: make a list of times you’ve become overwhelmed or stressed, and think about what you could do to reduce that stress before it results in negative behaviours. There’s more in my previous blog post about Burnout, here: Burnout – How it Feels, and What to Do
Know that you Don’t Know Everything – and Embrace It
Always be open to developing yourself – and accepting that others, and perhaps even those working for you, may know more than you do. The best leaders are willing to learn; they practise flexibility in their approach; and above all, they understand that not knowing everything isn’t a weakness. Be prepared to have those difficult conversations with your own manager – and accept all the help they want to give to develop you.
What to do: bring the subject up in your own one-to-one with your manager. What do they think you need to develop? Be prepared that the answer may not be one you expect!
Care About your Team
Paying attention to your team’s wellbeing – physically and psychologically – and reacting with empathy when things go wrong is the humane way to manage. You’re not overseeing machines, but people who have priorities and commitments outside the workplace – and at times these things will, inevitably, spill over into impacting your workplace priorities. The empathy you show will earn their trust, and the time you invest in caring about them as people will be rewarded. And don’t forget that your team includes you – so cut yourself some slack when things get tough too.
What to do: be available. Show them that if they open up to you, you will respond with empathy and can be trusted. Make sure that one-to-one time in your diary is sacred, and they will approach you without fear when they need to.
These are the most important elements of being a good leader, but there is so much more to discover. Find out what I offer in my First Time Manager’s course, and book a free half hour chat: Book a Chat