Many years ago, when I was in a junior role, we had a session between senior leaders and upcoming managers. The session was an opportunity for junior staff members to express their expectations from the organization’s leadership team. I vividly remember one of the senior leaders firmly saying that as a Director of over 50 people, he simply didn’t have time to deal with people issues. He had to focus on his own work.
Many years later, what he said has really stuck with me. It was exactly what I did not want to do. I told myself if ever I was blessed to be in a position where I manage people; I would be absolutely dedicated to my team. They say that employees don’t leave their company, they leave their manager. Therefore leaders are the most important influence on an employee’s career.
It’s quite unfortunate that we still see a lot of leaders ignoring the importance of guidance and mentorship. In different organizations, I often found myself without guidance or any form support from a manager. While I was comfortable in these situations as I was always able to work quite independently, many of my colleagues were not and required a lot more support.
One of the reasons I looked forward to having a senior role was to have the opportunity to help support people with their career ambitions. I’m not an expert on leadership, not by any means. However, I am hoping to inspire new or aspiring leaders to look at things differently.
Here are some of my thoughts on the difference between a leader and a ‘boss’.
Your team need your time
Firstly, it is critical is to give your team your time. Your team members are the ones who are executing and working tirelessly to achieve the goals you have set; they depend on you and your input to do so. If at the end of the day you aren’t giving them your time and input and results aren’t as expected you can only blame yourself. Your team will need you to approve work, review documents, and sometimes even to discuss small personal matters that may seem trivial to you, but mean a lot to them.
No matter how busy you are, find time in the day to listen and respond to their needs. While you do want to empower them and have them work independently, they will still need input on certain matters. Personally, even if I am in all-day back-to-back meetings, I make sure that at the end of the day I respond to every e-mail, WhatsApp or missed call just to ensure the team has what they need.
True leaders are accessible to the team
Secondly, I would like to stress the importance of being a serving leader. Put your team first before yourself and serve their needs. Don’t make them feel like you are unreachable and have too important a role for them to approach you. From the most junior member to the most senior one, be available for them and show them that you are also ready to roll up your sleeves to help get the job done. This is the difference between the old-fashioned ‘boss’ and being a true leader.
While hierarchy is often important in order to maintain a smooth, organized work process, I often like to work with team members in different positions on projects, on giving them feedback and addressing their career needs. I also always stop people from calling me “Mr.”. I understand it can be seen as showing respect but I dislike it and prefer we speak on a less formal basis. A more casual setting can lead to the freedom to express ideas without reservation and fear, which in turn helps with creativity and problem solving.
Know when to give the team space
It is also important to empower your team, so while you do want to be there to support them when they need you, it’s important to give them ample room to work independently. In my experience, micro-management really stifles innovation.
Empowering your team to make decisions and even lead on initiatives that you may not initially be sold on helps to foster innovation as it gives your team the ability to explore their thoughts without fear of judgement or discreditation. Even if they end up making a mistake, it’s important to be constructive and to not discourage innovative thinking.
Welcome diverse opinions
A fourth point which I think is extremely important but is often ignored is to foster diversity. Don’t hire team members who are exactly like you. You will not benefit from having a homogenous group around you. I would even encourage occasionally hiring from different industries, as they can bring in a much-needed fresh perspective.
It’s also important that your team can openly and freely express their opinions without worrying that they will be taken personally. Constructive debate can be really good for problem solving.
Create collaboration opportunities
Another thing I definitely would encourage in every leader is to find ways to foster teamwork as opposed to encourage competition. Find projects that require team collaboration as you will find that it makes them grow closer and appreciate each other’s skillset.
I manage a team across different regions. I like to place members from different areas in teams for specific goals and projects to collaborate on. Usually the results are quite impressive.
Find ways to inspire and mentor
A sixth point I would really encourage is to always find ways to inspire and mentor your team. Again, spend time outside of project discussions and review, to motivate your team. You want them to feel inspired to work not just because it’s their job but because their work has meaning. Lots of people lose sight of that, but through constant reminders from their leaders they can always get back on track. Motivated employees have proven many times to be much more creative and efficient.
Mentorship too is extremely important. Aas a senior member of an organization you may have had experiences that your team can learn and benefit from. Many people have to look very hard to find a mentor that will spend time and effort with them, to the extent that people end up paying for mentorship services. You, however, are in the best position to offer them mentorship.
Recognize their part in success and your part in failures
Finally, and most importantly remember to raise your team by giving them the recognition they deserve. While internally you may have your disagreements and at times you need to put pressure on them in order to achieve the outcome you need, it’s important that at the end of the day you show appreciation for the work they do. Doing so in a 1-to-1 setting goes a long way, but if it’s done in a public forum it’s also hugely motivational. It’s also important that as a leader you shift the focus from you whenever you are being recognized and instead recognize your team for your achievements.
Ultimately, they are the ones who helped you get there. At the same time, when things don’t go as well the accountability is on you as the leader of the team; assume the responsibility without throwing members of your team under the bus to take the heat off yourself.
These are just some of the things we can do to ensure we give our teams what they need and deserve. I may have missed many others, please let me know your thoughts in the comments on how you keep yourself actively involved with your team.