Leaders are in the “people business.” All of their other responsibilities notwithstanding, their team and its care and development are among the most critical responsibilities any leader has. Ensuring that the team is functioning at its best requires that leaders regularly spend quality time with their direct reports to help them develop and mature into the best possible version of themselves, prepared to accept even bigger challenges and make greater impacts as time goes on.
Effective leadership of the team is rooted in meaningful engagement between the leader and direct reports, not solely in the measurement of the time they spend together. Most would agree that leaders should be fair in their expectations, interactions and dealing with others, but the word ‘fair’ also holds the key to four critical actions leaders must take regularly when it comes to developing their subordinates.
Consistent feedback is critical to a well-functioning team, whether a member’s performance is exemplary or needs improvement. People want to know how they are performing, and the impact they are having on the organization. A few words of affirmation spoken regularly will let the individual or team know that they are valued and not taken for granted. But be careful - feedback that is not sincere or sounds contrived will have just the opposite effect.
More difficult interactions when a team member is not performing up to standard are equally critical. If a leader has noticed substandard performance from someone, it is almost guaranteed that the team noticed it long before the leader did. A quick, timely conversation in private that starts with concern about the individual, includes a specific description of the area of deficiency, and ends with an offer of assistance to help them get back on track will generally correct the problem. This will not only improve the person’s performance, but also possibly that of the entire team.
Giving subordinates concrete goals and visibility to the progress made towards achieving them is key to an accountability structure. Goals remove the ambiguity that can sometimes surround job performance and allow everyone to have the same understanding of job performance. Accountability structures also make feedback much more timely and concrete.
A good general rule of goal setting is that they be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound. In other words, set goals that are easily understood, can be measured easily, are within the person’s sphere of control, and must be completed in a specific amount of time.
Progressive organizations know they must embrace innovation in order to evolve and continue to compete. For every Netflix there are many more Blockbusters, companies that got comfortable with the status quo and were left behind by competitors that successfully adapted to a rapidly changing market.
When a leader challenges subordinates to ask why—rather than rely on the way things have always been done—each team member can bring different experiences, views and perspectives to problem solving. When paired with similar types of input from their peers, this type of problem-solving uncovers opportunities to create never before thought of solutions and processes, which result in greater efficiency.
This may be the most important action of the four. Leaders and managers that do not show respect for their team members and subordinates (or always place their own needs first) will struggle to be successful managers. It is true that respect has to be earned, not given simply based on a title.
While it may be an oversimplification, one of the best ways to earn the respect of others is to walk a mile in their shoes. That doesn’t mean doing their job, but it does mean spending time with them to get an understanding of their job—its challenges and requirements—and then considering the impact that decisions may have on the team. It also means showing a genuine interest in their feedback and considering it in the final outcome.
Management is a difficult responsibility when done correctly. It may seem overwhelming at times, especially for a new manager. Remembering this simple acrostic can help the focus to remain on the most important cultural aspects of successful leadership.
Ready for the next step? Formalize your employee's path to professional growth by helping them create a career development plan.
About the Author: Steve Steele is the Financial and Business Practices Leader for the Bruce Wilson Company, a nationally recognized green industry consultant.