How do we react when our people aren’t performing as well as they should, or as well as they could? Other than stamping our feet, screaming and shouting - which, let’s be honest, is never a good look - what can we do? Or more specifically, what should we do?
Managing people isn’t easy. It’s a challenging but rewarding experience, fraught with unforeseen problems and deadly dangers. The seas get choppy from time to time, and we’re sometimes called on to do things we don’t enjoy. We have to have a broad skillset, be able to work reactively and proactively often at the same time, and to have more than a basic understanding of psychology, philosophy and quantum physics. Ok, maybe not the last one, but still...
We’re needed to be part educator, part student. A catalyst that brings the team together and the glue that bonds them. We need to be solid and reliable, while remaining flexible and adaptive. We’re expected to be able to predict problems before they happen, and know the exact solution when they do. It’s a big ask, sometimes. But if it were easy, everyone would be doing it, right?
We like certainty, not doubt. Certainty keeps thing clear and predictable. Nice and safe. But sometimes, stuff just happens. Unavoidable and unwelcome stuff. Bad stuff. Stuff we need to deal with. Firefighting and troubleshooting are second nature to us, so we know what to do and how to do it. Most of the time.
Or do we? One of the most essential attributes in any manager is the ability to change and to grow, to learn and to help others do the same. We should understand the benefits that change brings, the many positives that we find by mixing it up a little. We may be good, but we can always be better. It’s just a case of changing gear, really.
Now, I’m not suggesting anyone should try and mutate into a Supermanager, stepping into a phone box and coming out in a cloud of smoke wearing their underwear on the outside, magically reimagined as the world’s most dynamic and brilliant leader. Nobody likes a show off. But there is always a need for change. Change in the way we think, the way we act, and in the that way we work, particularly as leaders. Let’s step it up.
No matter how comfortable we think we are with the systems and plans we have in place, the all important checks and balances, there will always be room for improvement. It’s important for us not to get stuck in a rut, because that’s when cracks start appearing. And of course, it's just as crucial for us to constantly review how we manage as it is to review the people we manage. But if we want - or need - to see positive changes in how the work gets done, then we, the managers, must start with ourselves. That in itself is a leadership skill not every leader has.
Some people are intimidated and worried by the idea of change, and you may need to reassure your team that we’re not talking about change for change sake. It’s more about asking ‘How can we do things more effectively, more productively?’. More ‘How can we grow?’ than ‘What should we change?’ - rolling with things as they are simply isn’t productive. There’s always improvements that can be made, and they don’t have to be huge or even particularly challenging. Bringing the team on board with change is the best way to avoid them worrying or feeling intimidated. If they are on board with the idea, if they know the limitations of how you’re currently doing things, and if they’re empowered enough to make suggestions, then the process becomes a lot simpler. But, as a manager, it has to start with you. This is your call.
So, what’s your management style? How do you like to get the job done? How do you relate with the people you manage? Do you direct or connect? You may think that simply making sure your team are reacting in the right way to your directions is enough to get the job done. Orders are given, tasks undertaken. Job done. Ok, this may work in certain extreme circumstances, but most of the time, as an attitude it's more likely to serve as a barrier between you and your people. Change it up a little. Stop directing and start connecting. You want to be seen as a manager who can lift people, someone who can encourage, engage and enthuse. Management is about connection. If your team doesn’t feel like they can connect with you, that’s an issue.
Of course, the issue could be with the make up of the team. We should always strive for diversity, a broad set of skills and experience, rather than just a bunch of people who all think like we do. Diversity strengthens the connections in teams, and leads to more creative thinking. How diverse is your team?
Does your team feel that they have the opportunity for growth? Do you support them in that? We’re all on the ladder, we know that. We’re all striving to get higher and further. Someone must’ve held the ladder for you at some point, giving you the opportunity to go further. But are you holding the ladder for your team? Maybe they don’t think so, so it’s good to let them see that you’re willing to accept the change of them moving up, and that you’ll support and encourage them in that. Good leaders recognise the best qualities in their people and help them move forward. If you’re not doing that, you’re doing something wrong, surely?
Many managers will happily look you straight in the eye and tell you that they are great communicators. It’s their greatest asset, they know that. Their communication skills are second to none and don’t need any improvement. These people have simply given up trying, or given up caring. They’ve achieved their position, and don't see any need for change. They’re wrong. So very wrong. As times change, we change. Technology changes, the demands of the job change. People change. Leaders should be continually looking at better ways to communicate, in the knowledge that communication is at the epicentre of everything we do in our work.
It’s a two-way street of information, a highway of ideas. Streets and highways bend, they turn, they rise and fall. So we should be constantly reviewing how we communicate. Switch it up. Are you just laying down the rules and expecting results or do you ask questions? Does your team feel that they can approach you with their ideas or are you still just waiting on those results? Do you communicate clearly, with honesty and transparency or do you just want the easy life of direction and result? Good leaders should always bear all these questions in mind to help them deliver better as managers.
At its heart, leadership is about communication and sacrifice. Great leaders act before others and do more than others. They brave uncertainty and doubt, and move onwards, bringing others with them, paving the way. So they should never fear change. If anything, they should fear a lack of change, and they should always work toward encouraging their people in their own individual change.