Leading teams looks easy.
That’s what I thought when I first became a manager.
I’d had a series of excellent, visionary leaders who brought out the best in their people and propelled the businesses to unimagined success.
I thought I could do the same thing. But I had to learn a number of key lessons the hard way.
I found out what not to do. And I hope what I've learned can help you.
Not Setting Precise Expectations: What you think the job is and what the employee believes it is can be very different. Same goes for the goals of the department or group. It pays to set goals and expectations at the beginning of the relationship and reset often. The goals are the “why” and the job description is the “how.” Employees need to know what to do and why they’re doing it. Not doing this will set you up for confusion, conflict and an angry department.
Not Providing Feedback: Every employee should know how they’re doing and what their growth areas are. That doesn’t mean constant micromanaging. It does mean having regular conversations. Good employees will often be harder on themselves than you’re being on them. Involving objective criteria is an excellent way to remove a perception that you’re unfairly “out to get” someone. Feedback discussions can begin with, “how do you think you’re doing in this area?” And feedback should be given at once, in context when it’s consequential. And in private when it’s negative feedback.
Not Sharing Information: Employees want to know how they’re doing, how the team is doing and how the company is doing. They want to know what changes are happening and why. If you don’t keep that information pipeline open, rumors will start. Team members will understand that some things are confidential. But they buy into their mission more when they feel informed and involved.
Sharing Too Much Information: I’ve seen managers who feel a closeness to their team members and tell them confidential information. Most of the time, that information gets shared. And that can cause all kinds of problems, least of all a perception that the boss is playing favorites, and reduce the level of trust there.
Being Too Friendly: This is a common management mistake where team leaders just want to be liked and feel connected to the group. Everyone understands effective managers are there to lead their teams and get results. But managers should try for trust and respect, along with an easy rapport. They should always be able to have that hard conversation when needed.
Not Being Friendly: When you’re a manager, you’re on stage. Every interaction with a team member will likely be remembered, and sometimes in an exaggerated way. Any offhand or sarcastic comment or flash of anger will color that relationship forever, even if every other interaction is positive. It’s like a small drop of black ink dropped into a gallon of water making all the water appear black. This is hard for many managers, especially when the pressure is on. Temperamental managers kill innovation - just like that.
Not Recognizing Success: Everyone wants to feel appreciated. Even if the effort was unsuccessful, people want to be acknowledged for their hard work and feel supported. This should be done publicly. I’m a big believer in spot bonuses, even if it’s just a reimbursed meal out for a job well done.
Not Being a “People-First” Manager: I often ask new employees, “where do you want to be in five years, and how can I help you get there?” Doing what’s possible to design their jobs to that end will increase buy-in. That’s why I will often tell someone, “because you want to grow in this area, we are now putting you in charge of that.” Also, if someone has a family emergency, is burned out, or otherwise needs a mental health day, I always advocate showing leeway there and following up with an empathetic question like “does your son feel better today?” I want my team members to feel like I always have time for them.
Putting Up With Negative Team Members: This is very tempting to do, as key jobs are sometimes held by individuals who are competent, but also argumentative, inappropriate, deceitful or inconsistent. The excuse is often that they are needed to keep the team functioning, and hold exclusive skills. Your team will appreciate and respect you if you drum them out, no matter what the consequence. I have often been afraid to let these people go, and am almost always surprised at how life goes on - better - without them.
Not Being an Emotional Leader: Your team will look to you to figure out how they should be feeling about the company and their jobs. It really helps to convey enthusiasm when it’s warranted, and steady reassurance when things are challenged. Even if you are not feeling so great yourself, it always pays to appear optimistic about the progress, vision and mission of the company.
When I was starting my MBA in Marketing from the University of Southern California, the Dean gave a speech to incoming students. He said one of the key things we would need for success is emotional control. I’d add that emotional awareness is also critical.
It’s clear to me after years of leading teams that understanding and shaping the group dynamic is just as important as knowing the subject matter that I’m accountable for.
And I think I'm finally getting it.