There are at least 100 posts I’ve read in the last 90 days about the qualities that make great leaders. Most of them offer exceptional advice on every nuance of leadership from managing people’s emotions and personalities to managing metrics and data. Many of them offer expert opinions from the “greatest leaders of all-time” to showcase what you should be doing.
Ultimately, though, all of us are not born great leaders. Not everyone just came out the womb knowing how to make everyone love them, want to work for them, and listen to their expertise. Surprising, right? For the rest of us, emulating the best is a good start, but it should not be the daunting first step it sounds like. In fact, it should be much easier.
If everyone in a management position just started with the knowledge that they are managing people, process, and themselves, the tasks get much simpler.
"People + Process + Personal = Exceptional Leaders"
Your team consists of people. They are human beings with thoughts, emotions, talents, skills, and personalities all their own. How you manage one person is not always a fit for everyone else on your team. Think of it like raising children – your eldest may respond best to more specific instruction while your youngest might need more freedom and autonomy to really excel at a task. Leadership is not a checklist of qualities then, but an innate understanding of the way that your team and the members of that team work coupled with the skills to encourage and support their collaboration and the patience to allow them to sometimes fall on their face.
Where I see more leaders fail than anywhere else in business is in the management of process. If there is no consistent process to train your team on, accountability is almost non-existent. If there are too many processes, the accountability leaves no room for improvement or innovation (and little room for people). A strong process will set expectations for the individuals on your team, set ground rules for engagement, and encourage the individual to optimize and improve the process (or their skills within that process) over time. As a leader, you can then manage the process in a way that allows you to see both where your team is performing and where they need assistance or improvement.
Your metrics for each role or group should then mirror that process. For example, if your sales team is following a consistent sales process, it should be easy enough to see a basic pipeline report and know if a person who is not meeting their goal is having more of a problem with rapport building or with closing. The same applies for the entire team. This allows you to tailor team training required, individual coaching required, and next steps that are suited to individual and group improvement.
Lastly, you have to manage yourself. This seems simple enough, right? Wrong. It’s another critical area of mistake for many newer managers and leaders. Managing yourself boils down to three simple components – keeping your ego in check, following the rule of the trade-off, and maintaining personal development criteria.
Ego can be an incredibly positive trait in leadership when balanced with the right amount of empathy. No one should go to work to play dress up and pretend to be an executive. Everyone has a job to do and it’s equally important (even the janitor’s job is really important). Maintain your sense of humility and treat everyone with the respect and courtesy they deserve because no one wants to work for “that guy”.
The biggest ego problem usually surfaces when managers start believing they are too good to do the same work the team is doing for them. That doesn’t mean your top-level leadership should do everyone else’s work all of the time, but the old “what I say goes because I’m the boss” approach leads to a lid. If you are not checking in on process and people to see where improvements can be made and taking feedback on areas of optimization, you are stifling what could be your best team members from ever becoming better than you or that outdated process you stuck them with.
Most important is following the rule of the trade-off. If you delegate 20 hours of work to your team, you need to know what you are doing with those twenty hours. The time you just saved should be going to more valuable activities that produce more beneficial results for you and your team. That means the time you saved should go to creating better strategies, optimizing training, making processes better, establishing new partnerships, or other higher level activities that the people under you are not ready to take on. While no one would begrudge a manager the ability to take a vacation, the manager who delegates twenty hours of work only to triple the amount of time off in a month is not inspiring the team to be hungry, driven, motivated, or productive.
When you’ve mastered all of these techniques, start with a personal development plan. Hold yourself to a high standard that inspires the people who work for you and consistent raise your own bar. This will ensure you are continuing to be the leader your team deserves – even as they grow and develop.