Leadership Skills Team Building
The six essential skills for people-leaders
With the hype and hoopla surrounding the recent financial meltdown, the “C-suite” in every organisation is under the microscope – in the media, in the boardrooms, in parliament, in the pubs, and in the homes. And yet, a group who have arguably the most significant impact on the very operatives who do the deals, generate the revenue, and deliver the outcomes to keep the wheels of industry turning, the people at the coal-face of leading teams, are often the ones who aren’t critically examined in the public eye for excellence.
These team-leaders or line managers, the operational supervisors who day in, day out, manage all the organisational resources – people, plant, equipment, cash – punch above their weight in terms of influencing organisational success. That said, what seems go under the radar is how well they are dealing with the ever-expanding set of challenges to ensure cohesion and synergy amongst their team members. And what about the skills to be able to deal with these new challenges? Team leaders are often notoriously under-equipped to handle them, often due to things like rapid promotion, leaner organisations, the “war for talent” reducing talent supply, the focus on short term results which have mortgaged longer term people development budgets, etc.
Over many years of consulting, HFL has identified six essential capabilities that people-leaders must master in order to be effective in their jobs:
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
- Be honest, open, fair and consistent
- Set people up for success, don’t just “set them up”
- Balance getting results with building and maintaining relationships
- Drive change for continuous and breakthrough improvement
- Be genuine, and be present
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
You’ve heard it before. Of course you have!
You know you’re the first point of contact, for your people, the conduit for organisational information, the portal to the rest of the business. You have knowledge that your people don’t have, you have access to it, you are provided it, you are the custodian of it. How you share it, or restrict its flow, will influence the relationships you build, and the success you achieve. A friend of mine, describing the lack of contact and feedback between him and his boss in another capital city, said it affected his judgement as to where he should put his effort and focus.
There are many uses for information – to fill a gap, to involve others in a conversation, share to show confidence and build trust to name a few. Several years ago, a senior manager in a large financial services company decried an assessment process because of its lack of relevance to the business and so didn’t approach it with the dedication expected, only to find out after the assessment that it was based on the CEO’s strategy for the future. He was upset that he wasn’t aware of this information which would have influenced his effort.
It’s true that knowledge is power, but it’s more accurate to say that it’s how you use that information to create success for yourself and others that is the powerful bit. For example, sharing business results shows others that you have confidence in their ability to understand it, that you trust them to keep it confidential, and their contribution to achieving the results is clear and apparent.
So, to improve communication in your business you can:
- Schedule regular catch-ups with all your folk
- Make sure you keep those appointments, it will show others how important you believe this is
- Look for ways to enhance your communication style
- Know what styles and mediums work best with what people/audiences, and with specific topics, and use a range of mediums to (re)emphasise messages
- Adapt your communication style to appeal to the needs of others, including personal as well as practical issues, and up, down, sideways, etc
- Understand what you can and can’t share, and make sure you both share and keep confidence
- Willingly share your own opinions and thoughts, your feelings, your perspective on issues and concerns, and your reasoning to help build a complete picture and inform others
- Give regular feedback on performance – don’t wait for “performance review” time
- Enhance your listening skills, and check for understanding, always – yours and others
My friend above finished his story by saying simply that “it doesn’t take too much [to communicate].”
What’s the cost, and what’s the benefit? It’s your call, literally.
Be open, honest, fair and consistent
You want to build trust? You have to take this seriously.
Considering what we said about communication above, trust is certainly going to be built on a foundation of communication. Being transparent and not keeping secrets, and ensuring that there are no surprises, are critical elements in this. Other key elements include consistency, honesty, objectivity, openness, reliance, predictability, and selflessness. All of these contribute to a person’s willingness to trust you, and trust will come, eventually, if you subscribe to this creed.
Gordon Gekko, of “greed is good” fame, used and burnt trust with abandon in the film “Wall Street”, leading to his demise. Other real-life corporate types here in Australia and overseas have been jailed, and organisations collapsed, under the weight of abused trust.
Other than avoiding criminality, there are many benefits in building trust. You will engender greater loyalty, leading to lower turnover and thus cost of replacement. You will enjoy greater productivity, leading to better profits. You will secure greater commitment, with people more willing to “go the extra mile.” Significant top and bottom line impacts, even with these few.
So to build trust, you should:
- Share information wherever possible
- Keep confidences, and especially when it really matters
- Let people know how you feel, and how this impacts business and you
- Provide honest feedback on performance and behaviour, and do this in a timely manner
- Make sure you are approachable and predictable – nothing breaks down trust like unpredictability
- Be consistent in your responses and actions – use your values and the company’s values and ethical standards/code to guide your responses and actions
- Fulfill commitments and keep promises
- Do as you say – walk the talk
- Treat people fairly and equitably
Sounds like a big wish list, and it is. And remember, although there’s no financial cost to it, the payoff is handsome!
Set people up for success
Don’t just “set them up”! One highly successful retail organisation subscribes to the notion of “people first” – it is a way of life for them, and they proudly pursue it in everything they do, in the whole supply chain. “Making others’ succeed” elegantly and simply describes a team leader’s role. Whether in providing feedback, coaching for success or for behavioural or performance improvement, or ensuring engagement and commitment are at the highest possible levels, your role is clear – make them as successful as possible. If you do, you’ll be successful by default!
Remember back when you have been you most successful since starting work. Odds are that someone else, probably your team leader/supervisor or even a colleague, had a hand in that. Sure, helping people to be successful is a selfless act, but at its heart is a practical win-win arrangement, one that ensures that all parties benefit in spades!
Some really good things to remember here include:
- Defining the critical elements that contribute to success for both the short and long term business needs – competencies, knowledge, experience, and personal attributes
- Using these elements to select the right talent for the right jobs
- Regularly measuring people against them, defining the gaps, and developing people to overcome any deficiencies
- Have regular open, constructive, objective conversations to explore opportunities to improve performance
- Create an environment of continuous and applied learning and create opportunities to get the learning
- Make every contact a “coaching moment”, and capitalise on it to secure greater success
- Get close and stay close to your people, know their aspirations, their concerns, their limitations and their potential, and construct learning to both appeal to these and also secure organisational outcomes
Get results and maintain relationships
Leaders have just two (2) jobs – get results, and maintain relationships whilst you’re getting the results! If you don’t maintain the relationship you will fail to get the results some time into the future. So this is both a short term and a long term necessity combined. If you don’t get the results, you won’t have a job. If you don’t build and maintain relationships with suppliers, colleagues, logistics partners, or customers, you won’t be able to build and deliver your value proposition no matter how good it is.
Remember, the further you go up in an organisation, the more your job is about influencing people. You need to influence people to be highly productive, to be highly committed, to pursue your ideas as if they were their own, and to achieve the outcomes that the organisation has indicated is critical for ongoing success. And you need to do this over and over again, ad infinitum, so you continue to get the results.
But how can you do this? Try these things:
- Make a clear link between goals and values, and remind everyone of these regularly
- Ensure that it is not seen as just your objective – it must contribute to the greater good
- Explain how they contribute to securing the outcomes
- Make sure that you clearly link the results being pursued to their own objectives and aspirations wherever possible
- Provide all the support and resources needed for them to get the results – don’t quibble about this, show you are as committed as possible
- Put in the necessary systems to monitor and measure success, and celebrate the successes
Drive for change
Not just any change, but change that is both continuous and breakthrough, and achieves the strategic objectives that are critical to your organisation’s success.
All change efforts, including those that focus on continuous learning, system and process changes, developing new, or refinements to, products and services, are always driven at the lowest levels in organisations at the very minimum. Being able to effectively secure the necessary changes is a skill that is germane to sustainability. If you don’t change, others will, and that means you are regressing relative to your competition.
So you just know that next year’s budget is going to be greater than this year’s, and you have to get it with less money, less people, in shorter time frames, with better customer satisfaction scores, and fewer overheads. What you do as a team leader/manager in planning and facilitating change, helping overcome the barriers and often the exhaustion that comes with constant change, will engender a change attitude in your people through your role-modelling.
So, some ideas on how to secure change are:
- Remember that your people at the coal face probably have great ideas to streamline things – ask for them, and get the ideas on how to put them in place, and seek volunteers to manage that
- Be sensitive to change resistance, anticipate some push back, and plan how to deal with it
- Always discuss the benefits of the change, to the individual, the business, the customer
- Utilise a collaborative continuous improvement plan to regularly review and improve every aspect of your operation
- Assign accountability, fully resource the change initiative, monitor and measure success, and celebrate it!
If what you strive for is achievable and desired by all, you’ll get there. If people perceive it’s not attainable or desirable, they won’t sign up for it, and it just won’t happen.
Be genuine, and be present
We’ve heard the terms “a cardboard cut-out” and “a cookie cutter”, and whilst they may mean different things to each of us, what they do refer to is the antithesis of the team leader or manager who is passionate, committed, energetic, “in the moment”, involved, and “in the zone”.
Many years ago, whilst giving assessment feedback to a senior legal counsel in a large Australian service organisation, the company secretary asked the feedback consultant if he enjoyed his work. The consultant replied that he did, and enquired as to why he was asked that question. The formal, clipped and conservative bureaucrat replied, “Because it shows.”
That short answer exemplifies the behaviour, and especially the attitude, of a person who was genuinely involved in that discussion, and passionate about their contribution. People can spot a “fake” in an instant. If you’re not utterly committed, others will question their own commitment, and productivity breaks down immediately after that.
Here’s how you can be “present” and “genuine”:
- Believe in what you do, and deeply understand the need for what you do and how it adds value to the your people, the organisation, the shareholders, the customers, the industry, the nation, the world
- Prepare well for all of your discussions – as if your own money depends on the outcome
- Commit to helping others succeed, believing that their success is your success
- Don’t be deterred in your efforts to “make a positive difference” in other people’s working lives
In summary, team leaders and line managers are the people who “make it happen” in all organizations. And these people need to be skilled or up-skilled in these six (6) areas of capability that are required for them to succeed as effective leaders of people. After all, they are the first port of call for support by all employees, the most critical sponsor of their people’s credibility, and the most impacted stakeholder of their people’s output. They’ve just got to get it right!
Harbour Future Leaders provides assessment methods to determine current leadership capabilities, potential, and skills gaps; and develops programs to address these in the most appropriate manner for each individual.