Chances are, if you’ve spent any time at all engaging with the corporate world, you’ve got the word management bursting out of your ears. At some point in our adult lives, we’ve all had to deal with some kind of manager. You may even be one yourself. Within this world we know to be normal, everything is managed. It is important to understand how crucial management is, as it sets the framework for how a business needs to function. If it is done right, it can mean a fantastic work environment and the exponential growth of a company. However, as a role it is rather poorly understood by most, remaining limited to doing just what the title states; managing a situation, a project or a team. Managers tend to overlook the importance of their own character and the value of having employees follow them, rather than merely work for them. Consequently, for employees, dealing with managers can often feel quite systematic and impersonal. Problems seem to be tackled by following strict protocol. Loyalty is underrated and new ideas only materialize with great difficulty, largely due to barriers in communication. To top it off, life outside of anyone’s role in the company is often made out to be totally irrelevant. The bottom line for the business? Everybody feels like a mere number, performing their function, and nothing more. Growth is stunted and innovation is a pain point.
In their role as manager, many do crave better results but seem to feel quite lost within their guidelines. It is rare to find managers who take their duties and make them passions, turning something that is simply managed, into something that is flourishing. How do they do it? Leadership.
I introduce to you a series of 10 tips that will help you earn full trust and respect from your team members. This way, you can become a leader within your role as manager, or get the boost you need to step up to the role you really want.
To open the subject, I will say that the path to becoming the best leader you can be, is tied to that of becoming the best person you can be. Therefore, the advice to come is largely based on calibrating your moral compass.
Leadership Tip 1 – Take an Interest and Listen
First, let’s take the wall down. A great leader is somebody who is easy to talk to and who listens, no matter the rank of the person speaking to them. Don’t fear the ‘waste’ of time that making conversation with an employee might seem to be. A few minutes a day of non-work related conversation will open the doors to easier conversation about everything that is actually critical to the development of the business. Simply taking an interest in what makes your team who they are, and getting to know them on a more personal level, also means that you will be more capable of understanding and fulfilling their needs without them even having to ask for it.
For this series of leadership tips, I’d like to introduce our fictional friend Patrick who is a senior manager, and Stephanie, a junior manager within the same company who works on Patrick’s team. One morning, each on their way to their offices, they cross paths in the hallway. Patrick, instead of walking on with a short “Morning”, as he would usually do, stops and complements the fact that he always sees Stephanie taking the stairs. In response, she explains that she likes to keep active as she suffers from problems with her spine. A few minutes later in his office, Patrick gets thinking, “hmm…desks can be really uncomfortable”, so he organises a standing desk for her to work at when sitting down gets too painful. Stephanie, amazed at how attentive Patrick had been to their conversation, has gained a whole new respect for Patrick.
A couple of days later in their boardroom meeting, Stephanie seems fresh, attentive, and she arrives standing straight as an arrow. Patrick had never known that the pain in her spine was the reason for her distractions, and that she had so much more to give. Besides the extra energy she’s got from being comfortable at her standing desk, the respect she gained for Patrick has also given her a boost in motivation to propose new projects that they could work on together.
The channels for communication are open, Stephanie is comfortable and Patrick has a more motivated team member who is ready to innovate. Everybody wins.
Leadership Tip 2 – Share your Wisdom and Share your Mistakes
The road to excellence is one you likely already know too well if you’ve tried driving in Malta. It is one riddled with potholes. In some cases, we feel as though we had to drive right through them to be able to get anywhere. Others, however, can be avoided once we know they’re there. We’ve either driven this road before and know where we’ve got to steer clear, or we received some friendly advice from a fellow traveller who helped us save our suspension.
If you are a manager, in all probability, you already have more experience with the road of growth than the members of the team you manage, and that is no secret. Sharing stories and giving advice based on your experience with downfalls along your journey, is one way you can lead each individual on your team safely down this road. Help them avoid the mistakes they need not make, rather than simply managing them as they stumble along it. Exposing your own mistakes and imperfections does not take away from your excellence, but rather gives insight into your humanity and shows your team that you care for their unobstructed growth. If there are things you still struggle with today, share those too. Somebody who is open about their struggles and is working hard to improve on them, can be a great motivation for others to do the same.
Back to our fictional senior manager, Patrick and his junior manager, Stephanie. One evening at work, due to some backlog, Patrick spends even longer in the office than he usually would. Though he is used to the long hours, and so are most other managers in his building, he notices that Stephanie is also still there and that she would still be at her desk almost every day on his way out. This time, he stops by her desk to praise her motivation, but also to explain the damage that he had personally experienced when working too many hours. He describes that he kept wanting to get more things done but was, in reality, just slowing down and arriving tired the next day. “In fact, today…I may have overdone it a little again”, he states with a chuckle. Sure enough, Stephanie packs in her things and makes her way out too. Upon his advice, she’s now spending less time in the office, but getting more done.
Leadership Tip 3 – Show your Team that you are Depending on Them
As a manager, it’s easy to get caught in the pressure of the company depending largely on you for its quality and growth. Although this is a responsibility that cannot be denied, using your leadership skills to share the load with the team you manage, can help you maintain your own sanity while propelling the whole team forward.
Take note however, this isn’t about effectively splitting the workload, which is also important, but more about communicating how heavily your efficiency and success depends on that of each member of your team and on the quality of their own work. Communicating their importance will make them feel respected and needed, giving them a boost in motivation. A team member who feels needed is more likely to take initiative, simultaneously lightening your workload. Knowing that you depend on them, coupled with the respect you’ve earned for communicating it and showing humility, most often leads them to being even more careful with the quality of their work as they won’t want to let you down.
Taking a look at an example from our fictional senior manager Patrick; this time, he’s received some excellent news about his latest performance report. Mark, the director of the company, explains that they will be moving forward with all his suggestions for system optimisation. Patrick sets up a meeting with his team to discuss the new procedures. Instead of taking the credit, he this time decides to share the win with them, stating that it was them who made it happen. He stresses that it was only possible through the constructive feedback he had received from each team member about their departments, and through their own attention to detail.
Knowing that they all contributed to it, Patrick’s win now meant that Stephanie, Jason and Amy all went home with a win that day. This keeps spirits high and gives them all a boost in confidence to keep up the precision, making Patrick’s days another bit easier.
Leadership Tip 4 – Steer Clear of Gossip
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever heard about yourself? It is an unfortunate reality that, for most people, gossip is an accepted part of everyday life and that most of us have been exposed to it in some way or other.
Acting as a role-model for their team, a manager must understand the difference between constructive feedback and gossip. A true leader has many eyes and ears wherever they go. You’ve got their back, and out of respect, they’ve got yours. If there is something or someone going wrong, you’ll want to know. However, be wary of those who try to make their way into your good books through gossip. In fact, gossip tends to only spread misinformation as it often consists of a heavily altered version of a story that has travelled through so many ears and mouths that it becomes unrecognisable. If you, yourself, only speak about others through goodwill and when it can lead to a better outcome, never passing on such stories and not engaging in them, then this paves the way for receiving the right type of information from your team.
When you receive information from somebody, try to understand their intent. If it is to further a person’s growth and that of the company, and if the person you are speaking to had first hand experience of the situation, then taking the information on board is a safe bet.
Back at our fictional office building, Patrick happens to be standing in the kitchenette having a cup of coffee when Amy walks in. Amy noticed that Patrick’s and Stephanie’s professional relationship was growing and was rather insecure about her own. Instead of putting in the work to excel, and not to look incompetent next to Stephanie, Amy decided that spreading some dirt about Stephanie would be fine. Amy never saw gossip as a bad thing anyway and she’d only just finished a conversation with Jason about how he noticed Stephanie taking so many cigarette breaks that she even needed one during a meeting, this being highly unprofessional. After relaying Stephanie’s cigarette problem to Patrick in the kitchen, he confronts Stephanie about it. However, it turns out that Jason was only asking Amy how she had got over her own cigarette addiction so that they could help Stephanie quit smoking. Jason was describing that she went out for cigarettes in the breaks and even during the break of a meeting, which, in turn, is acceptable.
Amy was simply too blinded by her jealousy of Stephanie to have been listening to Jason properly and ended up twisting the story and inflating it. Therefore, Amy has lost her credibility. Patrick, however, was also at fault as he should have asked whether this was a first-hand experience, giving him an indication as to the validity of the information. Finally, Stephanie was burdened by being called in to a meeting to discuss something which had not actually been affecting her performance. What we see from our fictional friends is that gossip turned a situation of good intent, into one of miscommunication for anyone who engaged in it.
Leadership Tip 5 – Be Punctual, No Excuses
Time. Due to an increasingly fast-paced culture, most people feel as though they don’t nearly have enough of it. Consequently, being on time becomes a struggle and with it often comes a certain sense of entitlement to being a little late. Truth is, we’ve all got the same amount of hours in a day. A rushed life-style, no matter how high one’s rank is, holds no water as an excuse for wasting from somebody else’s 24 hours. As a leader, people need to know that they can rely on your punctuality, meaning that they will also be less likely to keep you waiting. Punctuality is not only crucial when meeting someone. Consistently arriving on time to one’s place of work, or even a little early, allows for time to settle in and sets the standard for all others in the workplace. This is also beneficial for the strength of your team, as it enables an informal regroup and the sharing of motivation before the day begins.
Fictional Patrick, being a senior manager, would often feel as though his day was busier than that of his team. Therefore, when it came to meetings with team members, he had no problem keeping them waiting for a few minutes if he had something important to close. However, it soon became a habit and his team knew not to expect him to be on time. Therefore, they couldn’t take the meeting times too seriously. One morning, Patrick called in a brief urgent meeting that needed to take place before the arrival of Mark, the director. Patrick’s team, once again expecting him to be late, didn’t arrive on time. The meeting was rushed, Patrick got nervous and stress was dominant. Nonetheless, his team can’t be blamed to the full, as it was Patrick who had set the standard for tardiness.
Leadership Tip 6 – Don’t Panic
Without careful time management, the fast pace of today’s lifestyle encourages stress to rampantly grow and spread like a virus. Consequently, one might experience panic as a symptom. However, when things get hectic, panic is the worst state anybody could slip into. In an attempt to develop a strategy to better the situation, one frequently experiences panicked people in a rather melodramatic mood, trying to emphasize how serious the situation is to the people around them. Panic is a state of inefficiency, and it’s riddled with mental blocks. It easily spreads to those that can help, and nothing gets done the right way anyway. As a leader guiding your team through a stressful situation, it is much more effective to express the gravity of a situation with calm than through fear. Keeping spirits high and giving clear direction is your best bet to averting catastrophe. A short stroll, a breathing exercise, or anything that helps you tune in to yourself again, will not be a waste of time.
In our fictional office, Patrick has received some concerning news from the director, Mark. The company had recently launched a new product that required heavy investment. However, some unexpected changes in customer behaviour, due to a pandemic, meant that the new product wasn’t making close to enough sales to make it feasible. The company is at a loss. Mark and Patrick decide to bring Patrick’s team in on a brainstorming session for a new strategy. Any panic from Mark or Patrick’s side could have easily meant that Patrick’s team, holding lower positions in the company, would slip into a state of fear of losing their jobs if the wages can’t be paid. Stress and panic in the board room would then only grow further, resulting in miscommunication and even aggression. Instead, Mark and Patrick agree to keep a cool head. Stephanie, Jason and Amy are led into a focused, motivated state of mind that allows a productive brainstorming session. Things look up again, everyone keeps their jobs and nobody has developed any new grey hairs from the stress.
Leadership Tip 7 – Communicate Clearly, No Interpretation Needed
Get straight to the point. Very few conversations need a lengthy backstory and introduction before coming to what’s really important. There are two main problems that arise when people add extra words to their speech. Firstly, if you’ve given your listener a long introduction and included details that are totally irrelevant to the goal of the conversation, then you’ve likely lost their attention by the time you get to the relevant part. Secondly, it’s possible for the listener to confuse the details that matter with the ones that don’t. Ask yourself; “Are these words adding value to the conversation, or are they just fillers?” Choose the best way to say what you need to say and stick to that. Don’t attempt to give yourself importance by adding more words or even by using big words that only confuse things if they are not understood. Instead, try using fewer words and keeping it simple, giving yourself importance by speaking clearly and precisely. Correct pronunciation is in fact more important than most people realise, as it enables the focus to remain on your message without the distraction of an accent.
In order to keep things simple, it is important to first be very clear with oneself on what needs to be communicated. Once you’ve got clarity, speaking with total honesty and transparency will allow you to remove any unnecessary clutter from the conversation, to be direct in your speech, and to say exactly what you mean, no interpretation needed. Finally, once you’ve communicated your message, confirm that the person you’re speaking to has understood everything clearly. Close the subject before moving on to any other topic of conversation.
Let’s say fictional Patrick is delegating a task to fictional Stephanie. He introduces the task by spending thirty minutes explaining everything he had discussed with Mark, including all the options that wouldn’t have worked. He then moves on to explaining the task delegated to her and, thinking that he’ll look clever, uses words like “coalesce” instead of “combine”. Stephanie, still getting a grip of using English more than Maltese, gets confused, derailing the conversation onto the definition of the word. Patrick then finishes off explaining the task to Stephanie and heads off to his next meeting. Without having confirmed all the information with Patrick, Stephanie confuses some details with those from the options that wouldn’t have worked, and also leaves out a step in the process. When she finishes the task, it’s of no good. However, she can’t be blamed since it was Patrick’s task to use direct communication in order to delegate effectively.
Leadership Tip 8 – Speak the Truth and Be True to Your Word
Honesty and transparency are two keys to using the right words. Making sure to then stick to those words is equally important. Sometimes, it may seem like saying something or even committing to something can get you ahead. However, you’ll experience a major setback in trust if you can’t follow through. It may seem basic; don’t lie and you won’t be seen as a liar, but it’s the little lies that unknowingly slip through for many. A leader who is always true to their word is one who can be relied on and is respected. Consequently, you’ll be more likely to be able to rely on those around you.
Fictional Patrick had a bad habit of making empty promises and telling white lies. After a success story for his team, wanting to emphasise the accomplishment, he suggested taking them all out to dinner on some day next week. Later that day, Stephanie approached Patrick for an opinion on the dress she was wearing. She explained that she had recently bought it for work and that she was planning to wear it for the important meeting she was to have the next day. Not wanting to upset her, he said he liked it. Furthermore, after a happy conversation about the French language, Jason asked Patrick if he would sign up for a French class with him. Not wanting to let Jason down, Patrick agreed. Unfortunately, down the line, Jason was let down anyway when Patrick kept postponing the sign-up. Stephanie left her meeting upset, having been jokingly told that her bright dress was distracting from the presentation. Finally, the dinner never happened and Patrick’s whole team had learned not to take his words too seriously. Patrick couldn’t be relied on.
Today, however, he’s decided to change that. Going over past events, he sees a better way of doing things. He sees that the situation with Stephanie could have been handled better through honesty, explaining what a distraction bright colours can be for the people she’ll be giving her presentation to. Jason need not have been left hanging if Patrick had transparently told him that learning French wasn’t a priority for him. Lastly, the next time he gives his team praise, he’ll make a dinner reservation right away while still in the room with them. Remember, actions do speak a lot louder than words.
Leadership Tip 9 – Engage in Banter
Personal growth is a task to be taken seriously. However, the road to success need not be stressful. Once the committed decision for personal growth is made, goals become achievable. The belief that one will succeed, and being freed of self-doubt, can be the drive needed to get there. When a task seems too daunting, remind yourself of the many other tasks you have already achieved. When you slip-up, remind yourself of how far you’ve already come. Though both situations are no joke, an optimistic, self-confident mind-set will help you remain hungry to overcome the next hurdle. Great leaders encourage this positive outlook in those around them. They serve as a reminder to acknowledge the growth one has already achieved. When a leader is trusted and respected, showing that they have everyone’s best interest at heart, they can use tactful banter to bring a person’s slip-ups and flaws to light while maintaining that light-hearted energy.
One day at our fictional office, Stephanie asks Patrick for a stapler. He loudly and jokingly tells her to ask Amy who is sitting at a desk in the same room. Looking at Amy he exclaims that “she must be stockpiling the stationery…none of it ever ends up back in its place”. Amy, respecting and trusting Patrick, is able to laugh at her own flaw. Without the heavy energy of error, she takes the hint on board and returns all of it, quickly dropping her bad habit through an awakened intrinsic motivation. Everyone gets a little laugh, and spirits are lifted, not broken.
Leadership Tip 10 – Self-care and non-verbal communication
Let’s get physical. Effective leadership reaches far beyond the world of words and verbal communication. Often unknowingly, people are communicating at every minute of every day. As a leader and a role model, effective communication is key. Therefore, it is vital that the message you send out through physical actions is consistent with the message you communicate through words. A straight back and healthy posture let energy flow freely through your body, keeping you energized. The resulting confidence and visible self-care are two priorities for any leader and can become the motivation for others to do the same.
Keep in mind, the tone of your physical communication is set even before you leave the house in the morning. Through clothing and grooming, you make the daily decision as to what message you’d like to send out to the world about the care you invest in yourself. Someone who physically looks like they respect themselves is more likely to be respected by others, so don’t fear the time it takes to put love into your appearance. On tidiness; just as your physical appearance sends out signals, so does your workspace. A messy desk can communicate a lazy character and a disorganised mind, whilst a tidy desk reflects a tidy and calm mind.
Let’s take a closer look at fictional Patrick, who was always under the impression that the quality of his work was all that mattered. “A daily clean shave wouldn’t change the statistics”; he thought. His shoes, looking very worn from many years of use, were still wearable. They were his favourite shoes after all, and his suits, well, those just seemed to make him look a lot chubbier than he actually was. One day, however, he had to prepare for the most important meeting of his career so far. He decided that he wasn’t going to take any chances, so he went out to seek advice from a knowledgeable sales assistant. He bought a suit to fit his body type, invested in a new pair of shoes, had his hair cut and of course made sure he was clean-shaven. He felt so great and was treated so well that he decided he deserved to look and feel this great every day.
So far, Patrick had been more of a silent asset to the company, remaining relatively unnoticed when moving around the building. Now, however, his physical appearance reflects the value he brings to the table. He gives himself that importance, gaining the recognition he deserves. His fresh look makes heads turn when he enters a room and everyone is eager to listen to what he has to say.
Leadership Tip 11 – BONUS: Everyone Loves a Free Cup of Coffee
For all you business owners out there, don’t underestimate the value of making your employees feel at home and at ease. A hot cup of coffee, tea or even a simple glass of water are often just what people need to get their focus straight. It’s comforting to sip on something while working and it’s lovely for any team member to be able to say; “I’m making coffee! Who would like one?” Taking a break also becomes more relaxing when you can enjoy a drink together as a team. In both cases, making some refreshments available is a subtle way of bringing everyone a little closer together. On top of that, it’s one way of saying thank you for all their hard work. The motivation to give your company their maximum effort will naturally be much higher when sipping on that mug of gratitude. Appreciation is fuel for any employee.
If you’ve been following Leadership tips 1-10, then don’t worry about anyone wasting what you provide. As a leader, the respect between you and the members of your company will be mutual. The cost of coffee becomes an investment.