Developing Into a True Leader Takes Time, But You Can Do Some Things Right Away.
By Steve Schumacher
In my career of coaching and guiding leaders at all levels, I have recognized that going from a new manager to a well-respected leader takes a lot of time. Few of us come into the role of management with all the skills necessary to manage people effectively, much less lead large organizations. The combination of training, feedback, coaching, and experience is what makes leaders, not a fancy business card with a glossy title on it.
In this working world of problems coming at us 24/7, dwindling resources and fires burning all around us, it is very difficult to focus on your management and leadership skills. Often, we get very little coaching or mentoring from our bosses. Our performance appraisals focus mostly on hitting the numbers, and not on true development of our skills and abilities in managing people. Even if we do take the time to focus on developing leadership skills, it is nearly impossible to break old habits without consistent, specific feedback on how we are doing.
Becoming a leader does not happen overnight, but there are some things you can do today that will help you take some strides to getting there:
Set up teams. Get groups of people working together more often. Create the teams either by project, department, or cross-functionally. Give them some clear expectations of what you want them to accomplish as a team, and let them go. They will learn to communicate better and, in most cases, will exceed your expectations.
Hire people that are better than you. Learn to interview using behavioral questions. Recruit and hire people that have greater potential than you do. That will increase you energy level and make you perform to your maximum capability. Bringing on people that want your job, and will work to get it, will increase the energy and commitment of everyone around them.
Learn to be very specific. Build in numbers when you give directions to people, whenever you can. Create a picture in their mind of what you are talking about. When talking to your employees, always give a solid introduction to what you are going to talk about, check for their understanding, and summarize before you end the conversation.
Assign projects in pieces. When you give employees huge tasks all at once, you are increasing the odds they fail. Large projects piled on top of what people are already doing can be overwhelming. Break the projects down into smaller pieces that you can follow-up on regularly. With each piece of success, keep giving additional pieces until the project is completed. You do not eat an elephant in one bite.
Smile. Take the time each day to greet your employees with a smile and thank them for being there. People do not remember what you did as much as they remember how you made them feel. Showing just a little courtesy will dramatically improve morale and it takes very little effort.
Ask for input. Sincerely seek the opinions of others. Learn to ask more open-ended questions of people, and then truly listen to their answers. Work hard at implementing what they tell you. Asking versus telling people what to do will increase trust, understanding, and involvement.
Celebrate successes through stories. Take time to gather employees and have everyone share stories of what has worked well recently. Ask for volunteers. Making it mandatory will put pressure on people to come up with a story. Do it spontaneously. Doing this will enhance relationships, increase learning, and show that you are committed to teamwork.
Put flipcharts all around. Too often, people have meetings and good ideas are not recorded. Having a flipchart in every conference room, and using them, will help capture ideas. Instead of having discussions that go nowhere, use a flipchart to problem-solve and keep discussions on track.
Write notes. In this electronic world, emails are easily disposed of. Take the time to write handwritten thank you notes to employees. We like personal reminders of when we have made a difference.