Many years ago, when I was interviewing for one of my first senior management roles, my then potential new boss looked me in the eye and asked me why anyone would really want to be led by me.
I honestly can’t remember my response, but it must have been OK since I got the job.
Then in my first week, over lunch he told me that, “Leadership is the art of keeping all the people who hate you away from the ones who haven’t made up their minds yet”.
I’ve never forgotten that.
To be honest there have been many occasions throughout my career when I have looked around at my teams wondering which camp certain individuals fell into.
Why did I do it to myself?
Who has made a real difference to you in your professional life? Who has mentored or guided you? Who has influenced your beliefs and professional values? Who showed faith in you, when perhaps others didn’t?
The same boss I mentioned above (someone I would definitely consider to be a great leader since he certainly ticked many of these boxes), after I’d had a few resignations in one of my offices, chose that moment to remind me that, “People don’t leave companies. They leave leaders”.
Boy did I take that one personally.
I’ve been there. I know exactly what the isolation feels like; what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night in a panic convinced you have no idea what you’re doing; or wondering why anyone would really want to be led by you.
My problem, though, was that it wasn’t ever a case of waking up in the middle of the night in a panic. It was that sometimes I just wouldn’t be able to fall asleep in the first place with all the crazy thoughts whizzing around in my head wondering if I really could motivate and hold on to the amazingly talented group of people I had working with me.
If you’re having (or have ever had) thoughts even remotely like mine, rest assured you are not alone. There’s always someone else out there with a scarier job.
Throughout the many years I looked after groups of people all around the world, I was able to learn (and in some cases even master!) a few tips on how to retain and motivate my teams. I thought I would include a few of those tips in this post.
Ensure everyone is on the same page
You need to be able to articulate the story. What’s your plan? What’s the vision for the business? What are your expectations?
Whether you are talking to your team as a group, to an individual team member during a weekly 1:1 catch up, to your advisors, investors or clients, you must have clarity around the story. The words you use, how you deliver your message, and the consistency with which you drive that message home will make all the difference to ensuring everyone is on the same page.
After all, you want everyone on board the same train traveling in the same direction.
Create a climate of trust
As their leader, you are responsible for the environment you create. I’m not talking about culture here – I’m talking about the actual environment.
This starts with you having a positive mental attitude … always.
You want your team to look up to you; to respect you; and to trust you. But adhering to the “tough love” or “tough empathy” philosophy will also help you in the long run.
You will never be accused of over communicating
Tell them everything or tell them nothing at all. Trust me, nobody will resign from your company because they felt you told them too much!
The danger in only telling them half the story though, is that they will fill in the gaps and create their own situation in their head. This perception will quickly become their reality and that’s a downward spiral in the making.
This means that if you tell the team you’re making an offer to an amazing candidate and the candidate turns the job down, bring the team up to speed straight away. If your biggest client doesn’t renew their contract, explain the decision to your team immediately. Too many things are just swept under the carpet on the assumption that people don’t need to know the bad news.
That assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s OK to speak from the heart
Even the most successful leaders are not invincible. It’s OK reveal your vulnerability.
You know what? Sometimes it’s even OK to ask for help or admit you don’t know the answer to a particular question. Sure, that takes courage, but when your team sees you being courageous, that’s another big tick on the trust board.
Do you want to be a boss, or do you want to be a leader?
I know it’s a bit of a cliché question and there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer. But if your team hears you only use the words “I” or “me” they may start to lose faith in you pretty quickly.
It comes back to the trust and credibility piece. So when you make it more about “we” and “us” they will believe in the vision more and, in turn, will feel more inspired to perform.
Show them you are genuinely interested
Do you know what your team members’ interests are outside of work? Are they in a local basketball team? Are they an aspiring stand-up comedian? Perhaps one of them loves cooking? Do you know if one of your team members is a competitive yachtsman, an avid photographer, or oil colour artist? Perhaps someone in your team has aspirations to start her own company one day.
Whenever possible ‘connect’ with your team members on a personal level.
Try it! It feels good.
Know what motivates them individually and as a team
The only way to know what motivates your team members is to ask them! You’ll be surprised. What you might think pushes their buttons may in fact be as far from the truth as you can get.
They will all have intrinsic as well as extrinsic motivators. Some will thrive on having a carrot dangled with promises of financial reward; others will thrive on spontaneous recognition or a simple email praising them for a job well done.
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