Leaders invest in their people

I hear a lot of managers talk about the proper way to manage people. There are many different theories on how to motivate your team in a way that makes them perform at very high levels, but everything comes down to not what you say but what you do that motivates your team to perform.

The days of commanding and controlling your team are largely over and there’s a new cloud of awareness centered around the idea of empowering your employees. The idea of making your employees feel replaceable doesn’t motivate them to perform at unusual levels, it makes them perform just enough to keep their job away from the firing squad. However, the confident manager allows every interaction with their team to foster the idea of mutual dependence.

Be Humble

It’s a virtue, yes, but every manager struggles with this at the start and for some it cements into their management style and they don’t know why people don’t like working for them. Many new managers are nervous about proving themselves, so they end up discouraging their subordinates from speaking up and thereby fail to benefit from their experience. In other words they rely on war stories from the past to use to teach and instead of teaching it turns out to be just gloating on how the manager solved a similar problem in the past.

The tone can be, listen to me because you know nothing and I know everything. Ask yourself next time you find yourself waxing on about a situation that happened in the past, “Am I giving absurd details on how I figured out problem because it’s relevant to a current problem or am I just making myself look better?”

You’re just showcasing your own insecurities if you go on and on about yourself. People want to know your stories, but tell them when you’re asked and don’t go on about what you’ve done to get where you are today. So recount your experiences very briefly, but only if they directly relate to a current issue that needs to be solve.

Prove to your people not that you have a record as a problem solver but that your ideas and advice can help them now.

Finally, remember to share both your mistakes and your successes. Achieving that balance brings you down to earth in the eyes of your team, and it makes you reflect on why you are telling stories in the first place.

Don’t Be Obsessed with the Rules

Rules are a good thing but to simply state the rules because they’re a rules isn’t enough for the motivated team member. You need to understand and state the why behind the rules so that the person understands why they’re there even though they may not agree with them. It becomes more about the manager doing a great job being a manager and following the rules and less about cultivating a team of people that feel like they have the ability to change things within the organization. No one wants to work with the manager who can’t affect change.

If you find yourself continually referencing the “hand book” to solidify to your people why you’re making a decision your team will soon realize that you’re not a manager but the police to make sure you’re following the rules. You will lose your team’s confidence very quickly as the person they entrust with their career and the smart ones will seek out the person who wrote the “hand book” to further themselves and effect change within an organization.

Listen and Show It

One of my turning points in my career was when I first started my career and the COO (Brian) of my company at the time was visiting Chicago from Boston because the region was going through attrition issues from the senior management. We went out as a region one night and had a few beers, Brian sat down with me and started asking questions about who I was and what I was looking to do here. It became very apparent to me, a month into the job and by far the most junior person in the region,that Brian was listening to my every word. He wasn’t looking elsewhere when I was talking but he was looking right in my eyes and commenting on my stories. We talked about my upbringing, college and a few stories about my early obsession with U2 and a new band called Kings of Leon. The conversation went on for about an hour at the bar we were at and soon the rest of the senior region left to go home, leaving myself and my COO just chatting one on one. I remember apologizing to Brian for taking up his time while the more accomplished people were leaving, surely he didn’t travel from Boston to chat with an unproven trainee. It meant a lot to me.

It wasn’t until a year later, however, that it really started to impact me on how great of a leader Brian truly was. I saw Brian in Boston this time for a company party and out of 300 people, Brian came up to me and immediately reference our conversation about U2 how, after our conversation, went to listen to Kings of Leon and how he didn’t agree that they were similar to a U2. I was floored. Not only did Brian recognize that the time he spent with me meant more to me than if he had spent that same time with someone who was more “worthy” of his time but he remembered it. Brian knew how to get more out of his time.

The point is that communication is multifaceted. Not only did Brian listen to me, he was 100% present in our conversation. His body language was engaged, he looked into my eyes when I spoke and then he referenced the conversation a year later. Every time I spoke to Brian and still to this day realize that every word I choose to say with Brian is heard. This taught me one of the most valuable lessons in how to manage people effectively and it happened before I was even managing people. If people know that you’re listening and processing what they say they will make sure they look to impress you every time they interact with you. That breeds a culture of people looking to impress and everyone performs at a high level if they’re continually looking to impress one another. They stop trying to impress when they feel you’re not even noticing their efforts. More importantly, spending time with your people before hey prove themselves just proves that anything great comes from an investment and a risk of some sort. 

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