One of the toughest things for a new leader to do is cross over from doing to leading. In most organizational environments, a new leader gets the opportunity through producing results as a doer. So, you have excelled at getting results, and now you’re in a role where you have to get results through others. Welcome to leadership.
To help you make the most of your opportunity, this post should serve as a resource to come back to over and over, in order to keep the needs of your team/followers in front of you. To effectively lead others, you have to be good at a number of things that may not come naturally, but are still important. Leading with a servant mentality is one of them. And to do servant leadership well, you have to know what those you serve need from you. Here are the main four needs I’ve experienced over 20 years of leadership, mostly through feedback from those who follow me:
TRUST: firm belief in the reliability, truth or strength of someone
Everyone, no matter who they are, needs to know their leader trusts them. Trust is the foundation for any relationship, and it’s crucial to your success as a leader that you be both trusting and trustworthy. So yes, it goes both ways. If you have trouble trusting anyone on your team, before you do anything else you need to dig into why. If they’ve betrayed your trust in the past, then you need to be getting them off your team or working together with them to rebuild it. Once you’ve decided to trust those you lead, you’ll find that you either strengthen or weaken that trust in how you handle problem situations. Here’s how to ensure you always strengthen trust in these times:
1) Give them the benefit of the doubt first, and…
2) As you’re exploring what went wrong, seek to understand everyone involved (this is a challenge because it forces us to listen!) and always get all the facts before you take action
Final piece of advice in this area, if you are taking corrective action, do it in a way that develops their thinking and improves their decision making. Because to be an effective leader, you do need people making decisions, you can’t make them all. And I promise you this, if you second guess every decision they make, they will stop making decisions! That is a fact.
CLARITY: the quality of being certain or definite
Clarity is important in two key areas. People who work for you want clear direction on what is expected of them, both in their work and their behavior. You handle the behavior through Core Values, and you handle the direction through a solid job description (ask me about position agreements) and regular communication.
Most people also want clarity on their path to growth within the company. This one is tougher because you can’t always know what the future may hold and what opportunities may arise. I tend to handle this one in line with some great advice I received from Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcast years ago.
1) At the beginning of your time with someone as their leader, get a clear understanding of their goals for growth. Do they want to excel in a specific area or get experience across the entire organization? Know what they are hoping to accomplish, so you can be part of helping them move in that direction.
2) About once quarterly, as you are discussing performance in their current role, give them feedback on how that performance is helping or hurting their effort toward hitting their growth goals.
3) When opportunities arise within the organization, be their advocate, even if it means they would be moving out of your area and you’ll have to hire/train someone else. If you can’t advocate for them, they should already know why before the chance comes up (your quarterly conversations). If they don’t get the role, they will know that you did all you could on their behalf. Help them understand why a different decision was made so they can learn from that experience.
Final thought on clarity: everyone hates change, and few people lead well through it. But change is constant so when leading through change, clarity is key. Ask your followers if you are being clear enough in direction and development and don’t get off the conversation until they say “yes”.
ACCOUNTABILITY: the condition of being responsible
All high-performance people want to be held accountable. If someone on your team isn’t performing at a high level, it’s your fault. Go back to clarity to get them moving in the right direction, and if they can’t improve, help them find another opportunity elsewhere. Spend the majority of your time and energy on the people you can hold accountable and who will allow you to grow and shape them to hit the goals they gave you on the front end.
If you inherited a team from another leader, you first need to earn their respect and trust (stay tuned for a future post on this) by building the relationship. As you’re doing that, review what goals each team member has, and what work they’re being held accountable for, and establish a meeting rhythm with each one to lay the foundation for accountability. Take time to learn how you need to lead each person differently toward the same goal.
POSITIVITY: the presence of being optimistic in attitude
Let’s talk about the power of positivity vs. negativity. FACT: it’s just easier to be negative. People who default to negativity are basically being lazy. Even the best leaders have to admit though, that it’s hard not to go to negative first when something’s not going according to plan. What’s hard is developing the ability to quickly pull yourself out of negative and go to positive. The best tip I got on how to deal with this actually came from a book by Rob Bell called Drops Like Stars. It’s a spiritual book intended to help people approach pain and suffering differently after a significant loss. But something he said helped me apply it to this area of my leadership. Basically, things are going to go wrong. Change is constant, people fall short, goals are missed. Transition your thinking from “why did this happen” to “what’s next”.
“What next” forces you into a forward-thinking mindset, and it’s more difficult to be negative if you’re thinking about how to get better moving forward. I believe this is where great leaders separate themselves from the pack. Because as we mentioned above, negativity is easy and most people will camp out here by dwelling in the past. Don’t be like most people. Move forward, stay positive. Your followers will love you for it.
Final thought on positivity: if you tend to be a positive person, those around you who are mostly negative may accuse you of puking rainbows. Don’t let that get in your head. Positive leadership is so many times more effective than dictator-style leadership (dwelling on the negative). Followers of positive leaders are loyal and bought in. Followers of dictators work just hard enough not to get fired, and will leave as soon as something else is available.
That’s my list of four. You’ll find other things your specific team members need from you, but I believe this list above is a great start no matter who you lead.