“Earn your leadership every day.” Michael Jordan
Whether your team is working remotely or back at the office, the members of your team are talking to each other about you and your leadership. Want to know what they’re talking about? They’re talking about these five elements that define your leadership style.
5. Are you hand-on or hands-off in your team’s execution of its work? A question every leader has to struggle with is “How engaged — hands-on or hands-off — should I be in my team’s execution of its work?” When, where, and how much do you engage?
Sometimes you’ll choose to be detail-oriented. Perhaps because of the importance of an issue, pressing time constraints, or because a project is floundering.
Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner apparently insisted that no change be made to Mickey Mouse’s costume without his approval. It made sense for him to be involved in the costume details, as Mickey is the iconic brand of the company. This is perhaps the ultimate example of a top-level leader getting “down in the weeds” with the details.
Other times you’ll choose to be more hands-off by providing direction, then stepping out of the way and letting your team execute. Perhaps because you think team members will master the subject matter better if they attempt it on their own. Or because, after having been in the details you sense it is now time to step away. Or simply because you believe your time is best spent elsewhere. Perhaps you recognize that your team members have a better grasp on something (technology, for example) than you do, and so you must push your ego aside and let your team members take the lead.
What is your rebuttable presumption? Where are you on the continuum? We suggest the most effective leaders tend toward the hands-on, detailed end of the continuum on matters they deem critical to team success. Especially until you know the respective capabilities of team members. By being more engaged, they gain deeper subject-matter knowledge, become closer with your team, and get better results. People want reasonable autonomy, and we need to be mindful, not micro-manage, but it’s not unreasonable from your perspective as the leader to make them earn it.
4. Do you include your team in the decision-making process? The issue here is the extent to which you involve your team in making decisions. Do you hold group discussions, and include team members in your decision-making process? Or do you tend to make decisions yourself, perhaps after seeking input from a few people?
Non-collaborative approach. You make the decision, mostly alone, or with limited input from your team. In theory, it may lead to better decisions because the one best equipped to make the decision makes it. Presumably, the leader was chosen due to experience and perceived good judgment. This style is quicker and, optimal or not, a decision keeps the business moving. It’s also efficient, as it permits team members to stay focused on their tasks. It ensures accountability since it’s clear who decided.
Collaborative approach. You direct a collaborative process where you and your team members discuss issues, debate differing views and, ideally, reach a consensus. In theory, it may lead to better decisions because a collaborative style encourages more and varied input, perhaps by those closer to the decision. It also may lead to better execution because team members, having played a role in the process, buy into the decision they must execute. Including them ensures they know the “why” behind the decision. And participating allows them to learn how a collaborative decision-making process works, and to learn how you think.
What is your rebuttable presumption? Where are you on the continuum? Of course, there’s a time and place for each decision-making style. Here’s advocating that you include your team in the decision-making process as much as possible. Absent compelling reasons — such as confidentiality concerns, lack of time, or a directive from above that you alone make a certain decision — ask your team for input. Listen and see what they recommend, and why.
3. Do you hold people accountable, or are you more understanding? The issue here is how will you deal with poor performance and performers? Few of us likely feel we were put on this earth to hold other people accountable, and we wouldn’t want this on our tombstone. But doing so is part of our job. Conversely, sometimes understanding and a longer-term view are called for. Outcomes are not always within our or anyone else’s control, and despite great effort not every goal will be achieved.
What is your rebuttable presumption? Where are you on the continuum? Of course, your objective is to find the right balance between accountability and understanding. Your preferred approach will be noted by your team. Here’s suggesting that accountability should be your presumptive approach. If team members aren’t held accountable, goals won’t be achieved and unwelcome changes will be made, perhaps starting with you. And you’ll lose the respect of your team, especially that of high achievers who are demotivated when everyone on the team is treated alike.
2. Are you actively growing your people? The issue here is whether you are intentionally focused – and are executing – on developing your direct reports or the people you must influence.
Both you and your team or those you work with have a shared interest in developing their skills. From your perspective, your people will be the primary determinant of your success as a leader. From your team’s perspective, they expect you to teach them something of value. It’s your team, and you are accountable for the results, so take ownership of developing people’s skills by teaching, demonstrating, delegating with follow-up, and giving good feedback, both in the moment and as part of the annual review if your firm does them.
What is your rebuttable presumption? Where are you on the continuum? We would advocate delegating more if you can. Free yourself by handing off work that others — with training — can do as well as or better than you.
1. Do you defend, shield, and champion your people? The issue is the extent to which you actively and intentionally support your team and help them advance in the company.
Defend your team from critical remarks. When someone criticizes a member of your team with inaccurate or unfair remarks, whether or not the team member is present, set the record straight. Your silence in the face of criticism implies agreement with that criticism. Speak up to correct misstatements of fact, put matters in context, or tell “the rest of the story.” Advancement by members of your team is unlikely if those above you have a negative impression of them.
Champion your team. Do more than defend and shield. Champion them to those above and help them advance. When you move to increase a team member’s compensation or recommend her for promotion, those deciding must know the person and appreciate their contribution. To prepare for that day, make sure your team members get the credit they deserve. Look for appropriate opportunities to “talk ’em up.” Speak well of them in conversations when they’re not present. Isn’t that what you want – and expect – your supervisor to do for you?
Many leaders never ponder these questions. But you do! Pay attention to your actions in these key areas – we can promise you your team is. They are noticing, talking about it, and governing their behavior accordingly.