Just as leaders assess their teams, teams are also assessing their leaders. This article explores five criteria by which team members judge their leaders.
As a leader, you are used to assessing your team. Rest assured that your team is assessing you every day too. You will be the last person to hear about the water cooler judgements that are being passed about you.
Over the last 15 years, I have been asking teams what they expect from their leaders. Five themes come through consistently. These are the five criteria you are going to be judged on. Rate yourself on each theme. If you do well, your team will love you, or you are fooling yourself in your self-assessment.
The five themes, in order of importance, are:
- Crisis management
Each of these themes is worth a book in their own right. Here is a quick guide to each one:
The good news is that you do not have to be a visionary to have a vision. You do not have to stand on your desk on Monday morning and announce to your team “I have a dream…” Having a vision sounds daunting, but it is not. A vision is no more than a story in three parts:
- This is where we are,
- This is where we are going, and
- This is how we are going to get there.
You may not be able to have a vision, but everyone can tell a simple story. It is the story of how you and the team will make a difference. Show the team how the future will be different, and better. Leaders are peddlers of hope: show that your idea either makes things better, or at minimum averts disaster.
To make your vision motivational, you should add a fourth part to your story: “this is your role in helping us get there, and this is how the vision will help you”. In other words, make the vision personal to each team member. Your team will not get excited about adding shareholder value, unless they know what it means for them.
Your vision is vital further up the management ladder. It is a way of gaining management attention and showing that you are making a difference. Big visions beat small ones. If you have an idea about saving paper clips, go ahead but do not expect people to get excited. The big visions get the most attention, support, and opposition. Opposition is a good sign that you are having a real impact.
Not surprisingly, your team wants to feel motivated. The good news is that 67 per cent of bosses think that they are good at motivation. The bad news is that only 32 per cent of team members think that their boss is any good at motivation. That is a big reality gap for bosses to bridge.
Clearly, bosses can motivate in several ways. Variety and autonomy in work motivates teams. That means you have to dare to delegate as much as you can. Delegation builds autonomy and also shows that you trust your team. It also means you take pressure off yourself and can focus your efforts where you make the most difference.
But we found one factor above all which makes the difference in terms of team motivation, and in terms of how you will be rated as a boss. If your team rates you well on this question, then it will rate you well on more or less everything else: vision, decisiveness, honesty, and perhaps even good looks. Here is the question: “My boss cares about me and my career” (agree/disagree on a five-point scale).
This is so simple and yet so elusive. We are used to focussing our efforts on managing upwards, for the very good reason that our bosses control our destiny. Since bosses do not come with a user manual, we have our work cut out. But this means that it is easy to lose focus on the team or take them for granted.
Invest time in understanding each team member. Be brave and have difficult but constructive conversations with them about their expectations, future, and performance. Caring about your team is not about seeking popularity: it is about building respect. This investment of time will pay huge dividends in terms of motivation and performance.
A good way to demotivate your team is to make decisions slowly and then change your mind frequently. This means your team will spend half its time trying to second guess what you want, and the rest of its time doing rework each time you change your mind.
Your team wants clarity. Give it to them. A good way to make a decision is to delegate it. Transfer ownership and accountability to your team. People rarely argue with their own idea, but are more than happy to trash ideas which come from bosses. Don’t give them that chance. Don’t let your team delegate all their problems up to you.
Where it is your decision, be bold. Asking for more analysis rarely helps. You are the expert in your area, and you should know what to do. Back yourself. Where there is uncertainty, the strategy and values of the firm should guide you. As a final resort, ask yourself who cares most about the outcome of the decision: talk to them, as they will have a view.
Avoiding decisions is a sign of weakness, and your team will not respect you as a result. Make that decision, now.
Leaders are judged not by the good times, but by the hard times. Anyone can look like a good leader when the firm is in easy street. It is the moments of truth which will define you. So be prepared. Your crisis management skills will be given points for substance and style.
In terms of substance, the principles are simple even if the practice is hard:
Drive to action, not analysis. If there is only one small thing you can do, do it: create a sense of momentum and purpose.
Avoid the blame game. You will never escape the black hole of finger-pointing.
Look to the future, not the past. Keep the team focussed on a simple question: what do we need to do next? The questions to avoid are ‘what went wrong and who messed up?’
Step up. Leaders step up, followers step back. Life in the shadows is easy, but you will never shine there. Take responsibility, take control: crises are your opportunity to shine.
If you are relentless with these principles, you will find a way through, even with inevitable missteps along the way.
But after the crisis is over, people will forget the detail of what you did. They will remember that you were the one that stepped up. As a test, think of some past bosses you have worked for. You may be able to remember a few of the things they did, but you will recall vividly what they were like: their style, their clothes, how they spoke, and how they behaved. This is how you will be remembered. Style is at least as important as substance.
The style principles of managing moments of truth never go out of fashion. The most important principle is to remain positive and professional, especially if others are not behaving that way. The positive leader looks to the future and finds solutions; the professional leader stays calm, drives to action, and supports the team.
This is the most divisive factor. If you are rated low by your team on this, then you will be rated low on everything else. If you are rated high, you have a chance of being rated well elsewhere. Of course, we all like to think we are more honest than most. It is statistically impossible but emotionally inevitable that we all think we are above average.
So how can honesty be a problem? The answer came from an investment banker who made the surprising claim that honesty has nothing to do with morality or ethics. Honesty is more important than that: it is about trust. No one, teams or clients, want to work with someone they do not trust.
Trust is a higher bar to jump than honesty. At minimum, it means always delivering on what you say. The problem with this is that what we say and what is heard are often two different things. When we say ‘I will try, I hope, I will see if….’ what is heard is ‘I will’. That leads to disaster when you come back and say ‘I tried…’ but did not deliver.
Trust is like a vase: hard to make, easy to break, and impossible to put back together again perfectly. As a leader this means you have to be 100 per cent clear on what you say and be 100 per cent certain that you have been understood. Communication is as important as delivery for keeping your credibility.
As you look at these five themes, you may think they are easy. But most teams score their bosses poorly on most of these criteria. If you can do these simple things well, you will be well ahead of your peers. You will be a leader that people want to work for.
Copyright © 2017 Singapore Institute of Management