Most leaders I work with become leaders because they are awesome at their craft. You’re a great software engineer? Perfect! You should lead the software engineers! Amazing sales person? Here’s the sales team you’re now in charge of!
But leadership requires different- and often NEW- skills that don’t often come with the job experiences you used to become a great engineer or a great sales person. This often leaves leaders and their team struggling with how to work together. The default style of leadership here is usually a form of “Do it just like me.” This often leads to a disengaged team that lacks ownership, accountability and is just plain bummed. Ready to try something different?
Have the right expectations.
If everyone on your team was as brilliant as you, they would be probably leading the team instead. Things that may seem common sense or “easy” to you may be new or challenging to your team. Expecting that everyone “gets it” right off the bat sends a message that you won’t tolerate anything less than you- and that’s just not fair. And it’s not very motivating, either. Be sure to hold your team to a high standard of results, but don’t expect them to do everything the way you’d do it.
Observe. Ask. Listen.
Use active listening skills and empathy to truly understand your team. Observe and ask questions (not "quiz-tions"!). This requires having the right mindset. Pretend you’re not there to solve every problem (spoiler alert- you AREN’T!) but to help the team uncover the problem and roadblocks preventing them from solving it themselves. Use curious phrases like “Help me understand…” or “Can you tell me more about…” Only share your ideas and give specific direction when absolutely necessary.
OK, so your team won’t always be able to solve the problems that come their way. And that’s OK. This is what your job is all about- growing your team so they can be effective and independent problem solvers just like you. But wouldn’t it be easier to just tell them what to do? Yes, it would be easier. And faster, too. But not effective. And what if you’re wrong? Whose fault is that? Your team needs to solve their own problems so they’ll feel empowered to adjust when they need to. If the solution is yours, your team doesn’t own the solution so they'll be less ;likely to try to fix it if it doesn't work. And really, who wants to tell the boss “Your idea stinks”? Your team needs to have the space to try out solutions of their own- even if it doesn’t work out the first time. So instead of offering solutions, help the team see their blind spots by (you guessed it!) asking questions. Help them understand what they might be missing. Model the new skill or behavior you want to see. Give advice but not direction. Offer opportunities to practice and then give feedback. This is how you’ll grow your team into their best selves.
If the best and only way to do things is always your way, you’ll find yourself with all the struggles, all the glory, and all alone. If you grow your team into a team of active problem solvers, you’ll more often than not get an engaged, excited, and accountable team that’s ready to take on the next challenge. Just like you.