Think about the worst boss you ever had. Remember what it felt like to go to work every day, knowing you had to report to someone who didn’t value your contributions and didn’t respect you as a person.
Now, think about the best boss you ever had. The person who was tough but fair, and who made you feel like your work mattered.
Reflect back on your performance under both of those people. Where did you shine and where did you struggle? Chances are astronomically high that you did a better job under the supervision of the person who believed in you, encouraged you, and managed to your strengths.
Most of us falter and underperform when we’re constantly being scrutinized by pushy people – be they micro-managers, passive aggressive malcontents, or flat-out bullies.
It’s something we understand intuitively: effective managers bring out the best in us. They understand that we have great work ethic, and that, if we’re in the right job, with the right resources, we will accomplish great things. They support us, challenge us, and help us get back on track when we fail.
If you’re new to your management role and haven’t quite gotten the swing of it yet, you’re in luck! The world of work has never been more focused on leadership development, and paradigms are shifting. The best part is, there isn’t one right way to do it. You get to define the leadership style that works best for you.
Don’t Manage. Lead.
Did you notice that we’re now talking about leadership instead of management? That’s not an accident. If you want to be effective, let go of the belief that you have the power to manage other people’s behavior. You don’t. What you do have is the power to coach, inspire, support, and lead.
Yes, there will be times when you have to be directive, but they should be few and far between. Rather than giving orders, focus on the innate strengths and talents of the people on your team, and do everything in your power to develop them.
Embrace the theory (Theory Y, to be exact) that people are self-motivated, ambitious, and possess self-control and treat them accordingly. The vast majority will rise to the occasion. The ones who don’t are either likely in the wrong role or have things going on in their lives outside work that are keeping them from giving 100%.
Solicit Input From Your Team
If you believe that the people who work for you want to do well and have an internal drive to succeed, go solicit their input on issues big and small: projects, departmental policies, or who’s organizing the next pot-luck. Even if you already know where you want to go with a project, asking for participation in the process increases buy-in, and that’s what you ultimately want.
You could have the best idea in the world, but your team isn’t going to implement it well if you’re constantly forcing your agenda on them. None of us like having decisions foisted upon us; our natural reaction is to push back and exert whatever autonomy we have. When you involve your team, they get to have their voices heard and you have an opportunity to address their concerns. And who knows – they might make your good ideas even better.
To take it one step further, you can ask each person on your team how they prefer to be managed, and what you can do to be more helpful to them. (This requires that your people have enough self-awareness to know what they truly need, and that you have thick enough skin to take it.) By having these candid conversations with your direct reports – and then following through on your commitments – you lay the foundation for relationships based on mutual respect.
Explore Your Style
There are dozens of leadership styles that have been documented and researched. Now is a great time to start exploring. You may find that you prefer Situational to Servant or Transformational to Charismatic, and that’s totally fine! The consensus among management gurus is that no single style is best 100% of the time. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a “born leader.” This is absolutely something you can develop over time and with practice.
Evaluate the material out there and decide what feels best for you. Try new techniques. Be strategic about the styles you use. Stretch and grow. Trust your gut. You’ll be able to tell when you’re leading effectively. And your employees will thank you for it.