I was promoted to the management level very early in my career. I was all of 20-something, when I was promoted to manager, and I thought I was a pretty big deal. I had the title, responsibility and the authority. I quickly learned that I wasn’t as big a deal as I first thought.
Operational processes were my sweet spot. I was able to leverage my strengths into positive sales, controlled expenses and a profitable department. I was even able to build a loyal team, though when I look back on the type of manager I was then, I don’t know why I succeeded. I was really bad at leading people and giving positive reinforcement.
Leading by fear. I was very good at spotting everything my team members had failed to do during their shifts, and rarely did I do anything more than merely acknowledge it when they achieved or exceeded expectations. Doing their job was expected. I certainly wasn’t going to pat them on the back!
When a management style of “leading by fear” is used, the manager is constantly looking for their people to do something wrong and catch them doing it. Few employees find this environment conducive to helping them do their best.
Best buds. After attending some training workshops, I began to realize I lacked the skills to coach my individual team members to do their very best. I tried complimenting them when they did their duties correctly. I tried being a friend. I tried putting gold stars on their daily sales cards when they hit individual sales per hour performance that exceeded our department average. I could tell they were not impressed, or motivated. Trying to lead by being their best bud was as equally ineffective as leading by fear.
It’s all about them. I finally learned the critical piece I had been missing. In order to effectively lead others, you must get to know them. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Isn’t it great when you meet someone new and they are eager to learn all about you? As a leader, you need to learn about your team. Building genuine relationships helps you understand what’s going on in their lives, what is important to them, and what they care about. Once you learn about your people, you are then able to help them achieve their goals. When you help others get what they want, you in turn get what you want.
The operational processes of the job still matter, of course. The job still must be done, but you as the leader can create an environment where your people enjoy coming to work, feel good about themselves, and proud of what they are contributing to the team.
So be generous with your acknowledgments. Celebrate the wins. Praise in public. Just make sure you pay attention to each of your team members’ unique personalities. Understanding what is important to them, and helping them achieve that, will be the most effective thing you can do to earn their loyalty and excellent performance.