Leading teams isn’t an easy feat but, with a little time and a lot of dedication, it’s far from Mission Impossible.
Some years ago, I was at Virgin Australia Airlines’ Sydney lounge waiting for a plane and, at the same time, Richard Branson was in the lounge saying hello to guests and chatting with employees.
I was told by a team member that he takes the time to do it every time he is in town. In contrast, I’ve worked with a CEO who actively avoided eye contact and employee interaction. The message it sent was that he wasn’t interested and couldn’t be bothered making an effort.
Being a leader can be challenging at times, yet many times it can be incredibly easy. Everyone wants to feel they matter and to be acknowledged, and there are steps you can take – every day – to build connection and engagement with your team.
1. Make time for your team
Prioritize spending time with your team members, whether it’s a ‘hello’ in the morning, being interested and finding out what matters to them, or balancing using electronic and face-to-face communication. Not everything is best achieved by email or instant messenger.
Respond to your team members’ emails and phone calls. If time doesn’t permit this, have someone respond on your behalf. When you ignore requests for help or advice, you are setting the standard that it’s OK to ignore your colleagues.
Don’t consistently cancel one-on-one meetings. Naturally, there will be occasions when you may need to change a meeting with a direct report but when you do this regularly, the team member feels undervalued, which can add to their stress levels.
2. Engage in genuine consultation
When running a change program or developing new strategies and products, the importance of getting feedback from impacted team members is well known. But are you engaging in genuine consultation or veneer consultation?
Veneer consultation is a shallow engagement approach, with few opportunities to build understanding and connection. This tick-box approach may satisfy your to-do list, but won’t secure buy-in. Instead, it leaves your team members feeling like they have not been consulted, or had their ideas listened to.
To elevate engagement, it’s critical to consider how you gather feedback and ensure active participation by catering for different styles. Also, look at the mechanisms that support you actively listening.
3. Make progress visible
If you want to keep your team members motivated, particularly when the work is challenging and there are setbacks, focus on keeping progress visible.
To see how important a sense of progress is, you only have to look at the 2010 ‘What Really Motivates Workers’ study by Harvard Business Review.
The researchers, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, asked leaders and employees what they thought motivated employees. There were five options:
- Recognition for good work
- Incentives and rewards
- Sense of progress
- Clear goals and targets
- Interpersonal connections
The managers thought the answer was recognition for good work. But for the employees, it was making progress. The researchers found that, when the team members thought they were making headway in their work or received support that helped them overcome obstacles, their emotions were the most positive and their drive to succeed was at its peak. In contrast, on the days when they encountered roadblocks and setbacks, their motivation was at its lowest.
Ensure your team members have clarity on their roles and the work they are responsible for delivering. Then agree on how you will measure progress.
4. Know your leadership ‘moments of truth’
Leadership ‘moments of truth’ are those actions you take (sometimes with little thought) that determine how colleagues, peers and team members view your leadership style.
They can include, for example:
- What you pay attention to
- What you prioritize
- How you react to issues and when things go wrong
- How you allocate resources and rewards
- How you recruit and promote
These decision points will impact how people assess the effectiveness of your leadership and, over time, a team member’s willingness to work with you and remain a team member.
Look for the red flags in your behavior and challenge yourself to elevate how you lead. Are there times when your behavior is inconsistent? Are you playing favorites with people in your team? Are you living up to commitments? Are your behaviors authentic and values-driven?
What you say and do each day as a leader sets the standard. If you want your team members to be engaged and connected, you must start by first looking at what you need to do.
Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert and the award-winning author of three books. Her latest book is ‘Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one’. www.michellegibbings.com.