In a recent conversation I was told, “Leadership is about managing time and getting things done.” I couldn’t disagree more.

In my role at the Free Articulator, I manage and lead writers and editors every day. It has been said in the past that trying to manage artists (and all of our writers are) is a very difficult task. I can’t honestly disagree with that. The following is a recount of the experience I’ve gained thus far in building teams that do the work.

My response to the aforementioned person was this: leadership is about giving your people the tools to succeed.

Developing Relationships: The Right Foundation

I have met, and worked for, people who believed that a certain level of separation between themselves and their employees will make a better work environment. Apparently, it gives the impression that they really are the “boss,” another cut above the rest.

Do you want to be a boss or a leader?

Bosses give instructions and people follow them out to avoid a short meeting with the human relations director. If the financial need to hold onto the job disappears or another offer comes up, employees quit. The perfect example is the Pointy-Haired Boss from Dilbert. If you’re like that boss, your employees hate you and make witty cynical jokes about you all day.

Managers and leaders who forge relationships with employees are in a much better position. Many employees are likely to stick around even if a job with better pay comes up – within a reasonable margin, anyway. Better yet, where the employees of a Pointy-Haired Boss do the absolute minimum as ordered, those employees you have relationships with are likely to go a step further and provide you with the best outcome they can.

Rule #1 of Relationships: Be Genuine

The people who work for or with you (with you is always better) are not stupid. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but it goes without saying: develop genuine relationships. If you were to apply this advice and forge human relationships with your staff, but couldn’t manage to be real about it, then they’ll see right through it as a false attempt to care. Frankly, if you can’t care about your staff in a real way, you’re not management or leadership material. Unless you are part of the cast of Dilbert.

If you’re in charge of hiring the people you work with, you’ve got a great advantage here!

Personal Relationships Set The Tone

I work with people who can tell me about both their successes and failures in business and personal life. They don’t do it to shirk their duties, they always get the job done, barring factors that simply make it impossible. Personal relationships do set the tone for their time working with you.

The Greatest Management Oxymoron: Leaders Serve

Here’s another Pointy-Haired Boss trait: the power trip. Never get on the power trip. Never think that your position makes you more important. Your position and role is to serve everyone else. You provide direction and you provide assistance in getting the job done.

You can’t do your employee’s jobs for them, but as the go-to person you can make sure that the daily operations are actually contributing to big picture goals. If you’re a Pointy-Haired Boss, you’re not the go-to person. You’re kept out of the loop, employees deceive you rather than discuss with you, and a lack of company cohesion means more problems and more time involved in attaining those big picture goals.

So, you serve your staff. You’re there to help them get their job done, not to just tell them to do it.

The term “big picture” is important, too. If your team cannot see the end result, the reasons why, the motivations, emotions and outcomes poured into and desired from a project, then their small-time thinking will be a demotivator. Show them the road ahead, and they’ll travel there.

The Trademark of Great Leaders: Functional Teams

Teams are selected from a pool of people with different skills, viewpoints, attitudes and desires. Good teams are not chosen before the project is, because it takes a certain person, and a certain set of people, to attain different goals.

But selecting the right set of people is the easy part. Making them work together is hard.

Don’t Confuse Roles

There are times when you don’t see your team working well together and you look for ways to solve this and resolve on the easiest thing you can find: artificial situations. Asking your e-commerce programmer to look over a design with the graphic artist is an artificial situation. You can’t get relationships and communication lines to grow this way, since both individuals will be peeved with the interruption that’s not beneficial to either of them.

If good relationships don’t grow naturally, the least you can do is look for natural situations to promote them; get the copywriter to go through their content with the graphic artist, and discuss how the visual feel of the page should reflect the copy.

Make Communication Work

First, communication fails when people aren’t people, but roles and numbers. People have names, not designations. Bear this in mind when handing out email addresses.

Second, don’t CC or memo everyone on everything. Again, the e-commerce programmer doesn’t need to or want to know about the low quality of the JPEGs in a web layout. You might think sending these memos to everyone makes them feel like their part of something, but what it does is clog up information lines.

“But it’s better than nothing!”

No, it’s worse than nothing. When you clog up information lines, the information that matters – the information that does aid in building good communication and relationships – will probably go unnoticed.

Building a Comfortable Atmosphere

Still on the relationships topic, just because you try to forge them with your team doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe doing the same with each other. Eliminate the stuffy suit-and-tie atmosphere. I don’t mean necessarily change the dress code, but don’t be too formal; use it where necessary, especially when communicating with external publics, but promote a relaxed, fun yet productive environment internally.

It is safe, free-flowing communication that produces results, not forced communication. Remember that if someone has a reason not to communicate, they probably won’t. Find the barriers and shove them off a cliff when nobody’s looking.

I’ve only been doing this for a few years, but that’s my experience of building effective, cohesive and long-term teams. If you have a high turnover or low employee efficiency problem, give these tips a try. Through trial and error, they worked for me.

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