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How to Lead People for Results

How to Lead People for Results

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    “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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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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