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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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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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