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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 March 25, 2020

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes effectively.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    1. Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    2. Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    3. Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    4. Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    5. Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    6. Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    7. Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    8. Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More Note-Taking Tips

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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