Manager 101: Three-things you just need to remember in leading people.
Updated: Dec 11, 2021
I often being asked by newly appointed Manager: "What should I do differently, as I am now leading people not only myself?".
My answer is this: "You need to do three things, and three things only".
I know it sounds oversimple, but here it is what I think, and let me know yours.
The way I make it even easier to remember is by making it into a simple 3C abbreviation: clarity, commitment, and cross-functional alignment.
First "C" stands for Clarity.
This is the reason why you are getting promoted in the first place. Most of the time, someone is trusted to lead a team of people, because you are expected to solve a bigger problem, or conquer bigger opportunities, or create a bigger impact in the organization you are working for. This is why you are getting more responsibility, getting promoted, and higher pay. You have been a great individual performer, and have shown that you can solve things in your scale better than the rest of your peers, and hence, you are ready to do what you do best for a larger scale. When you work alone, you find your own clarity - as you simply instruct yourself, no one else. When you lead a team, this is your struggle: how can I deliver the results I want to see, but do it through others. You can't clone yourself, and if you think you will then burn midnight oils to do your team's job yourself because you simply want to do it "my way, the easier way" -- then you are heading to a burnout that many leaders mistakenly did.
Now, clarity of direction is not easy indeed. Because you will need to ensure your team got it before they do what you wanted them to do. Here's the example: I was once given a mission to build an employer brand in Cambodia for a newly created company. I have a team of one, and I was not clear enough in giving direction as my mandate to her was: "Try to find the best university in the country, build a relationship with the Dean, and let's do something with them and their best students". The result was: I was once giving Campus Talk to Buddhist monastery students as they are indeed studying in one the best universities in Pnom Penh. My brief was not clear enough, and don't expect your team asks questions if you don't even ask them whether it is clear enough. So, clarity is about full understanding. So when I did the same for Myanmar, another 'startup' country for the company, I changed my brief: "Can you explore where are the best students in Yangon, and tell me what is your idea on how we tapped them?". Look at the difference: it's not even a brief, it is a coaching question that invites a conversation. So, clarity is all about the "end-in-mind", and invite your team to own it. Try it out, and give yourself time to master this. I myself, despite having been leading the team for more than a decade, am still often trapped in this.
Next "C" stands for Commitment.
Leading a team to put it simply is leading 1, 3, 5, 10, or whatever individuals have you need to manage directly. If you think that a Manager's job is about giving and monitoring a "to-do list" to these people, then you are going the wrong way. Your role as their Leader (not just Manager), is to build the commitment of those team members to deliver your team's goal. Commitment is combination of trust, inspiration and energy (put it simple: Trust + Inspiration + Energy = Commitment). And this is why, and great Leader, invest significant time to build the three elements along the year.
Trust is the most important one, it engages the hearts of your team member. With that, don't fail them by not doing what you said or promising anything that is still "up in the air". One repeatable mistake I find again-and-again was a Manager promising his/her team member for Promotion if they can deliver this or that, despite the fact that the person is not ready yet, and even worse, the Promotion decision is not even his/her to make. Many appointment decision in an organization is based on leadership team/Board discussion. Build trust as early as possible.
Inspiration and Energy come together. The mature and advanced organization uses Purpose to ignite inspiration and energy. By knowing the "Why?" behind their daily job, your team member can be on a mission to deliver their job and deliver it the extra mile. A tale of how different one acts knowing that he is building "just a wall" vs "this wall is part of his beloved king's palace" stays true. Find the Purpose of your organization, communicate and communicate it again to your team members to inspire them that what they do matters. Secondly, inspiration comes from the fact that "what they do will make them better" -- this is the power of Development. Mature organizations use the Center of Creative Leadership's concepts of the 70-20-10 learning model (70% of your learning are through on-the-job assignments, 20% through relationship/mentoring/coaching, 10% through classroom). inspiration comes when you help them design a role where their daily job is actually part of the 70-20-10 development he/she is doing to either build depth of expertise or expand the breadth of experience required for his/her career progression. It already creates energy, when you know that what you do today, will contribute to building your better self tomorrow. And as part of building energy, spend time to have 1-on-1 with your team, and spend time with the whole team (best, once per quarter) to give recognition to the great performer, or simply reflect on last quarter's performance, and celebrate any milestone of your team's goal. The key is: build sparks throughout the year. Remember, your team will continuously ask this question: "Why should I be led by you?". So if you don't invest your time to inspire and energize them, you might lose their commitment slowly, but surely.
And don't forget to post those great pics on your Instagram showing that you are proud of them. In the digital world, nothing beats the power of social media to build a team's energy.
The Last "C" (the most challenging one) stands for Cross-functional alignment.
When you lead a team that independently also interacts with their clients/stakeholders, having 'One Voice' as a team matters. You don't want to be in a situation where your team says "A", and when your stakeholder escalates it up to you, you says "B". Hence, do take time to understand issues you are facing: the more complex it is, the more time you and your time need to spend to discuss how to approach it, including getting your client/stakeholders alignment before making decisions. Here is an example: we have a Graduate program (Unilever Future Leaders Program) where the Trainee is rotated to several posts to get accelerated exposure to the business to make them ready for promotion. There was a time where business was in a difficult situation due to a headcount freeze, and hence, there is an appetite to allocate these Graduates into a revenue-generation job for a certain period of time, despite it is not relevant with principles of their rotation. As the leader for my team, I was late in aligning my stakeholder to stick with the principle so it was late to change the decision, so my team has problems as they were firm in principles, while I agreed to the prioritize business-ask knowing how discretionary the situation is. It took us weeks to clarify things and finally go with the business ask. The role of aligning things is the role of a Manager. I learned my lesson hard. Now, this is where reality bites: it's not easy to do this. Having an honest conversation with your clients/stakeholder on what "can" and "can not be done" require courage and the ability to influence back without having to create unproductive conflicts. But once the decision is made, it is your job also as Manager to align your team to follow the direction: again, this requires courage and honest conversation with them on why the decision has been made the other way around vs what you wish for. Yes, you are in the "middle" between your team and your clients/stakeholder -- and this is what, being courageous to have an honest conversation with everyone is a skill you need to foster as a Leader.
So, there it is three things, three-Cs. Clarity, Commitment, and Cross-functional alignment.
Remember this three, and you'll be fine.