Three things you can do today to be a better leader

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You are a manager, a team lead or in other management position and you want to be a better leader? Here are three things you can do to improve your leadership.

Get out of your office

If by any chance your current position came with a private office get out of it. If only you can get rid of it completely. Instead, become a nomad sitting every day somewhere else in the office amongst your people.

By doing this you will achieve two major things:

  • You will know better how things really are in your group/department/company. You will be able to smell the air and hear the noise. You will see how people go about the business. You will start to know them. And they will start to know you. Your private office – as nice as it is to have one – only separates you from your people, forces you to view them through reports, spreadsheets and formal meetings. This alienates you from them.
  • People will get used to your presence. Of course, it will be some time before they get over their initial surprise. At first this will be a novelty, they may feel observed and maybe even be intimidated. However, as you will keep being somewhere there in the office every day it will become the norm. And people will get used to you being part of the team in a perceptible way.

Of course, you will need some quiet time away from others. But hey – everyone needs it. Just remember your first job is people, not reports, not spreadsheets, not e-mail – people.

If you want to think alone and not be disturbed reserve a meeting room. Or go outside altogether, have a walk, go for a coffee or a drive in your car – whatever helps you reflect & think. And when you will need to have a word with someone in private you can also use meetings room for this – no need to keep a ‘private office’ just for this.

Vow not to call employees “resources” ever again

You surely know the term “Human Resources”. You may even use it. I often meet managers who say things like “I don’t have enough resources” or “I have a resource for this project”. The problem with this term is that it is wrong and damaging.

It is wrong on two levels. First, it is ethically wrong. It verbally reduces a fellow human being to the level of machinery or production materials. He or she is no longer a person, but rather a resource to be acquired, used according to its characteristics and discarded once it is no longer needed or damaged. What kind of relationships are being built by seeing other people like this? Do you like to be treated as a “resource”?

But apart from being morally wrong it is also simply untrue. People are not machines. They can’t be described by a set of numerical parameters, they performance – especially in knowledge work – can’t be measured with objective metrics and most certainly they don’t relate to other people like machines. You can choose a bunch of machines based on their parameters then connect them on a factory floor and you will get a working production line. You can’t do the same with people. People are complex and their groups are even more complex because of the added layer of relationships. To make it even more difficult people change and groups also change. If you are supposed to manage a group of people you are not helping yourself by using the “human resources” paradigm.

I believe this simple term and its widespread use has caused more harm in the world – and certainly in our industry – than most “methodologies” we are now discarding as obsolete. Some may say it is just words. Words, however, shape how we think and our thoughts are a lens through which we see the world. We should be careful not to allow our lenses to be smeared with falsehoods. It is about time to discard this one.

And guess what? You can do it yourself and see how it works from you. Make a conscious decision you won’t use this term for the next 30 days and then check how that influenced your thinking.

Take the “Happy at Work” test

Ever heard of “Happy at Work” twelve question test? Here it is. First, answer in your mind YES or NO as you read the questions below.

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

Then think how would your employees, your team answer those questions. Doing a survey would take time – a mental exercise is something you can do right now. Write down the prevalent answers you expect.

Made popular by the “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” book this test is based on extensive, worldwide research of employee wellbeing made by Gallup. They found that people need to be able to respond “YES” to all of the questions above to be happy at work.

Look again at your own result and what you think your people would say. Then think of ways in which you could improve. Organize a quick survey to know the actual answers (this tool is great for this). Compare the results with the results of your mental exercise. Then try to come up with at least two concrete actions you would take over the next month to improve your team’s results. Rinse & repeat.

If you wonder why should you care if people you manage are happy at work or not (“they should just get a grip and do what they are paid for“) then you are probably reading a wrong blog. You may have a look at this post on your way out.

Still reading this? Good.

The three things above are not quick fixes. Only applying them over time will bring results. Embracing them works because it changes the way in which you perceive your role as a leader. There is a bit more to each of them and I will probably write about them in the future.

For now I ask you to carefully consider them and try at least one starting today. Let me know how it worked for you.

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