Today’s leaders are continually being asked to achieve more with less. Leadership coach Louis Collins shares some interesting advice that will help you do just that.
People in our workforce are under serious strain. They are constantly being asked to do more with less. Our businesses and government departments are responding to the austerity drives by trimming more and more from their budgets, which inevitably means fewer people are left to do the work. Meanwhile the demands are increasing. With everyone in the economy tightening their belts, company profits are falling, which means that a smaller and smaller workforce is being challenged to work smarter, harder, more innovatively and to ‘keep their chins up and stay engaged’.
In the midst of this, what are our leaders getting up to? Well, from what I can glean, I see leaders who feel a great deal of responsibility for this state of affairs, and who are responding by working themselves harder and more intensely than ever.
The irony is that at this time, perhaps more than ever before, our leaders need to be making themselves much less ‘busy’, and focusing more than they ever have done on nurturing their workforce.
So, what can we be asking our leaders to think about right now that will help them do just that?
- Don’t fill your diary up running from meeting to meeting so that you have no time left for your people.
- Build in time to your day to ensure you are connecting with your people. Keep your finger on the pulse and the mood of the ‘shop floor’.
- Be there for your people to drop by (and ensure they feel comfortable about doing so). They won’t come back if they detect you checking your watch, or casting glances over their shoulder at the wall clock because you have to be getting on.
- Make your people feel like they are the most special people in the world (they are, aren’t they?)
- Don’t assume people agree just because they nod. That is not agreement. Check understanding. You can spot engagement – people ask questions, their eyes sparkle, they display behaviours that suggest they want to get started on things now! If you don’t get this you may have – at best – compliance.
- Don’t give responsibility and then check up on things ten times a day. Agree upfront what seems a reasonable check-point structure. Let this be a negotiated agreement. The person may want daily or weekly checks – depending on their experience or the complexity of the task. Stick to it, and don’t feel the need to meddle further. Of course, make it clear that they can come to you at other times if they feel they need to, but once they have the ownership, make sure they know they have it.
- If others in the organisation still insist on coming to you to get information or get things done, make it clear that they should consult with the person who now ‘owns’ the task. In other words, do not collude with others in undermining their authority. If you trust them, then so should others. Display that trust openly and do not confuse matters by having two channels of communication.
- Ask more questions than anyone else in the team. Make it clear that you don’t know stuff and that it’s fine not to. Asking good questions, and getting the team to think, is more valuable than leaders coming up with solutions and expecting people to carry out orders. This will encourage more learning and growth.
- Be prepared to get your sleeves rolled up and get in amongst things when required. It’s fine to be a ‘player-coach’ if you have the skills, but make sure it is clear which role you are adopting at any given time. Don’t ‘start the game’ by agreeing that you will sit on the bench, and then, without warning, appear on the field of play. It will upset the team’s balance, and will leave people questioning what is going on. Equally, if you choose to play, then play. You are now part of the team. Don’t try being the manager while executing the moves. You’ll end up doing neither well, and leave others confused and frustrated.
- Don’t take the task back at the end, neatly packaged, and then take the credit yourself. Equally important, provide air-cover if things turn nasty. Remember, you still ‘own’ this, so don’t hang new people who are learning ‘out to dry’. Of course, they need to feel some of the heat – that’s part of the learning – but make sure they know they have your full support.
- Ensure people receive the credit and congratulations for a job well done. Provide the opportunity for them to report back and front it up.
- Ask them who helped. It establishes early on for people that recognition for all help is important. Role model this, so that everyone shares the credit appropriately, and celebrate the shared success.
So, what we can be asking our leaders to think about, is whether they need to ‘get less busy’ with the ‘background noise’, and more focused on developing and nurturing their people. That’s the likeliest route to a more productive, more effective and more engaged workforce, and, as a result, a more sensible and sustainable existence for our leaders.
This post has been reproduced with the kind permission of Louis Collins, Gyro Consulting.
Louis is a Leadership Coach with over 20 years’ experience in leadership roles in both the private and public sectors. His assignments have provided him with exposure to sectors as wide ranging as telecoms, energy, finance, charities and the prison service.
He combines his extensive industry experience with his knowledge of psychology and his ongoing development as a coach to great effect, helping his clients navigate challenges as diverse as managing strategic change, handling effective conversations, and mentally preparing for resettlement following a prison sentence. He enjoys writing and he published a book in 2014 (The Vital Edge) which draws on the leadership parallels between sport and business. In his spare time he enjoys cycling, tennis, swimming and travelling.