When you think about the best leader you’ve ever worked for, what do you remember? Hopefully that they were a kind and respectful person. But is that all? Chances are that they also had faith in you, pushing you out of your comfort zone to grow and achieve what you did not think possible while supporting you in that pursuit, provided you with honest and constructive feedback about your performance so that you could learn and develop, and provided strong leadership to the team in terms of priorities and actions.
Great leaders empathise with our challenges, but also make the tough decisions and set expectations to encourage us to respond to those challenges, not ignore or excuse them, and thus enable us to achieve great things. As such, this is where we can gain a sense of great personal satisfaction.
What is interesting to note is that establishing expectations and enabling performance effectively is something many leaders appear to struggle with. Too often we see leaders who prefer to ‘play nice’ and not ‘rock the boat’ when making decisions, perhaps because they don’t want to hurt other’s feelings, for fear of being perceived as a bully, or simply because they are not aware of their leadership style.
Unfortunately what we tend to see is that in the long run, these strategies backfire and a sense of discontent can develop within teams. Poor attitudes, and unproductive or dysfunction behaviour that go unnoticed, or are even inadvertently encouraged through avoidance impact the wider team and unhelpful norms and practices become embedded. Instead of everyone feeling happy, we see disengaged and dissatisfied individuals and higher levels of absenteeism and turnover.
Fortunately, there are small things that leaders can do to drive enhanced team performance whilst creating a positive experience for team members.
- Check in with your team – regularly take time to understand how team members are travelling. Acknowledge and celebrate wins, but also recognise where challenges lay and coach people to identify and implement strategies for responding effectively to them. Empower team members to see challenges as an opportunity for growth and improvement.
- Be visible in your leadership – walk the floor or pick up the phone to understand first hand your team members’ day-to-day experiences to understand where support and guidance is most needed and make informed decisions that encourage results and can be realistically implemented.
- Have regular performance conversations– meet regularly with your team members to understand what inspires and drives them and look for ways to harness this passion. Understand where areas for development lie and support individuals to grow in these areas. Be sure to ‘play the ball, not the person’ and focus on behaviours that require attention, as opposed the characteristics of the person in order to have a meaningful conversation about improvement.
- Make best-for-team decisions – Consider actions which have the greater good of the team at their heart as opposed to protecting individual feelings and enabling unhelpful behaviour. Think about the needs of the whole team at any given time and make decisions that will positively influence the culture and work practices you hope to embed and that team members will strive to be a part of.
Without a doubt, looking out for our people is a key concern for most leaders and is a quality that should not be lost. Driving team performance, however, does not necessarily have to mean the neglect of individual experience and emotions. Rather than simply focusing on eliminating negative emotions, leaders are challenged to consider the positive experience that can be created for employees through growth, development and the achievement of goals.