My organization promotes ‘Careers Without Borders’. Which means, if you are willing, every 2-3 years, you will get a chance to move to a new role. In my 8 years with the company, I am now in my 5th role, and as a side effect of that, I am working with my 10th manager! With each new manager, I had an opportunity to experience different leadership styles, and learn about some of the do’s and don’ts of how to best lead your team.
In part 1 of this series, I want to share 7 positive lessons I have learned from my past managers. These have helped me define my own leadership style, and I hope you can learn from them as well.
7 Positive Leadership Lessons My Managers Taught Me
1. Allow Your Team To Make Mistakes
When I was an intern, my manager let me order $10,000 worth of parts needed to design a test assembly. Atleast two of the high dollar value items were not fit for purpose. I fearfully told my manager of the error, fully expecting him to be annoyed with me. Instead, he was very understanding and let me reorder parts, even though it delayed the project timeline. This left a lasting impression on me, and frankly what attracted me to join the company.
Allow your team to make mistakes and support them when they require your input. You will find that your team will learn faster and they will think of more out of the box solutions.
2. Give Direction But Not Directives
I have had the fortune of having two great managers who believed in giving directions instead of directives. They would define the overarching objectives and then let me run with it. It taught me how to define a strategy for meeting my goals, connect with the right people, and communicate with my stakeholders if things were not progressing as per plan.
Ensure that the objectives you define are SMART – specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timed, let your team define their own plan, and be available if they need support.
3. Differentiate Between Urgent and Important Stuff
We all are busy. We all have urgent work that we need to take care of. But does everything we do benefit the long term growth of our company, or align with our personal or professional objectives? One of my managers always urged us to differentiate between the urgent and important tasks on our plate.
Tackle the urgent fire-fighting, but keep sight of the important tasks that must be done, the strategic projects that must be completed and the meaningful relationships that must be made to benefit the progress of your organization and your own career.
4. Challenge Your Team
I am a mechanical engineer by trade. After five years practicing in my field of expertise, I decided to take up a role in Supply Chain. I had spent less than six months in my new role, when my manager volunteered me to be a part of a ‘special project’, wherein I was tasked to establish the most optimum supply chain model for our division. As a result, I got an opportunity to work with the highest management of the company on an extremely challenging project. Not only did I learn about the intricacies of the business, I got tremendous positive feedback on my work that boosted my motivation to new levels.
Most people want to learn and do good work. Always believe in your team and push them to stretch beyond their comfort zone. Not only will you find their productivity level improves, but they will have renewed motivation and loyalty.
5. Ask The Right (and Hard) Questions
My last boss led a department of 25 people and managed a very diverse portfolio of projects. Given his workload, he did not necessarily know each and every technical detail. But he always asked the right questions, sometimes even playing the devil’s advocate and poking holes in our analysis, if we could not defend our argument well. We needed to ensure that we have thoroughly reviewed our work and are well prepared before we meet with him. This felt frustrating at times, but in the long run, it made us better engineers.
Our job as leaders is really to ask the right questions, so that our team is encouraged to be thorough in their thought process, and is challenged to always do their best.
6. Ask For Feedback
At work, we are advised to do formal performance reviews every quarter (though I encourage you to not wait till the quarter end to exchange feedback with your employees). For one of my managers, it was his first leadership role. He was extremely diligent about conducting the reviews, providing both positive and constructive feedback, and then spending atleast 25% of the time asking for feedback on himself. And when he would receive not-so-positive feedback, he would not defend himself, and would simply say thank you. When I saw him take steps to implement the feedback I had given, I felt immensely appreciated that my opinion mattered.
Create an open and honest environment in your team, where everyone is encouraged to give feedback, both upwards and downwards. This will help your team grow, as well as help you identify and improve your development areas.
7. Lead by Example
It was my very first job as a young field engineer in Malaysia. We were preparing large tool baskets to send offshore for the next job. In the sweltering heat, my lead engineer was jumping in and out of 6 feet high baskets to check paperwork and ensure that the inventory was complete. Later on the job, she stayed up all night after already having spent the day shift working, pulling dirty cable and carrying heavy metal tools on the rig site. She could have sent a junior engineer to take care of the grunt work, but she took ownership of the job and that really set an example for the rest of her team.
Get your hands dirty, walk the talk, and lead by example. It reflects your passion for the job and is pretty contagious!
In my next post, I talk about 7 lessons that I learned from my managers on what great leaders must never do.
What are some of the positive lessons you have learnt from your past managers? Please share with our readers in the Comments section below. Please share with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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