Trusting your team: Leadership series
When you lead others, you will find that they will rise and fall to the expectations you set for them. If you trust your team and act to be worthy of their trust, they will strive to be worthy of your trust.
One of the most difficult habits to keep under control when leading others is the tendency to micromanage. As someone who has a great deal of responsibility within the company as well as being emotionally invested, it is tempting to try and do it all yourself. However micromanaging, even for the most tireless of managers, is the kiss of death in being an effective leader. The dangers of micromanaging are manifold. Your employees will come to resent always having you looking over their shoulder, which can undermine whatever other positive qualities you have going for you as a manager.
Another tragic consequence of micromanaging is that you stunt your employees’ growth. In order for each employee to become the best they can be, you have to encourage them to find their own way. Sometimes they may not do something in the same way that you would, and your standing aside may result in their failure. Keep in mind however that failure is often a prelude to success. Allowing an employee to make a mistake is akin to allowing that employee to grow and become better. Here are some suggestions to help you avoid the temptation to micromanage:
• Develop a rule where employees cannot come to you with a problem unless they have also thought of two solutions to that problem.
• While having an open-door policy is helpful in building a rapport with your employees, and it is useful in serving the needs of your employees, you must consider how useful you are being to those employees if you stand in the way of their growth. Consider limiting your employees’ access to you in some ways. One possibility is to allow a certain time of day for open access, while other times of day are reserved for appointment only.
• A third suggestion is to resist the urge to jump in at any sign of difficulty. Instead, count slowly to 10 and consider whether this is one of those times where your help is truly necessary versus one of those times where in helping your employees you are actually hurting them.
Delegation and Anxiety
What frequently stops us from delegating responsibilities to our employees is a fear that they may fail us. However, this distrust of our employees can be more damaging than failure itself. Living in fear keeps our lives in holding patterns and we never grow or allow others to grow. There is no reason to be afraid of failure because it is inevitable. If, however, we are able to view failure as a learning opportunity, then we can become comfortable with the idea and learn to take risks. Here are some suggestions to help you manage your trepidation about delegation:
• Write down your concerns rather than voicing them or allowing them to swirl in your head. This can help to ventilate anxieties.
• Manage your stress levels through exercise. When you do this regularly, you will tend to feel better physically, which gives emotions such as anxiety less room to take hold.
• Meditate regularly to practice staying in the present. Worry is a future-oriented activity, but one over which you have little control.
• Appreciate and celebrate healthy progress over perfection. Our notion of a perfect situation, a perfectly performed task, or any other number of perfect things that we can imagine is actually a linguistic construction. Actual perfection is something that is completely beyond our control.
• Learn to recognize and counteract magnification, a distorted thinking pattern where you imagine the worst possibility as the most likely possibility. Often, when you feel in the grips of an arousal emotion such as anxiety, you tend to think in shorthand and images rather than in complete sentences. Identifying this shorthand, converting it into complete sentences and investigating the logic of that can help lessen your feeling of anxiety. For example, when you delegate an important task to an employee, your anxiety over the situation might prompt shorthand thoughts such as “failure, disaster, and poorhouse.” Translating this into a complete sentence might look like “If my employee fails, I will be blamed for the worst possible disaster that can occur at this company; then, I will be fired and go to the poorhouse.” Now that you have translated the shorthand into a complete sentence, ask yourself if you would truly be fired over this. Often, you wouldn’t have the level of responsibility you have if your bosses were going to be so quick to fire you.
One more aspect of delegation can help limit your anxiety. You must delegate in a proper manner. Delegating tasks blindly or randomly can turn disastrous if the person you have delegated a task to is not suited to that task. Fortunately, one reward of getting to know your employees is that you can gain an idea of what each employee excels at. By tailoring the tasks you delegate to your employees’ strengths, you put them in a better position to succeed, and their success is ultimately your success, even if you will inevitably give them all the credit. By putting your aces in their places, you also foster a sense of belonging and importance to each member of your team. If an employee knows that he or she is in that role because you handpicked them for it, this will pay huge dividends in that person’s own confidence, which helps to maximize her or his performance.
In order to get the most out of your employees, it is helpful to foster a culture of mutual celebration of success, and no success is too small to escape such celebration. Take time out to recognize a job well done and you will encourage additional successes. Cultivating certain emotions in your employees such as enthusiasm, optimism, confidence, and tenacity will help them to perform better and enjoy further successes.
Avoiding micromanagement, delegating tasks properly, and celebrating successes are all ways to increase your high regard and trust for your team, but trust is a two-way street. An effective leader is one whom the followers will trust implicitly. Trust, like respect, does not come automatically. Some people may be naturally inclined to trust people, but the degree of trust you need to lead effectively must be earned.
The most important way to earn trust is to consistently be honest. This can even be helpful when admitting you are wrong or that you don’t know the answer. Employees will respect someone who can admit vulnerability more than someone who tries to hide behind a veneer of perfection.
Lying to your employees, buttering them up with fake sentiment, or taking credit for their successes are quick ways to make them distrust you. Once employees distrust you, your ability to lead them effectively becomes nearly impossible. However, honesty should never be used as a weapon. You may occasionally have to tell an employee “how it is,” but this is exactly where considerations of tone and intent become vitally important.
In addition to being honest, an effective leader will earn trust by being reliable in everything she or he does. Conversely, if you prove unreliable, employees will not trust you. This makes it vital to follow through on everything you say. If you indicate that there is a boundary that employees should not cross, you must address it when that boundary is crossed, even if it is with a mild response such as “don’t do that again.” If you say you will give an employee certain requested time off, then you must accomplish this. If you tell an employee you will follow up, then it is vital to follow up. Being reliable also means being consistent. Ignoring one employee’s misdeeds or successes is as bad as ignoring every employee’s successes or misdeeds; in some ways, it is even worse because it can communicate a sense of favoritism. The level of pressure and the amount of work you have before you may make it impossible to meet every one of your commitments.
Making yourself available to your employees is another vital aspect of building trust. This can be tricky, however, and you have to use good judgment in determining how available you need to make yourself in order to avoid micromanaging. Nevertheless, you should always allow some time where employees can approach you. If an employee feels you are unapproachable or feels intimidated by you, it can create a situation where you are the last to know about something important going on. While you want to encourage employees to not over-rely upon you, you also want employees to feel they can come to you when they need to. Striking the correct balance can take time and can vary from employee to employee. Some employees may develop better confidence in themselves by being left to their own devices. Others, particularly new employees, might need your presence a bit more, but it’s best to think of yourself in this situation as being like training wheels on a bicycle. At some point the training wheels need to come off. Even then, however, your employees will trust you more knowing that you will figuratively catch them if they fall by being supportive and constructive.
It may seem as if openness is the same thing as honesty, but there is a bit more to it. Being open is a two-fold characteristic. On the one hand, you want to be up front about your vision for your team, your plan for their success, and even, when appropriate, what changes may be in store. Sometimes you may be in a position of knowing something that’s going to happen, and the circumstances won’t allow you to inform your employees. However, if employees sense that something is about to happen, this can produce anxiety. Since changes in work can affect a person’s livelihood, this anxiety cannot be overlooked or dismissed. Try to engage in empathy about the effect of keeping information from your employees. This can get tricky when trying to strike a balance between the needs of your employees and your bosses, but if you are operating from your own personal mission statement and using your own core values, then making tough decisions can actually be emotionally rewarding in that you get an opportunity to make a decision that you can be proud of.
The other aspect of openness is being open to employees’ feedback and criticism. They may not always be correct in their criticism or concerns, but respecting your employees means giving them a fair hearing. When someone comes to you with a problem with what you are doing or how you are doing things, listen carefully. If you feel yourself getting angry or defensive, it’s possible that the employee has struck a nerve. You may not be in a place where you can immediately acknowledge the employee’s criticism. If that’s the case, schedule a follow-up that will allow you time to assess your employee’s concern and what you can do about it. Recent studies have found that people appreciate vulnerability in others far more than an appearance of perfection or invincibility, so don’t be afraid to admit when you are wrong or mistaken. This can actually make you a more respected and effective leader than if you demand respect by never apologizing or acknowledging your mistakes.
*Prof. Akindotun Merino is a Professor of Psychology and a Mental Health Commissioner in California.
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