Just recently some of the managers in our company told me to write about what I’ve learned during my few years as a Team Leader, as well as the lessons I’ve learned from the leadership books I’ve read.
Now, I won’t claim to be an expert with all the management and leadership skills in the world, but I was thinking…
Many of what I’ve learned from my experiences and what I’ve read (books written by great leaders and managers) can and WILL help those who are just starting out.
One major part of a Leader’s job is succession and coaching, and it’s our job to teach what we know to everyone who’ll need it.
Being a Leader is fun, I can tell you that, and here are a few short lessons I want to share with you.
Part 1: Work
Goals and Duties
When you know what your goals and duties are, you can concentrate your skills and efforts on accomplishing them. If you don’t, you’ll likely waste time on things you SHOULDN’T do and forget about the things you were NEEDED for. One of the most valuable management and leadership skills I know is knowing what’s important and managing your team to achieve them.
As long as we do what’s necessary – the important stuff – then its fine. Although setting extra rules to force people to “focus” on working seems like a good idea, in reality it just adds unnecessary pressure and chokes them.
People do better when they have enough freedom and well-defined duties and limits.
80/20 Rule (The Pareto Principle)
20% of what you do (the important stuff) lead to 80% of your results. The remaining 80% of what you do are nearly worthless. Cancel, ignore, or delegate those tasks and concentrate on the 20% that’s actually important.
Remember and use this so you get MORE Productive, all while WORKING LESS.
Efficient and Effective
“I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” ― Bill Gates
Make things EASY.
1. Find shortcuts: As an example, put everything necessary in one file instead of sending different emails with separate files which need to be downloaded one-by-one. Learn shortcuts like copy-pasting and formulas. There are always easier ways to do things and part of it is…
2. Eliminate Worthless Tasks: As an example, you can force people to fill out a 2-page form on every single action they take, but if you only need 1 sentence for every task, then the form is worthless. You’re just wasting everyone’s time (your own, and the reader’s).
You can be VERY BUSY… but not very productive. It’s not how HARD you work, but how much of the important stuff you accomplish.
It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be DONE.
If there’s a Mistake, LEARN from it
A sad fact of life is that you can do a thousand amazing things, but if you make just ONE mistake, everyone WILL blame and resent you for it. Mistakes are a fact of life, and you can find lessons within them.
Learn from mistakes and do better next time. Ask HOW you can prevent it and HOW you can do better.
“How do you eat an Elephant?”
…One Bite at a Time.
My past team members all remember this one. We say it a lot whenever we’re overwhelmed with work.
When faced with a big task, do it in small steps. It WILL be done. Don’t destroy yourself trying to do the impossible.
There will ALWAYS be more work, more reports to file, more bags of cement to lift, more tickets and calls to answer, etc. Do what you can now and continue later. Endorse or delegate it to someone else if necessary.
Whatever it is, it will be done.
RESULTS, not TIME SPENT.
I’d rather have people resting when they finish the important things than to see them wasting time PRETENDING TO WORK.
Accomplish More, Do Less.
Part 2: People
Candor (Openness and Honesty with your Team)
I can’t remember where I first read it, but being open with your team is one of the most important things you must do with your members. It ranks VERY high on the things that employees need from their companies. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric (GE) wrote about this in “Winning” (It’s a great book and the first few chapters are essential for new leaders/managers).
Talk to your team members and let them know just about everything you know about work, the status of the office, etc. (except for absolutely classified info). They feel valued when they know what’s going on, but they’ll feel oppressed or neglected if you keep secrets from them (they can feel it).
Give previews instead of just surprising them with bad news or big and unwelcome changes.
Remember: They WILL know anyway, and they WILL resent you for hiding it from them. Beware the “Workers vs Managers” atmosphere. The oppressive whispers from both sides drain the joy out of the office.
When you’re candid with your team, they feel valued and trusted because you trusted them with information… and they’ll share their information with you too.
You’ll NEED their feedback.
“People without information cannot ask responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly.” – Ken Blanchard, John P. Carlos, and Alan Randolph, “Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute”
Listen to Feedback and Suggestions
This will only happen when you practice candor – when your team is open with you.
LISTEN, and take notes. If you don’t, it’ll be forgotten and you’ll miss an opportunity for progress.
Even if they give an incredibly difficult (or near impossible to implement) suggestion I tell them why it’s difficult, but I’ll forward the suggestions anyway. I also make sure to give them credit for their good ideas (“[name] suggested that XYZ”) as hogging the glory is not good. I also often let them write and send those emails themselves for that same reason.
On another note, I also tell team members that “If you say nothing, nothing will happen and nothing will change. Even if there are never any guarantees, if you want things to get better, tell me and we’ll do what we can about it.”
Give Feedback Constantly
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” – Ken Blanchard
Before you criticize someone, make sure you’re perfect. That applies to how you talk about your team… and how you talk about your bosses. We all make mistakes, and we’ll keep making them if nobody tells us.
If your team members make a mistake, tell them IMMEDIATELY. Also, tell them in private. Publicly scolding a team member will make the entire office hate you. I’ve seen it happen. It wasn’t pretty.
Also, when you give corrective feedback, choose your words carefully. More importantly, choose your INTENTIONS carefully. Remember that over 70% of communication is non-verbal. If your intent is to humiliate, scold, or vent your anger, then it doesn’t matter what you say – you’d damage the relationship and your authority as a leader.
If your intent is good and you communicate carefully, corrective feedback will always be welcome… and necessary.
Spirit of Goodwill
“I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.” – Charles Schwab
People work better when treated with kindness instead of only criticism. Most often, managers do the “Leave ‘em and zap ‘em” approach. Your team members can do a thousand things right, but if they make ONE mistake, all of management gets angry. That’s not good.
Remember this lesson from Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson from “The One Minute Manager”:
“The key to developing people is to catch them doing something right.”
Whenever your team members do something good, tell them!
If they do something approximately right (good but not good enough), give feedback on how to improve (and your intention should be to help them, not criticize them). They’ll soon learn do it better.
Treat your team members well and they’ll treat you (and their work) well.
Part 3: You, the Leader and Manager
Goals and Duties (Again)
The same principles from Part 1 apply here. A team has its own goals and duties that are bigger than what each individual member can accomplish. As Leaders, our job is to organize our team’s skills, knowledge, and abilities to do what we need to do.
Do NOT do Everything Yourself
One mistake is thinking that we, the “leaders,” should do everything ourselves and treat team members as extra appendages.
That’s not the reason why we’re given the responsibility of leading people.
Again, our main role is to lead and manage our teams and do what we all need to do, and your team can do far more than what you can do alone.
Same Standards for You and Your Team
“A team with good discipline is simply a reflection of a self-disciplined leader.” – John Wooden
Apply the same standards for yourself and your team members.
If, for example, you make a rule for your team that bans the use of websites like Facebook or YouTube, but YOU YOURSELF use them… everyone will know about your hypocrisy.
Set a good example and people will follow.
Coaching: Leader as a Teacher
One of the main responsibilities of a leader is to teach your team members the knowledge and skills needed on how to do things themselves.
Empower them and let them develop through their own actions. Let them make decisions, make mistakes, learn lessons, and succeed on their own terms.
Sometimes we may forget to teach some obscure lessons and oftentimes a lot of unexpected situations will arise. Give your team ideas if you know what to do, but let them make their own decisions. They will know how to handle it next time.
How to Teach
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” – Confucius
This one, I do this a lot whenever there’s a new trainee. First, show them how to do it, then let them do it themselves with you guiding them. Ken Blanchard said you must let them do it “approximately” right and give positive and corrective feedback until they can do it “exactly” right.
This is the reason why the first two to three months are the most crucial. If your trainees learned to do it properly, then you won’t need to supervise or monitor their every move anymore. People tend to work better when they’re not under pressure from being watched.
With skill, they gain courage. If you taught them well, they won’t need to keep asking you to check their work if it’s “good enough.”
Remember: Let them make their own decisions, make mistakes, learn lessons, and succeed through their own choices and actions.
“When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.'” – Lao Tzu
A Good Team does well… even without the Leader
I can’t remember where I learned this lesson, but it’s been a guiding management principle for me:
“A team that falls apart when the leader is gone is a terrible team.”
Why? Because that’s not a real “team.” That’s a “boss and servants” kind of group.
When your team is empowered and skilled enough to do their duties and reach their goals even without you, then you have done well as a leader and manager. One benefit of training your team well is that you get to leave work early and you get more free time to concentrate on more important things (efficiency and productivity!).
The greatest benefit of training your team well? You teach your team members responsibility, independence, more skills and knowledge, and you let them develop into better people.
By the way, if you ever have doubts about empowering and trusting your team members, ask yourself why YOUR leader should trust YOU.
Can’t take a Break? Too much Work? Emergencies?
Train your team to be able to handle anything, any task and any emergency… even if you’re not around. This is what Jack Canfield (“The Success Principles”) wrote about “emergencies” during your rest days:
“The truth is that most so-called emergencies aren’t emergencies at all. They’re simply employees, coworkers, and family members who don’t have – or haven’t been given – enough training, responsibility, or authority to handle the unexpected situations that arise.
You have to set clear boundaries, stop rescuing people, and trust that they can handle things by themselves.
When you train your employer, staff, and coworkers not to bother you on your Free Days, it forces them to become more self-reliant. It also forces them to grow in ability and self-confidence.”
“I am the Chosen One!” – NOT!
Remember this: If you were to die of a heart attack or a car accident right now, somebody will replace you and do your job just as well or BETTER. Life goes on. Stop thinking that you’re absolutely irreplaceable. Instead of thinking about how “important” you are, concentrate on teaching and coaching your team to do what needs to be done, even without you.
“The greatest act of true leaders is what happens in their absence. True leaders make themselves unnecessary.” – Myles Munroe
Strengths and Weaknesses
When people do what they’re good at (and they tend to gravitate towards those), they do it very well, and very fast.
When people do what they’re NOT good at, the opposite happens: They do poorly, they are slower at it, and they won’t bother to do better at it.
Learning all the skills necessary for your job is required, however, instead of doing everything equally, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman (“First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently”) taught that it’s much better to make people play to their strengths and manage around their weaknesses.
I know someone who tries to make their team members do everything equally in order to make people more “well-rounded” or “versatile.”
I think that’s a TERRIBLE idea. Why?
You force people to do less of what they love, and force them to do more of what they hate.
What’s the result of that “holistic” approach?
You end up with mediocre output and inefficiency… and your team will hate you for it.
Leaders take responsibility for Failures and Mistakes
Remember how we teach and empower our team to perform well? You might have asked “what if they make a mistake?”
Here’s my answer: If bad things happen, we take responsibility and make the decisions on how to fix it. Consult your team members about the action to take, yet take responsibility for what will happen: good or bad.
If you succeed, share credit. Don’t claim the glory – that belongs to the team, not the leader.
If you make a mistake and fail, don’t EVER blame your team members for it. That’s the WORST THING you can do as a leader. Take responsibility (sometimes, even if the blame is unjust)!
Concentrate on fixing the problem instead of writing “the perfect excuse letter.” What’s done is done. All that’s left is to learn from it and do better.
From John Maxwell’s “Leadership Gold”: “Your Biggest Mistake is Never Asking what Mistake You’re Making”
Admittedly, I have a hard time with this one.
Your team should be comfortable enough to be honest with you (candor), and that only happens when they know that you mean well (spirit of goodwill) and won’t get angry or defensive when hearing negative feedback.
When you make mistakes or you do something bad, your team knows about it. You’re the only one who doesn’t, and you never will if they’re scared of you or don’t respect you. If you miss their feedback, you’ll continue making the same mistakes (while thinking you’re doing well) and you’ll miss opportunities to grow as a leader.
Use Your Time Well
When you learn to make things easier for your team, train them to be skilled enough to do whatever is needed, and give them your trust and responsibility to make their own decisions, you will literally free up HOURS of your time every work day.
How are you spending those hours?
You have a choice: You can spend that time playing worthless mobile games, watching videos and entertaining yourself, etc… Or you can do something more important, like educating yourself on how to become a better leader.
“Winners almost always do what they think is the most productive thing possible at every given moment; losers never do.” – Tom Hopkins
John Maxwell: “Keep Learning to Keep Leading”
This is, in my opinion and experience, THE MOST IMPORTANT LIFE PRINCIPLE I PRACTICE.
This principle is important because it leads to literally EVERYTHING ELSE in life. It led to everything I wrote here, that’s for sure.
You can become a great leader, manager, investor, writer, millionaire, billionaire, or anything else you want and BETTER… ONLY when you LEARN HOW TO DO IT.
I first learned that word from Jack Canfield’s “The Success Principles.” It simply means “improvement.” Every day, every moment, do something or learn something to make yourself a better person than who you were before.
Over the course of days, weeks, months, years, and decades, you will have become great. At least, much better than those who are simply “old in years and without wisdom.”
“By nature, men are nearly alike; by practice, they get to be wide apart.” – Confucius
You lose focus when you don’t, and it leads to sloppier work and more mistakes. After a major task, take a break. If you’re facing a major problem and you can’t find a solution, take a break. Rest your mind and you will come back with greater focus.
It’s only when your mind is clear that your greatest ideas will appear.
LifeWork (Like homework… but for your success in life!):
NOTE: Again, I won’t claim to be a leadership or management expert, and this list is by no means complete.
Everything I’ve written here is what I’ve learned… SO FAR. You may know more, be a better leader than I am, and you may know something better than what I have here, but I still believe that you can find something useful.
I still have a long way to go, and you can be sure I’ll share with you more of what I’ve learned here on YourWealthyMind.com.