Leadership 103: Leading Your People

By Mike Figliuolo

Here we go with another step in the leadership maxims process. We’ve already covered how to lead yourself and lead the thinking (be sure to go read those posts). Now it’s time to articulate how you plan on leading your people. This concept is the third major section of my upcoming book, “One Piece of Paper”.

This step is NOT about feedback forms, progress reviews, goal-setting sheets or any other template. This is about setting the expectation for yourself and your team on how you plan on working with them.

Expect this part of your toolkit to grow almost every day. I encourage you to reflect upon the success or failure of your leadership efforts and constantly look for new ways to improve. It’s hard. It’s a lot of work. It’s incredibly rewarding and can differentiate your team and your business from your competitors.

Creating your maxims in this third aspect of leadership is comprised of four areas of concentration:

  • Knowing and living your style;
  • Understanding your team members’ wants and needs;
  • Living your team members’ lives; and
  • Challenging, inspiring and developing your people.

Let’s explore, shall we?

Knowing and Living Your Style

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably not too keen on the “be something you’re not” dynamic. That mindset needs to spill over to your leadership.

By now, you’ve likely found approaches that are comfortable for you and others that aren’t. I come from the school of “play to your strengths and make your weaknesses irrelevant.” That means knowing your style, articulating it, and being comfortable living it every day. It’s the key to being authentic in your leadership.

There are two maxims I love in this area. “Kick up, kiss down” (translation: hold your leaders accountable while at the same time praising and supporting your people. This is the same premise as being the human crapshield I’ve written of in the past).

The second is “Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.” It sets an expectation with my team that I expect them to try to solve a problem before bringing it to me. By the same token, it forces me to try to solve problems before bringing them to my leaders.

Which aspects of your leadership style are most comfortable for you? Can you articulate them in one or two clear, concise statements?

Understanding Your Team Members’ Wants and Needs

The better you understand your people as individuals, the better you’ll relate to them. It’s that personal foundation of the relationship that creates the common ground of trust and respect necessary for a good leadership environment.

One maxim I have that forces me to pay attention to my team is, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Translation: Shut up and listen. It’s amazing the things you can learn when listening versus talking.

The second maxim I use to remember that people are different and have specific needs is “He drinks 7Up.” Rather than tell the whole story again in this post, I encourage you to read it here. This maxim is deeply meaningful to me because of the story behind it.

Living Your Team Members’ Lives

If you want to get respect, get dirty. Roll up your sleeves and do the job you’re asking your team to do. First of all, you’ll better understand what they go through on a daily basis. Second of all, you signal to them that you’re not above any work you’re asking them to do.

The better you understand the tasks they routinely perform, the higher the likelihood the tasks or projects you ask them to take on are possible and reasonable. To ensure you demonstrate this behavior regularly, you need to create a maxim that is a reminder to get out there and get dirty.

The maxim I use is, again, related to a story. It’s “He’s under the tank, sir.” It’s about a time I crawled under one of my tanks to pull maintenance on it. You can read the full story here to better understand why I’ve chosen this as one of my leadership maxims.

Challenging, Inspiring and Developing Your People

No one wants to have a job where they’re not challenged and where there’s no opportunity for growth. Your job as a leader is to create that environment for your team. The problem is we often forget to do so during the daily chaos that is our life. Creating this environment is overtaken by deadlines, projects, and other crises. You need to write a maxim that helps you remember to challenge and develop your people.

For me, this maxim too is related to a story. The maxim is “But he’s never done that job!” It’s about a time I put someone in a role he’d never performed before. It was a risk and I took a chance on someone’s development. Click here to read the full story about this maxim.

What maxim will you use to remember to focus on your team’s growth? How will you ensure that you challenge and develop them regularly?

So that’s a great start for creating your Leading Your People maxims. Up next is Leading a Balanced Life.

Check out the other articles in Mike Figliuolo’s Leadership 101 Series:

Mike Figliuolo is the author of “One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership.” He’s the managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC — a leadership development firm. An honor graduate from West Point, he served in the U.S. Army as a combat arms officer. Before founding his own company, he was an assistant professor at Duke University, a consultant at McKinsey & Co., and an executive at Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog, read the full original post here.
Originally published: Sep 22, 2011

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