I used to be a terrible leader. Years ago, I was working as a help desk representative in an insurance company, and my manager decided to hire someone to work under me. I had no management or leadership experience and had no training before the employee was hired. I did what most managers with no experience do; I managed by instinct. I thought my job was to tell her what to do and to answer her questions.
Needless to say, I was a poor leader, and I’m sure she did not think highly of me or my skills. Shortly after hiring my first employee, I started taking leadership courses and working on my skills. I was not an overnight leadership sensation. It took focused effort and learning before I was able to effectively influence others.
Many executives move up through the ranks with very little leadership training and coaching. They learn to navigate their way through management issues and get things done in spite of their lack of leadership skills. Years later, they are held to a new standard and told they must improve. Yet after working the same way for years and years, learning how to lead can be like learning a new language. It takes time, effort and practice.
At the executive level, your focus needs to be on the most important key result areas. Many executives spend their time on the trivial issues and details which suck up their time and leave little time for visioning, planning and coaching. Leading through people is one of the most important skills to ensure you are an effective, successful executive. Here are five strategies for getting the most from your employees so you can focus on what’s really important.
Define Key Result Areas
The key result areas are the functions in your position that only you can do. They are what you were hired for and why your position was created in the credit union. They are not things that can be delegated or outsourced. Typically there are about three to five key result areas for a position. These are the most important aspects of the job that bring value to the organization. They are not the little things that can be handled by your staff.
For example, if you are a marketing executive, your key result areas might be: develop a strategy for increasing profitable members, develop a member communication strategy to increase visibility and awareness, and coach and develop your direct reports.
As a leader in the credit union, these are the areas you should be focusing on every day. Your monthly, weekly and daily to-do list should be derived from these key result areas. You should start your day focused on these important areas and train your staff to handle the other projects and tasks that roll up into these areas. Unless you consistently focus on these areas, you will spend your time dealing with operational fires that constantly impede on your time.
Shift Your Focus:People First Then Things
Most leaders are so caught up in the day-to-day issues and tasks, that they spend very little time in the area that will yield them the best return on investment: their people. As an executive coach, this is an area where I see many leaders start to derail; they put a lot of focus on results and outcomes, and little or no focus on the people side of things. Specifically, they lack the leadership competencies to develop relationships with their employees and engage and develop them.
To be the most successful, executives need to shift this focus. More time should be spent on getting things done through employees rather than doing the work or micromanaging processes. This requires developing and coaching employees to improve their performance and build your team bench strength. Developing employees allows you to delegate tasks so you can focus on the areas where you bring the most value: planning and strategizing. Many leaders struggle in this area because they see their value in the technical side of things. But the value you bring as an executive is your ability to influencethrough leading people.
Design the Relationship
To enhance the relationships you have with your employees and set the stage for coaching and developing them, you should take time to design the relationship with each employee. Designing the relationship means being deliberate in how you work with each employee. Each employee is different and will require different leadership. You may have one employee who needs feedback and encouragement on every assignment and another employee who prefers to be given the assignment and let loose. The point is to get to know each of your employees and design how you work with them.
A great place to start is to meet with each employee and ask them questions that allow you to learn more about their individual needs. Some example questions are:
• How do you like to be managed?
• What do you like most about your job? Least?
• If you could wave a realistic magic wand, what would you change about your job?
• How do you like to be recognized?
• What will keep you here?
• What support do you need from me as your manager?
These questions lay the foundation for the working relationship with your employee. Your employee will feel heard and valued, and designing the relationship will strengthen your connection. Remember, the leader-employee relationship is a two-way street. It’s important to understand the needs of each employee so you can tailor your approach and garner the best performance from each individual.
Use the Coach-Approach
Coaching is one of the most under-used leadership approaches in business. Coaching is a partnership you form with your employees to help them learn and grow in their positions. While there are many important skills for coaching effectively, the cornerstone is to be inquisitive rather than directive. Ask more questions and listen instead of telling your employees what to do.
I often get push-back from executives telling me they don’t have time to coach their employees. You can’t afford not to take the time to coach and develop your staff. Neglecting this area often derails even the most talented technical leaders. Instead of adding more meetings, coaching can often just be altering your current approach to how you meet with your employees.
For example, instead of focusing your meetings on status reports and tactical issues, focus these sessions on developing the manager
Rather than you running these meetings, prepare your managers to take charge of the meetings by bringing challenges they are currently facing. This gets them thinking strategically rather than tactically. In the meeting, instead of helping the manager “solve” the problem, ask her questions to get her to be resourceful and think deeper. Some examples of questions may be:
• How might you handle this issue?
• What ideas have you thought of?
• What are your options?
• What’s another way of approaching it?
• What’s your next step?
The goal is to develop managers to handle issues and challenges on their own. This doesn’t mean you don’t support each manager or never provide ideas for solutions. But rather than jumping in and taking it on yourself, probe the manager deeper. The result will be a more self-sufficient manager and more free time for you to focus on more important areas.
Build in Accountability
The word “accountability” has acquired a negative connotation in most organizations. Yet accountability is crucial to getting results from your strategic initiatives. You can hold people accountable in a positive, principled way.
Accountability starts by setting clear expectations and deadlines. The first step is to have a crystal clear picture of what needs to be done and by when, and then communicating that picture to your managers. Beyond that, one of the most important aspects leaders miss is not building accountability into their meetings.
Building in accountability means incorporating it into your meetings so you are not running around after your managers to “hold them accountable.” For instance, a great way to build accountability into your regular coaching sessions and team meetings is to start and end each session with accountability checks.
In the beginning of each meeting, spend 10 minutes reviewing what was expected to be completed. At the end of the meeting, review what the manager is committing to and the deadlines. This may sound simple, but I find many executives leave projects and tasks with their managers open ended and miss the opportunity to reinforce accountability. When managers know their boss is going to ask them about a project or task in the next meeting, they are more likely to follow through on commitments. This one change can dramatically increase the results you see in your credit union.
Laurie J. Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, consultant and founder of Envision Excellence, LLC, Rockville, Md. She was also an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or email@example.com.