I’ve been managing teams across a variety of sectors for more than 20 years and currently lead a number of cross-functional teams in Kaluza, part of OVO Group. After a recent conversation with a colleague of mine who asked for tips on how to be a better line manager, I wanted to document my thoughts. I’ve shared with my current team and asked them to hold me to account for living and breathing what I recommend here.
I’ll be referencing a number of sources throughout and helpful reading which I’ve found invaluable during my time. None of this approach is official policy at OVO, but it certainly represents the general vibe and approach to leadership at OVO that I’ve seen over the years.
I’m an avid believer in principles and learning consistently through their application. I’m always looking to improve and try new things, and absolutely expect that these principles will evolve and change over time.
If you haven’t watched Dan Pink’s video on ‘Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose’ before, check it out. This rang so many bells for me and shaped a lot of my thinking around what it means to be a ‘good’ leader.
Tl;dr: ‘Good’ (to me) means to:
- Provide psychological safety
- Care and provide candid & timely feedback
- Support your direct reports in both their personal development and career development
- Provide clear guidance and direction on the company vision, strategy and goals
- Coach people to success
The soft (but hard) stuff in more detail
Providing Psychological Safety - if your team doesn’t trust you or worse if they fear you, you won’t hear about the bad stuff until it is too late. Through the provision of a safe environment, you create a place of learning, growth and therefore success. This can only be achieved by making it safe to fail. If we never fail, it’s unlikely we are learning and moving forward at a sufficient pace.
The challenge here is knowing where to set the guard rails. If your team is frequently failing, it’s usually down to two things, either there’s a development need to be addressed or you’re not providing enough guidance on the limits to work within.
Constant failure is not good and shows a lack of learning, this will lead to demotivation alongside clearly being under performance. As a manager, you have an obligation to address this in a timely manner.
Coaching and the servant leadership model - inherently I believe that people care about their work and want to do the right thing, which shapes my approach to management. I suggest checking out McGregor’s X & Y management theory.
Theory Y has led me to a servant leadership style - which I adopt. Everything I do is geared towards making my team more successful, through the application of the points in this post. Whilst I thrive seeing them do well, it’s not all selfless - the more successful my team is, the more successful I become and also the business we work in.
By adopting a coaching style you can help team members grow and learn, without giving them solutions. If you’ve hired great people, they won’t need solutions, just guidance. My go-to coaching framework is the ‘Grow model’.
Goal setting - we don’t tell people what to do, but we are clear as to why they’re here and how they contribute to our mission. There’s no point employing smart people if you’re just going to tell them what to do. As a leader, it’s important to ensure your teams are clear on the longer term mission and support them in setting shorter term (3 monthly) goals so that they can measure progress and contribution towards this mission. We’re currently using the OKR framework to help teams focus on short term goals, measure their progress and enhance their own learning.
I cannot stress enough the importance of being crystal clear on the goals and mission of your business. Keep doing it until you are bored to death of saying the same thing, and then keep doing it.
Personal Development of direct reports - we exist as line managers to support the success and personal development of our team members. The more they learn and grow, the more successful we all become. The more time you invest here the better. That’s not to say team members don’t also own their personal development - they should very much take a lead on it. You’re there to help them understand their strengths, development areas and career aspirations. You could try working on a career framework - they self assess against each criteria and you support & challenge them on each aspect. Once complete, a personal development plan (PDP) can be developed based on their career aspirations.
121s - these are your most important meetings and should never be compromised. This is the time when you get to be a ‘good’ manager (see above) and provide 100% of your attention to the individual. Remember to keep note of key points and actions.
At your first 121 together, seek to understand what they value from 121s and ask questions such as:
- What have great managers done before which worked for you?
- What’s your general working style and how can I support that?
- Is there anything I should be aware of in relation to your personal situation that you think would be useful in building our relationship?
My general on-going format is:
- First 20 minutes is for them - whatever they want to talk about
- Next 20 minutes is for you - raise anything you want (news, feedback, direction, guidance, etc)
- Next 15 minutes is on personal development, reviewing the career framework and their PDP
- Wrap up by confirming any key points and actions
Providing Feedback - never wait for a performance review to give feedback. You should be feeding back constantly - it’s bad management if you wait to feed back only at a six monthly review.
A good mantra to follow is “criticize in private, praise in public” - Radical Candor
Have a look at SBI feedback model - it takes the emotion out of it and provides a framework for communicating the feedback. It’s important for the person receiving the feedback to understand the impact of their behaviour and jointly agree how it can be addressed.
Strength in numbers and diversity - one of the key benefits we can bring to our teams is by connecting them and ensuring they’re balanced with a diverse range of contributors.
Consider what unites a team - what is their common purpose and how do they measure success? Share and socialise this with them. This will begin the journey of binding them as a team.
Teams also need to trust each other, the first step here is creating a safe environment for them to share personal insights and discuss common challenges. Obviously some people are more comfortable then others - you could try starting with an ice breaker. I usually play the ‘two truths and a lie’ game to gain a little insight into each other and then build upon this with regular ‘sharing is caring’ sessions, where each person shares a current work challenge and we discuss as a group how they might tackle it.
The aim is to create an environment of ‘support & challenge’ - it’s okay to challenge each other constructively but you must be prepared to support them also.
And remember to hire a diverse team - I can recommend ‘Hire Women’ by Debbie Madden for some great advice. NB this is not just about hiring women, but opening your eyes to the opportunities gained by increasing the diversity of any team.
End….almost - of course, this is my ideal view of how I operate, but undoubtedly I get it wrong from time to time. Producing this is a way of holding myself to account and increasing my own knowledge through sharing and continually learning from others.
If you would like to challenge (or support) me on any aspect, please reach out.
Thank you to everyone who I have worked with and learned from - you have all massively influenced my leadership style.