Honest conversations

As a leader-manager, you no doubt want to be open and honest with your team members. Here are some conversation starters.

Especially with new team members, contractors or temporary workers, and with team members whose performance is merely average, explain how you measure the success of their performance. What do they need to achieve? Which tasks are so important, and why, that they need to double check they’ve done them well? What specifically differentiates a star performer from a good performer in your eyes?

Make sure your criteria are measurable, time-gramed, achievable yet challenging and related to the department’s or organisation’s success measures. And make sure the job holder can easily track their success themselves — it’s silly to make people rely on you to tell them whether they’re doing a good job.

Have a frank discussion about the challenges the employee faces in their role. Maybe it’s interdepartmental politics or very tight budget constraints. Discuss how the employee can best deal with them and how you can help the employee work with them. Maybe it’s poorly organised work procedures. How can you streamline them or reduce backtracking and extra work? Maybe it’s lots of interruptions. What causes them? Can you remove or reduce them? It’s these sorts of issues that annoy and demotivate people, devalue their job and diminish their performance. Don’t let that happen.

Find out what the employee needs to be really happy in their work and from you, their leader-manager. Do they appreciate lots of feedback? Consultation? Cordial relationships with their teammates? Flexibility? A stable working environment Do what you can to provide it.

Explain what you most value about the employee and their performance. I once had a boss that found me positive, enthusiastic and smart. But I didn’t find that out until many years later. Shame; perhaps if he’d told me, I’d have stuck around longer!

Discuss how you see the employee’s future and how their job might change. Find out how they see their future and how they would like their job to change. Help them work out what they can do to prepare for the future so they can look forward to it and welcome it. (Remember, we’re talking about honest conversations, so no false hopes and no false timelines.)

People appreciate knowing where they stand. Do your team members know where they stand with you?

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Leading and managing people older than yourself

Are any of your direct reports older than yourself? Chances are high, and getting higher, that this is the case.
 
A study in the Journal of Organizational Behavior examined the emotions experienced by 8000 employees in 61 German companies in a range of industries. About 25% of those surveyed worked for a manager younger than themselves.
 
Here’s the bad news: Employees managed by a younger person experienced more resentment-based negative emotions than employees whose managers were older than themselves. And those negative emotions, according to the study, resulted in lowered performance across the entire organisation. The researchers hypothesise that those negative emotions drain the enthusiasm from their colleagues, too.
 
The reason isn’t surprising, I suppose. Many people calibrate their ‘career success’ against their peers and can feel diminished when those their age bounce past them on the ‘career ladder’. Those younger than you overtaking would be a double whammy.
 
Going back to the bad old days of promoting on seniority rather than merit isn’t the answer, of course. Guarding against resentment and lowered performance in your work team when some of them are younger than you is. A dose of empathy and allowing older employees to share their insights and experience are two good places to begin.

Authenticity rules

Let’s do a bit of navel gazing. Would your team members, your peers, your manager and your family say you are an authentic person? Would they say you are true to yourself despite external pressures? Consistent in what you say and do?

Leader-managers who are genuine, or authentic, express what they’re thinking and feeling tactfully, honestly and considerately, in an emotionally intelligent way. They don’t have hidden agendas. They’re willing to say: ‘I don’t know’ and to admit to mistakes and correct them.

Authentic leader-managers don’t hide behind masks or false fronts. They don’t pretend to be something they’re not. People see that they ‘walk their talk’ and they trust them to do the ‘right thing’.

Authenticity builds your reputation as reliable, straightforward and trustworthy. People appreciate you for what you are (and are not). People respect you opinions and are willing to support you when they see you as authentic.

Your authenticity is based on a strong understanding of yourself and your values and on knowing what’s important in your life and in your role as a leader-manager. You understand your own little quirks, your motives and your characteristics.

To be a leader-manager that has friends and influences people, work on your self-awareness. Be your authentic self, walk your talk and do what’s right.