Leading and coaching people who directly report to you is a different endeavor than coaching someone who has no formal accountability to you. Coaching people can be exceptionally fun and rewarding, however when those being coached see you as “the boss” the dynamics of that relationship are much more complex. Because of cultural depictions of “the boss” and individuals’ personal experiences with previous managers, sometimes it is an extremely difficult and delicate task to lead direct reports. In this post, I want to give you 3 practical steps for leading direct reports that will make your entire experience more enjoyable and more profitable.
First, to be an effective leader of a team of direct reports you will need to overcome stereotypes and individuals’ perceptions/misperceptions of you. We are always initially judged by people not based on who we are but based on the employers/managers/bosses who came before us. It would be an impossible task to try and identify everything that has ever been done wrong in the name of leadership but there are three big things that always come up:
- “He is so bossy”
- “She doesn’t pay any attention to me”
- “I don’t ever know what’s going on around here”
How Do I Fix That?
As a leader of direct reports, work diligently to let your team know that they are valued, they are important to you and the team, and that you are available to them but will not smother them with your presence. Make sure to communicate and over-communicate important data about the organization and team but also about the roles, abilities, and accomplishments of the team. If a team member senses your trust and respect of them, and the value you place on them as a part of the team you will be able to overcome some of the baggage they brought with them regarding leaders.
Second, your team of direct reports will always have a greater sense of allegiance to your leadership, and will work more diligently if they feel that you have their back and care about them as a person and not just an employee. Be aware of the days, events, and activities that are important to them. Find out their hobbies and what they consider “life” outside of the workplace or their place of volunteer service. Much of the time people consider their work and volunteerism as an add-on to life, but not necessarily life itself. Find out what fulfills them in their lives and then seek to add value to their personal life by conversing and engaging about what is important to them. (By the way, this really only works if you really care about them. If you don’t care, they will see right through it and see that you are just trying to manipulate them to greater productivity through a feigned interest in them.)
Lastly, a team of direct reports needs to feel that you are accessible to them. Make sure to meet with direct reports one-on-one. Don’t just meet with them in staff meetings, which often end up simply being an exchange of vital organizational information but neglect the value of the individual person. Don’t just meet with them in hallway meetings, which are primarily quick exchanges of fast facts, requests or clarification of plans/policy etc. When you meet together they need to walk away with an affirmation of their value to society, their value to you and the team, and the value to the individual project or effort that they are working on. Listen diligently, offer insights and suggestions, and share personal struggles and victories that tie in with their current journey. If you do this, you will be able to build a bridge of mutual trust and respect, and you will also be able to speak into their personal and professional lives things which will unleash their inner potential and unlock a healthier perception regarding their own ability and contributions.
If you will work diligently at tearing down preconceptions about “bosses”, develop interest in them as human beings and not just staff members, and lastly if you spend time one-on-one listening, affirming and coaching, your team of direct reports will go further, accomplish more and be far healthier than maybe you can even imagine.