You have invested in obtaining the best talent on the market, you have state of the art tools to allow a team to exercise their full creative ability but something is holding them back from reaching their full potential.
Often companies focus too much on filling roles that are missing within their various teams rather than reflecting on the leadership that will help to get the most out of the existing staff, whilst at the same time having the analytical oversight to identify potential areas of weakness and make intelligent hiring decisions.
The quality of leadership is often what makes or breaks teams and companies. As the old mantra goes that “people do not leave companies, they leave bosses”.
Getting the right leadership is especially important within digital as it often requires uprooting existing practices within a business and unsettling people that have long-held responsibilities and methods. This requires finely-tuned soft skills to navigate the subtle complications that exist within a company.
Finding an inspirational and highly-effective leader can be a particularly daunting task when we consider that the cost of getting this decision wrong can be extremely high with staff leaving and motivation hitting rock bottom. If we are to believe Luis Huete’s (IESE Business School) assertion that at least 5% of bosses are sociopaths then it makes it essential to get this hiring decision spot-on as it can take a team a long time to recover from the effects of dysfunctional leadership.
However, what are the factors that make someone a truly excellent leader that employees will admire and trust?
The ability to let go.
There are those that take the title of manager far too literally as they attempt to dictate every possible aspect of the work of their team. This fundamentally boils down to being a question of trust in which someone in a position of responsibility must believe that those below them are fully capable of completing a job on-time and to a high standard.
We have all worked under a people that micromanage to a painstaking degree. We all know that this can significantly hamper the efficiency of a team and inevitably restricts the creative thinking of employees, yet it is still such a common sight in offices across the globe.
Are these managers so terrified of failure that they project their own worries onto their team members or is it rather that there is such an absence of trust that they feel their team are unable to complete basic tasks without extraordinary levels of guidance.
Knowing when to take a step back is one of the most crucial characteristics of a highly successful manager. Guiding a team towards objectives and an overarching vision versus restricting it within a rigid structure is what marks the difference between effective leadership and micromanagement.
Patagonia is an example of a company that took this ethos even further with the CEO (Yves Chouinard), taking off months at a time in the full confidence that his employees will take care of any issue. “If the warehouse burns down, they know not to call me. I trust that they will make all the correct decisions” he told an NPR radio programme. Psychologists have conducted studies on the management structure at Patagonia only to conclude that the workers have become so individually capable that they would find it almost impossible to adapt to more traditional top-down management at other companies.
Patagonia is a company that has built a truly unique management structure that is founded on the basis of absolute trust.
It is therefore essential that all good managers reflect upon their behaviour and ask themselves constantly if they’re affording their team the freedom and respect that they deserve. It is only through this process of self-reflection that one can avoid the trait that continues to plague almost every office.
Don’t build a blame culture.
The most famous examples of great leaders are those who live and die by their decisions. There is glory in success but also great nobility in failure. The old maritime ideal of a captain that goes down with his ship displays perfectly what we should look for in a business leader. The ability to accept responsibility can often feel increasingly rare in the modern age but we must embrace and recognise failure in the same way that we do success, if not more so.
Companies are increasingly driven by statistical objectives which is fantastic but it also has a tendency to lead to a culture whereby people are happy to take undeserved levels praise whilst distancing themselves from any failure.
Whilst a manager’s ultimate goal should be to drive their team to success in order to further the company’s interests, they must also take it upon themselves to protect their team and the quality of their work when things go wrong.
Failure is a fact of life and something that everyone is aware of, yet we find it incredibly difficult to accept it when it happens to us. It is the result of taking risks which is part of a company’s DNA.
If employees become terrified of taking risks due to overbearing management then there is fundamentally a lack of innovation which will eventually lead to stagnancy within an organisation.
The responsibility of a leader is to foster creativity which means allowing and protecting a team when their gambles do no pay off.
Leading companies have taken it upon themselves to adopt a management structure that embraces the failure of ambitious projects so that creativity and innovation may thrive. An example of this can be found in the case of Tata which created an award to celebrate the best failed idea as the management believed that rewarding the ambition of workers was essential to keep the company at the cutting edge of their respective industries.
They don’t drown their team in tedious tasks.
Monkey work, intern chores, tedious tasks. Whatever you want to call them, such work is a fact of life for all companies. Not all work can be glamorous and the likelihood is that regardless of which stage of your career you are at, you will occasionally have to get down and dirty. The reality is that very few people enjoy tasks that are mind-numbingly repetitive but they have to get done. Problems arise however when managers abuse their position of power over their team to drown them in tasks that are ultimately their personal responsibility.
Part of what makes a great manager is the ability to take the load off their team in certain moments to ensure that they’re getting the most out each person’s ability. There is no point in hiring a UX designer just to have them bogged down in basic admin tasks and therefore with limited time to carry out their main creative function. A manager shouldn’t dump undesirable tasks on those below them just for the sake of it. They must know when it is appropriate and whether it will be the best use of their team’s time.
When allocating the so-called monkey work, it is important to consider if this is what will produce the best results for the team and their overall objectives. Many times, it is simply better that managers avoid the temptation to dodge the bullet with regards to these types of tasks as it will allow their team to continue with their core roles whilst also demonstrating a level of respect for their expertise and the work that they do.
There are so many elements that make up the profile of a truly great manager and the three factors written above are merely a snapshot of what we view as massively important. It is also crucial to understand that different organisations and departments will prioritise certain characteristics over others which is why it is important to find a tailored solution that will seamlessly fit in with the company culture.
This is why it is essential to ensure that those helping to fill that managerial role truly understand the nature of your work along with the soft skills that will help them to get the best out of a team.