Much of my best career performances occurred when I worked for managers I did not want to disappoint. Coincidence? Not even close. I’ve had managers who took an interest in my development and I’ve had managers who threw furniture across the room. While you learn from both (how NOT to do something can be a powerful lesson), let’s assume none of us aspire to be furniture throwers. People tend to care more about (and work harder for) people who think they are worth investing in.
So much has been written about being a good leader, manager, motivator, etc., etc., etc. Where does one even begin to hone leadership skills? The good news is that you can make a real impact and it costs little to nothing to kick it off.
First, give your team at least as much interest as your best customer. Any customer relationship management worth its salt provides places for names of a customer’s spouse/significant other, kids, pets, hobbies and more. Yet many managers cannot give that information on their direct team members. You know, direct members on whom you depend on a daily basis for taking care of that best customer and the overall success of your team.
Next, understand what incentive means for the individuals on your team. Early in my career, I had a shy person on my team that had a ton of potential. I worked with her to get her to speak up with ideas and, as expected, she had an excellent one. Delighted with her response (and sadly, my perceived leadership skills), I nominated her for one of our business unit awards. The award was presented by our CEO at the quarterly meeting of 1,000 people in the Operations business unit. As soon as they called her name, I knew I had made a big mistake. She was horrified at walking up front and accepting the award. After the meeting, she let me know if that was what I had in mind, she had given her last idea. I learned a powerful lesson: not everyone appreciates the same type of recognition. She was a single mom and her recipe for perfect recognition was something she could do with her daughter. I switched recognition to movie tickets, ice cream gift cards and Disney on Ice passes and she blossomed.
As important as understanding incentive is the knowledge that you are willing to invest time and resources in them. One company I worked at for several years turned down a training request I presented. It was not due to budget or time constraints but because they didn’t think I needed to learn anything else for the job I was doing for them currently. I tried to discuss alternative topics for development and got pretty much the same response. Message: a) we don’t see you moving beyond where you are; and, b) if it doesn’t provide an immediate return it’s not worth it for us. Message received. I began working towards my exit immediately.
Compare that response to another company. The chief procurement officer discussed alternatives with me around developing my skills. We settled on my spending three days with a female senior vice president in the company. I basically carried her briefcase for a few days, and what I got was immeasurable. Not only did I see the interaction in the meetings she participated in, I got one-on-one time riding with her from location to location. It is still one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had.
If you are looking for ways to boost your team’s performance, take an inventory of what you know about them. Then have some creative discussion WITH them about what might be the best solution. Appreciation and development is an investment that pays dividends across all generations of people.