Theresa May - Leadership Lessons from an Accidental Manager
Posted on 12th December 2018 at 14:30
So today the requisite number of Conservative MPs called for a vote of confidence in their leader.
While we don’t usually get to have a vote of confidence in our leaders or managers at work, the last few weeks and months do hold a lot of lessons for Accidental Managers – see how many you recognise.
1) Not everyone is cut out for managing people.
Selecting managers on the basis of being the least worst candidate to put themselves forward for a job rarely ends well. Accidental managers often need time to grow into their role – if you need someone who can hit the ground running, then you should look for the skills and attributes that suggest someone is going to be successful at managing people. Basic empathy, communication and influencing skills, emotional intelligence and ability to tackle conflict and solve problems are more important than time served or technical expertise.
2) Can you persuade people to follow you?
Leadership is about creating a vision that people want to follow, and inspiring others with that vision so that they choose to follow you. If your team don’t want to go where you are going, you aren’t a leader any more, regardless of what your job title says.
3) Sometimes you just have to make a decision.
And sometimes it needs to be made NOW.
When you put things off because they are difficult or unpopular, or you just don’t know what to do, you are merely delaying the inevitable. A problem that is just left to sort itself out very rarely does. Instead it festers, spreads, and starts infecting things that were working perfectly ok before.
So, as tempting as it might be, don’t kick the can down the road, don’t. Take control, make a decision and manage the consequences.
4) Difficult decisions are part of the job.
And they usually require the accidental manager to work hard to bring the team along with you. The team might be worried, disinterested, or wishing they could go in a different direction. As their leader or manager you need to keep talking to them, explaining what you are doing and why, and how you are hoping to make a difference.
And you have to talk to the team members you don't like, or don't agree with, as well as the friendly and amenable ones. If your team keep raising the same objections, you need to rethink how you are communicating your vision. Do they have a point? Should you change course?
If you don’t tell people what you are doing and, crucially, why you have chosen not to follow a particular course of action that the team think you have agreed on, don’t be surprised if they start to wonder why they bother. Or why they bother with you.
5) You can never communicate too much - but you have to listen too
Communication is probably the most underrated skill in business (or politics). Having a clear message is good. Saying the same thing over and over again, accidentally or deliberately missing the point of what you are being told, or sticking to your plans when your team are suggesting alternatives and telling you all the reasons why your plan won’t work, is not so good. If people decide that means you don’t listen (or care) then they won’t tell you things you need to know. So you might think you have their support when actually you don’t, but no-one’s going to tell you.
6) Are you busy doing nothing?
There is a difference between being busy, dashing in and out of high powered meetings, and actually doing work that makes an impact.
Are you spending your time doing busy work, or doing the work that will achieve your goals? You need to know how you, personally, make a difference – what unique skills and talents you have, and how they are best employed. Then understand how to measure your progress, how to spot if performance is going off track, and what to do if you need to change course.
7) Micro-managers don't win friends
Taking over tasks because you think you can do them better than the job holder, and micro managing processes that actually sit in other people’s job descriptions are two of the biggest de-motivators for team members. Demotivated employees then become disengaged employees. If you don’t notice the effect you are having, or do anything to change your behaviour, the situation will continue to deteriorate, until you start to create real enemies.
8) You are always on stage
Your team are watching your every move. They are judging you every second of the day – every comment, every reaction, every gesture, the things you ignore, the things you talk about, are all being used to create a picture in their minds of who you are and what you stand for. And that image they create is probably nothing like the image you think you are projecting.
9) Show you care
People need to believe their manager cares about them, and the things that matter to them. Being business-like and professional is admirable, but if your team believes that you care more about process and outcomes than the people involved, or they don’t feel you “connect” with them on an emotional level, it will always be hard to gain and keep their trust.
10) Working really, really hard will only get you so far.
Don’t be so busy doing the day job that you don’t notice the world around you has moved on. You need to look up sometimes, understand how trends are changing, keep up to date and move with the times. That might mean learning new skills, adapting your style, or changing direction. It’s up to you to make sure you are the manager your team needs you to be. They won’t change, so you have to.
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