“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“Kind”, Said the boy
What a profound statement made in the book “The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse”!!
I recently read the book and like many other great statements, the above line made a deep impression on me. It also came in timely as I was thinking about this blog too.
This is the second post I am writing in the continuation of talking about building a high performing team— Creating and Nurturing High Performing Team- 3Ps For Engineering Managers. To summarise the 3Ps, they are People, Process and Product, focus areas for an engineering leader/manager in that order of priority.
I talked about what your priorities should be when building a high performing team in my initial post, and I want to unpack that by sharing some best practices I have applied for nurturing good culture in my team.
Going back to the topic of kindness, who can better understand the importance of being kind than a people leader. I see and observe that giving the kind treatment is easier said than done. You need a lot of empathy and emotional intelligence to be kind to others and especially with your direct reports. We often confuse kindness for niceness. Niceness at a workplace could mean you are trying to please or do someone else’s job. You can be nice to the other individual if she is your friend, family or more.
As a leader when you have people looking up to you, you have full responsibility for nurturing a culture where people are kind to each other. In my initial blog about building HPT, I talked about how important it is for all the individuals to have Respect, Trust and Recognition at any workplace. “Being kind” is what a leader can do at the least for the team working for her.
Let’s delve a little deeper in the four areas Being Kind, Respect, Trust, and Recognition.
Being kind and respectful —
Let’s start with being kind and respectful- Afterall, how do you be kind and respectful to others? Here are a few tips and suggestions-
- Influence over authority — A leader uses “influence” and a ruler uses “authority”. As a manager, you balance these two. Even if you are a manager (at a superior position) while talking to the other person or a team, always give up your authority. Try to use influence to convey your point. When you start from a position of influence, you automatically start respecting more. There will be times as a manager you will need to use authority. But from my experience, it is not even 5–10% of the time. [Google “leadership continuum theory by Tannenbaum and Schmidt” if you want to know more]
- Empathy over ego — Check your ego first and be very open-minded. The biggest blocker for you to understand the other side or point of view is your ego. Try to think by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. You can not assume what is going on in the other person’s head. So ask questions and get to a root cause. Of course, to ask questions and get honest answers, you need to build a strong trusting relationship. But start somewhere, show that you really care about the other person as a whole and not just about getting work done. This can be starting off your trusting relationship. More on the trust part later.
- Always assume good intent — You can safely assume that everyone at the workplace (at least in the knowledge industry) has come to learn, grow and contribute back to overall success. How much are they willing to contribute and stretch is a different question. If you start assuming good intent, you can almost always think about a WIN-WIN solution for any problem. Another important thing is to not ask questions to challenge the intent; ask questions to learn and help.
- Listen carefully and intensely — I am sure you may have been in situations where the other person is not listening to you or gets distracted all the time. Talking to a good listener is a pleasure and a comforting factor in itself. Listening carefully and acknowledging is also a sign of respect that you show for the other person.
- Be humble — no one is perfect and correct all the time. Lot of times a leader/manager is abstracted from the ground realities. This means there is a high chance that you are not correct. So changing the simple language of the communication can make a lot of difference. Example — start with “I might have missed this .. ”, “I could be wrong ..“, “I might be completely off track here … “.
Building Trust —
This happens all the time. Every minute you spend with your team members, you are building trust. Patric Lencioni in his book “The five dysfunctions of a team” called out correctly that trust is a function of two things — time and doing what you said you will do. This is the most fundamental and important thing you need to have while operating. Lack of trust is just toxic and very political. You will know and hate when this happens in your environment.
How can we build and nurture a trusting environment? Here are a few things that I follow -
- Irrespective of what your personality is, as a leader you should always try and build a trusting nature by default unless you are proven wrong by experience. What I mean by this is — start by fully trusting your team and individuals. In case, you have experienced a broken bond, try to restart. Give enough opportunity so that you can find a pattern before taking a hard decision.
- Trust is not only important for a leader to maintain but also needs to be cultivated amongst the team members. And it starts with the leader to set the tone. Do not get into your team members interpersonal frictions too quickly (don’t delay intervention too much too). And even if you need to step in, try and coach the team to trust and have healthy conflict. It all becomes easy when you assume good intent (see above).
- It is okay to ask the team to stretch and challenge them. But never ever doubt their contributions, intent and estimations. We all are surrounded by uncertainty and unknowns. Things will go wrong and it doesn’t mean you can doubt intentions, estimations or contributions without knowing the real issue.
- Instilling trust is giving confidence to each other in the team that we have their back even if something goes wrong.
“People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise and rewards.” — Dale Carnegie, Leadership Training Guru
Recognising your team and individuals sounds simple but it can be daunting. Everyone needs recognition and make sure you do that. When unsure recognise out loud. My learnings and to-dos captured here -
- Be generous in recognition. Never hold back anything when you are praising someone’s or team’s good work. Also, most of us can sense when there are insincere recognition and praise. So never fake it.
- Don’t recognise or praise without verification. People would dislike being recognised for things that they have not done. And you take away the importance of recognition to the folks who deserve it. Just another form of dilution.
- Ask before you do anything crazy. Some individuals, like getting recognised publicly and a few others privately. It is a good idea to check and adapt your style to what folks on the receiving end prefer.
- Make the recognition always timely and fair.
If you have reached so far 😄, I hope some of you find this blog useful. I shall add my operating principles, operational mechanisms and how I run my meetings in the subsequent blog covering 1x1s, staff and tech lead meetings. Stay tuned…