Part 1: Basics of Leadership
First and foremost, you need to be able to make decisions. The answers aren’t always going to be obvious, but putting off a decision is never going to help (unless you’re postponing to seek more information). Don’t be so worried about making the wrong move—just do the best you can to avoid making mistakes.
Even if you do make a misstep, look at it as a learning opportunity. Don’t let lack of decision-making paralyze your startup!
Team-building activities will help your employees get more comfortable with one another, and ultimately improve their communication. Many problems arise in team environments simply because people don’t feel comfortable speaking up or working through things with their coworkers. If your employees feel comfortable with each other, they’re more likely to speak up!
As a leader, you need to communicate clearly and consistently. Your team needs feedback. They need to be able to vent about challenges and see the big picture of what you’re trying to achieve.
Holding back information will only weaken your team. If you have no new information for them for a while, still pop in frequently just to keep the lines of communication open. You never know what might come up!
Teams Need Non-work Communication
Non-work communication is vital to team-building. This doesn’t mean that coworkers need to be best buddies outside “the office,” but it does mean it’s important not to stifle conversation. Your instincts might push you to say “get back to work”, but that won’t help the situation—it’ll just bring down morale. Take a look at this Harvard Business Review study for evidence!
Trust is vital to a harmonious business, and it's a two-way street. Being straightforward and honest with your team goes a long way in building their trust. On your end, you need to trust that you’ve hired the right people and let them do their jobs—until an issue actually arises. Micromanaging and critiquing every little thing isn’t going to help.
Praise in Public, Reprimand in Private
There’s a long-held belief in the business world that making an example of someone’s bad work is a productive way to get compliance. This is simply not true! It’s much better and more effective to reward good behavior.
When someone does something great, show appreciation in front of everyone. If you need to address issues with someone’s work, pull them aside and talk in private. It won't do any good to embarrass your employee in front of a crowd.
Sometimes teams don’t get along, and the worst thing you can do is sit back and hope it sorts itself out. It usually won’t get better unless you intervene.
If it’s work-related, step in and work through the problem with them—it’s not unusual for team members to have different ideas about how things should be done. Managing conflict doesn’t mean solving the problems yourself, just controlling the process.
Lead by Example
Gone are the days of, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Quality leaders lead by example. If they’re lacking in certain skills, they find someone who is a good example to inspire their team.
Just by working hard, being honest, and leading the way you’re setting a good example for your workers. That said, think about what else you can do to illustrate what they should be striving for, and inspire them to go the extra mile!
As a rule of thumb, 20% of your team will be responsible for 80% of the productivity. Figure out who this 20% is and nurture them—help them activate their creativity.
This isn’t to say you should ignore the other 80%. As each member of the team grows in their strengths, the whole startup benefits. By giving people the proper tools, training and freedom they need, you can nurture everyone’s natural abilities.
Every Idea Matters!
Everyone on your team has value, and so do their ideas. Treat all your team-members equally and allow them all to express their thoughts. Also, don’t hate on an idea if you don’t like it—you don’t need to use it, but there’s no point in making your employee feel bad or stifling their creative spirit.
Part 2: Communication
Let’s dig a little deeper into the importance of communication. Here are three basic strategies for achieving the best possible communication with your team:
Use Simple Language
In his groundbreaking book Words that Work, communication wizard Frank Luntz lays out 10 rules for successful communication. His #1 rule? Simplicity. Using simple language is the best way to ensure easy communication with your team. Once you start to use unnatural or uncommon language, your message will be lost.
Repeat it Often
Once something is repeated to you ten times in a short period of time, it gets imprinted in your brain and becomes VERY hard to forget. This is why leaders create mottos that align with their brand message and repeat them all the time!
To check that these strategies are working, put measurements in place to track how well your message is sticking. If after a week, a month, or a year it seems like people are still off base, mix it up. Make your motto even more direct and put it in all your emails to your team, check in with them more often—do whatever you need to do to get them on the right path!
Part 3: Difficult Team Members
If you’re dealing with a team-member—or maybe a whole team—that’s just unwilling to embrace change, follow instructions or respect your leadership, follow these five steps to navigate the problem:
Step 1) Identify Real Issues
Get down to the real cause(s) of the drama immediately. The 80/20 rule applies here, too—typically 20% of your team will be responsible for 80% of the drama. Tackle the bull by the horns, and don’t procrastinate!
Step 2) Own Your Part of the Problem
Everything rolls uphill in a startup. As the leader, you’re going to have to take partial responsibility for whatever problems arise. This will help others save face, and keep you humble, too!
Step 3) Talk it Through
You don’t need to go full-Dr. Phil on everything, but make sure to set time aside to talk through whatever’s causing problems for your team members. No pointing fingers, no blame game, no shaming anyone—just bringing the issues to light to solve them for the good of the team.
Step 4) Recruit the Right Team Members
Hire people who you think will fit in with your brand culture, and even help it improve. Hire team players. Ambition and creativity are super important, but if they come in a package with ultra-independence and resistance to change, you’re going to have some problems.
Step 5) Remove the Wrong team members
When it becomes apparent that someone’s dragging the team down, remove them as gracefully and respectfully as possible. Praise their strengths and accomplishments, but be honest with them about why it’s not working. Be professional and don’t make it personal—even if they do.
Part 4: Mastering Delegation
If your tendency is to be hands-on but you’re feeling spread way too thin, it’s time for you to master delegating. I know small-business owners have a lot at stake, but if your days consist of task lists, payroll, customer support, sales, and an endless stream of emails and phone calls, you’re going to end up drowning.
Here are some tips for getting better and more comfortable with delegating!
Identify What Can Be Delegated
Whether you believe it or not, there are tons of things that can be taken care of without your help. Begin making a list of tasks you’ve been doing that aren’t directly building your business. Here are some examples:
- Reading and responding to emails.
- Website creation & maintenance.
- Paying bills.
- Collecting payments.
- Booking appointments.
- Property maintenance.
The next time you’re feeling stressed out by the task you’re tackling, ask yourself whether or not someone else could do it. If the answer is “yes,” find a trustworthy person to take care of it for you!
Give Specific Required Outcomes
Start by clearly communicating your expected outcomes to the person you’re handing the task off to. For example, if you’re assigning someone to monitor your inbox, you could expect them to respond to every email within 4 business hours. Be specific so they know what you expect from them—and so you can track their progress.
Create Boundaries for Activities
Any time an employee asks for approval before taking action, delegation breaks down. Providing a framework of boundaries for each task/activity will empower your team to take action without getting your approval. This will also give them the freedom and creative license to explore better ways of doing things!
For example, Zappos does this exceptionally well. They empower all of their employees to “wow” customers within a specific set of guidelines, and are constantly reminding their staff of this goal via their mission statement: “We seek to WOW our customers, our co-workers, our vendors, our partners, and in the long run, our investors.” Follow Zappos' lead and create boundaries that your team will be able to work effectively within!
Inspect & Review Results
Delegation isn’t a single event. To get any value out of delegating, you have to review the process and examine the results. You may find errors or inefficiencies. You may discover a really impressive approach to a task that should be shared with the team. You may realize you delegated something that really should stay on your plate.
While at first reviewing these results will feel mechanical, it’ll provide you with key insights to help you become a more effective delegator. If you don’t pay attention to the work you’re delegating, you’re never going to know what’s working and what’s not!
Part 5: Learn to Make Decisions
The most common decision-making scenario we encounter is being given two options to choose between. However, most of the time there are other options available, we just can’t see them. Let’s take a look at some strategies for broadening the span of your options, and discuss how mega-achievers typically go about making business decisions!
Ask for Both/And
Ever observed a toddler’s decision-making process?
Suppose their parent offers two tasty snacks. The child flips from one choice to the other and back again in seconds—until their little mind prompts them to ask that question that’ll blow the whole thing out of the water: “Can I have both?”
The parent is shocked at the notion. It’s inconceivable! They tell the child no, and rationalize turning down the request:
- The rules are clear: you can have one, not both.
- We have to save one for later.
- I never had both when I was your age.
The parent’s justification creates boundaries for child, which in most cases are helpful and necessary. But as children grow into adults, these authoritarian boundaries become self-imposed norms.
In other words, we’re conditioned to follow the one-choice rule, and often times this keeps us from being creative in our decision-making. Don’t limit yourself—feel free to ask for “both/and” when you’re making important decisions.
Find More Options
In their book, Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath explain how putting too much emphasis on the choices right in front of us blinds us to the possibility of other options. The Heath brothers call this the “spotlight effect.”
When you're caught in the spotlight, try to remember that while reducing our number of options may save time and energy, often the best outcomes are achieved by thinking creatively and breaking down our boundaries. Don’t be blinded by the light for too long!
Expect Exponential Impact
Successful entrepreneurs and global thought leaders routinely dig into options most people would never consider—for example, expecting exponential growth.
In an interview with Tim Ferriss and Peter Diamandis, Diamandis explains that he considers business ideas with 10x returns. He talks about other successful folks who are doing this too, like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson. By considering options others don't even see possible, these super-ambitious leaders have been able to achieve exponential growth in their businesses. Don't be afraid to dream big here!
Taking Action: Get Better Outcomes
When faced with a choice between two options, widen the spotlight by taking a step back and asking, “What other options are there?” Once you can conceive of choices other than the ones directly in front of you, you’re one step closer to getting more desirable results.
You probably have plans for the next 3, 6 and 12 months. Why not ask yourself how you can accomplish that 12-month goal in 6 months, or that 6-month goal in 2? Simply posing these questions will open your mind to the possibility of improved outcomes.
Part 6: How to Keep Your Team Engaged
According to a 2014 Gallup poll, only 31.5% of employees feel engaged at work. As a leader, it’s your job to keep your team engaged—otherwise their work, morale, and overall attitude will suffer.
Employee engagement happens on a personal level. In other words, every member on the team has to be individually engaged. Managers often attribute their staff’s low engagement levels to external factors like a bad economy or demanding customers, yet companies with high engagement levels are facing the exact same factors.
How can you, the leader, keep your employee engagement levels above a dismal 31.5%?
Know the Person
Through his timeless book How To Win Friends And Influence People, Dale Carnegie founded a movement on the importance of knowing and valuing the individual in the workplace. He explains that demonstrating a genuine interest in your employees and recognizing their successes improves engagement immensely. Even little efforts, like calling people by their first names, can make a huge difference.
As a leader, you have the opportunity to breathe life into your team. Be diligent with remembering your team-members’ names, interests, and significant events in their lives!
Keep it Real
Be authentic. Your team wants to know the real you, not just an image you’re projecting.
Being real means being honest with your employees and aligning your words and actions with your core values. If you value integrity, speak and act in a way that demonstrates that.
This also requires admitting mistakes and taking immediate action to correct them. Treat your staff like real people. If you’re kind, empathetic and respectful toward your team, they’ll follow your leadership even when they disagree.
Create a Safe Environment
To be fully engaged, your team-members need to know you’ll have their back when questions or conflicts arise. When mistakes are made, there should be an appropriate level of accountability. No one should be left with sole blame if a project goes off course.
One way you can help foster a safe environment is by maintaining boundaries. Like guardrails on a winding mountain road, firm boundaries allow your team-members to move fast and feel protected from a dangerous fall. Consistent enforcement of policy creates a safe environment and eliminates uncertainties!
Communicate Frequently & Consistently
Lack of communication is perhaps the #1 cause of disengagement in a team. Consistent communication is crucial for building trust and understanding, especially among teams going through substantial changes.
When communication is lacking, members have to fill in the gaps with their own speculation, which will inevitably be off base. If a shift in circumstances requires a change of direction, it’s your job to explain what’s changing, why, and how it’ll impact them.
Provide Team Member Ownership
Engaged members own their work and their decisions. If you coach your team to have specific desired outcomes, they’ll be more engaged and better able to craft savvy solutions.
Retired Marine Colonel Paul Van Riper put it this way: “The leaders are in command but not control.” Through focused, disciplined efforts, you have the power to determine the engagement level of your team. Don’t neglect this opportunity!
About the Author
Aaron Armour of Armour Martin Consulting has been managing teams for more than 15 years, some as large as 200 employees. He has managed business units with $36 million in revenue and projects with $50 million budgets. Aaron is passionate about helping managers lead people and thrill clients!