Category “featured”

How to Build Highly Performing Teams – 2 Simple Secrets


Inspire and Empower

The past year has really given me a chance to explore the best part of my job. . .developing people. It’s something that should be the most intuitive part of being a Manager and yet it’s the one aspect that so few do well. Think of all the terrible bosses you’ve had in your career. We all have those horror stories. Now think of those Managers you truly valued. Few and far between, aren’t they?

It’s easy as a Manager to get crushed by the never-ending demands on your time. Making targets. Delivering on time. Reporting to your stakeholders. Delighting your customers. Where do you find that extra time to invest in your people when your day is jam-packed with meetings and your real work, the stuff you have to get done, begins at 16:00?

Part of the problem is that most Managers rise from the ranks of individual superstars. Those indefatigable, unstoppable, and indispensible players on a team. When they find themselves managing others it’s a hard adjustment. Most aren’t given a fair start for success because they don’t have Managers who properly guide them during this important transition.

Instead, they think they can rely on the same skills that made them so valuable as an individual contributor. They work harder and harder, never learning to delegate and rely on others, carrying the full weight of the team on their shoulders. So they in turn, aren’t able to realize their full potential as a Manager and one day find themselves trying to manage Managers. And the cycle continues.

I count myself blessed that I had enough wonderful Managers to help build my foundation, to teach me the basics. Oh believe me, I had my share of nightmare bosses too. But I had enough mentors along the way to help guide me to the right path. I say guide, because as important as a veteran is to a new Manager, ultimately it is you who will determine your success as a Manager. Sure, your mentor can give you shortcuts, steer you with pearls of wisdom, but ultimately you are driving your career. Having a bad Manager is no excuse to become a bad Manager yourself. In fact, if your Manager does nothing for you but to raise your awareness to the importance of managing people, then that’s all you can really ask. Everything else is gravy.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aspire to be better Managers. One of the first things my Team Leads ask me is what my philosophy is on being a Manager. I tell them that I cannot speak for everyone and my way may not be the best way nor is it the only way, but it’s the way I’ve found works for me and so it’s the way I teach my people. I believe that a Manager has two jobs: to inspire his people to excellence and to enable and empower his people for success. That’s it. No fancy rules or long explanations. No top ten lists or multi-bulleted training modules. No complex psycho-social theories. Inspire and Empower.

Now I’m not saying that other characteristics aren’t important. Organization, risk management, conflict resolution, integrity, advocacy, and so on and so on. Sure, these make for a great Manager. But I take these as a given. Don’t brag about stuff you are supposed to do. You must be all these things. But to truly be great as a Manager, you must inspire and empower. From here all things come. And I challenge anyone to argue that these other traits do not eventually map back to these two core values.

Inspiration drives morale. It brings loyalty. It defines the standard of excellence you expect from your team. Inspiration brings the team together in the common vision, the broader purpose, and the shared goal. Inspiration is what will keep your people going when times are rough.

No matter how inspired your people are, if they don’t have the tools and resources they need to be successful then it counts for naught. It also means that you have failed them as a Manager. It’s not just about budgets and resources. It’s teaching them these lessons, these disciplines, these ways of thinking. Empowering means removing those obstacles that prevent your people from accomplishing your purpose. Of course, there’s something to be said for letting your people struggle a little, to learn things on their own. I’m infamous for this with my teams. But it must serve a purpose, it must teach, it must be done in a safe environment where they can make mistakes, and it must have its limits.

The next question I get asked most often by my Team Leads is, “How am I doing?” or “How will you be evaluating my work?” Again, my philosophy is simple. If your team is successful, then you are doing well and you will get a good review from me. If your team is not successful, then you have failed and you will not get a good review from me. No exceptions. “But, Serge, that’s not fair! What if I did everything I was supposed to do but I had a problem individual that brought the whole team down!” One, you have failed your team because no one should be allowed to be that irreplaceable, myself included. No single points of failure. Two, you have failed your team because you have failed to inspire and/or empower that person to be successful. Three, each Team Lead on my team knows I don’t coddle mediocrity and I have empowered them to reassign roles or to dismiss people if necessary.

I am not an absentee Manager. I don’t dial it in. And you best believe I know the pulse of the team and exactly what’s going on with each of my team members. So I shouldn’t have these Earth-shattering surprises. That’s my job as a Manager. I expect the same from my Leads. So you can’t tell me that dead weight snuck up on you or that in spite of your efforts, one person was allowed to drag your team down. That’s a cop out.

Now here’s the beautiful twist. If I’m going to measure you by how your team does, guess what? My Manager measures me in the same way. So I am incented to make sure each of my Leads is successful. I am expected to bring all that is required to help them be successful. I have to inspire and I have to empower. I can’t sit on my ass when I know my Leads are struggling, when they don’t have what they need to be successful. My Leads, in turn, are motivated to do the same for their people. And so on. Now you have this tightly-knit team, with a common goal and a shared vision, with incentives to help each other be successful, and a culture of ownership and accountability. All this, from a little inspiration and a little empowerment.