Managing people can be tough. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my role as General Manager of the League of Extraordinary Women is manage people. People can be difficult. Each of them is unique. They have different needs and wants. They want to be communicated to in different ways. They have different motivators and drivers and as a manager it’s my responsibility to be aware of these differences and to tailor my communication and approach accordingly.
Even tougher than managing employees, is leading them. There are some very distinct differences between a “manager” and a “leader” and one of my lifetime goals is to be thought of as a leader. To lead is to bring people with you on the journey. To tap into their emotions and intrinsically tie them to your vision. To identify their drivers and connect it to the bigger picture of the organisation. To connect all employees, regardless of their differences, to a common goal. To lead is to hold the space for your employees to make mistakes, to fail and then give them the reason to keep going, to pick themselves back up, reconnect to the vision and move forward without taking that failure personally. It is to set that bar high and hold yourself to the highest level of accountability on a daily basis. Essentially as a leader you are the heart of the business, the pulse. If you skip a beat, so too does the organisation.
The League is a unique business model in and of itself, as we rely on many volunteers, passionate about female entrepreneurship, nationwide to run the business. Out of a team of approximately 50, only 6 are paid and many of our location based team are female entrepreneurs who also run their own businesses so you can imagine how busy they are. We also rely heavily on Interns at League HQ who are also often completing university full time and juggling a paid part-time job on top of their Internship. So as you can imagine, leading a large, remote and unpaid team can be problematic.
Here are some tips that I utilise with the League to lead my team and keep them on task and vision:
- Empower team members. You’ve bought them into your team for a reason. I’m going to assume it’s because you found something special in them, felt they had the skills and experience to perform the role effectively and would be a cultural fit to your team. My strong recommendation would be to tell them this. Give them the gift of your belief in them. Employees blossom when they know that someone else believes in them and their skills. I always advocate for providing constructive feedback as things are not always going to be done correctly, but always do it in a way that enables your team to learn and develop from the feedback, and not in a way that undermines or erodes their confidence in themselves. As old school as it is, I am a big believer in the “feedback sandwich”. Start with a positive, deliver the negative constructively, and then finish on a positive.
- Involve your team in the bigger picture. Understanding how their role fits into the bigger picture of the organisation can be an incredibly powerful motivator for team members. People like to feel they are contributing to something bigger than themselves and employment is often not about the pay check but about how they are helping others and feeling their contribution is worthwhile. A genuine belief they are helping others can often satisfy an intrinsic need in a way money never will be able to.
- Focus on development. Employment is not a one way street. It’s a two way interaction where both parties gain benefit. For an employee, that benefit involves the opportunity to learn new skills and to take a step towards their career goals. For this, they need to be developed. They need your guidance, the benefit of your expertise, wisdom and time. Spending time with your employees is one of the biggest gifts you can give them as they will feel invested in, supported and that in turn will motivate them and help them feel that they are a valued member of the team. I think you will find they repay you tenfold in their commitment to you and your vision purely because you’ve invested your time in them.
- Ownership. For employees to really blossom and grow in their roles, there needs to be the opportunity for them to take ownership of their position without someone hovering over their shoulder. Ultimately everyone in the team is part owner in the final product or service and all truly effective leaders will communicate this and continue to reiterate this to their team members on an ongoing, formal and informal basis. True leadership is giving them the space to be creative, try new things, bask in their successes and learn from their failures. Failure is a healthy part of role ownership as it will teach employees lessons success never will.
- A good leader will also understand that all team members are equal contributors and that any success achieved should ultimately be shared amongst the team. It’s very easy to congratulate the “front end” person for a job well done, without recognising the support that the “back end” team members have provided to assist in achieving the success. It’s often the “behind the scenes” employees which keep the business running so failing to acknowledge their efforts would be remiss and could be detrimental to their future commitment to the organisation.
- Practice what you preach. As a leader, you need to hold yourself to the highest level of accountability possible. Often there won’t be anyone else holding you accountable so you need to do it for yourself which can sometimes be one of the toughest parts of being a leader. You set the example for others to follow so if you expect your employees to be on time, you must yourself be on time. Whatever expectation you set for your team, you must be diligent in upholding your end of the bargain, as your team will mimic what you do NOT what you say.
I believe leadership can be learned. It takes a conscious effort daily to remain in the space of “leadership” as it can be so easy to dip back down into “managing” but ultimately leadership is where the magic will happen. It’s the vision of an organisation which will engage employees at a deep core level and it is a true leader who will tap into this.
League of Extraordinary Women