5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
I can hardly remember a time when I didn’t have a job. On my way up the career ladder, I’ve worked under many different managers. Some were great, and a few were … well, less so. I learned a lot from both ends of the spectrum. On the whole, I was fortunate to have many exceptional mentors.
I’ve learned that the best leaders manage individuals to maximize their contribution to the team’s objectives. Each team member contributes to the main objective, but their strengths, weaknesses and approaches are unique to them.
It’s all about managing the whole person.
Unique people, individualized management
A person from a fast-talking sales background transitioning into a management role might need advice on how to keep their team organized. Meanwhile, a more introverted finance whiz might need encouragement to be more outspoken. Some colleagues want to share everything about their family life and tell every detail about their weekend, while others prefer more privacy.
Being connected to your team doesn’t mean there are no boundaries. I’m close with most of my people, and I know all of their kids’ names. But you have to be able to read signals and adjust — everything with respect and within limits.
I have a block in my calendar for connecting with my team. With everyone working remotely now, I video-call them to check-in and see how they’re doing. There’s no agenda or expected outcome for these calls other than spending time together. I call it my “gratitude block,” because I use this time to make sure they know that I appreciate them as individuals and as part of my team.
Sometimes we may be moved to do something specific for an employee. At the busiest point of Q2, I had a new leader in customer experience and retention. She’s a married mother of two, and her husband was also working around the clock. I made it a point to order dinner for four from a nice restaurant in her neighborhood and have it delivered to her house. I blocked time in her calendar for her to sit with her family and eat a meal in peace. It was a small gesture of appreciation, but by learning about her life outside of work, I knew where I might be able to help. I do this because it’s who I am as a leader, but it’s also true that people who feel appreciated consistently outperform those who do not.
Ask for help
Nobody knows every secret to leadership, nor do we have enough bandwidth to provide in-depth individualized coaching. It’s a process of constant growth. Admit that and you open yourself up to a wealth of possibilities.
I work with an outside consultant to help coach my team and lead team-building exercises that increase confidence, teach new skills and strengthen bonds. One of the most valuable outside influences on my approach as a manager has been a course on Situational Leadership, a model developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. I have taken the course many times. The main idea is that leadership is about not only delegating tasks but also managing relationships. It helps you identify the professional personality of each person you work with.
In Hersey and Blanchard’s model, each personality type captures what a person needs from their manager. It differentiates between those who are more experienced and those just starting out, those who are self-motivated and those who need more of a push from management, and so on. It’s helped me become a better leader by teaching me how to understand people and adjust my management style accordingly.
Working relationships can be close — and at small businesses, they can be especially personal. When one colleague is having a bad day, everybody feels it. When someone is on vacation, everyone else needs to take up the slack. These kinds of relationships pose additional challenges to managers, but they’re also what make SMBs so dynamic. Plain and simple, when people feel they belong, they tend to perform at a higher level.
Amid the current health crisis, and the more general shift to remote work, SMBs want to keep this familial culture. But to accomplish this, we need to make adjustments. Those casual, personal interactions that used to take place almost by accident need to be intentional. For me, a good rule of thumb is to reserve a minimum of five minutes from every one-hour meeting to talk about life outside of work.
By maintaining these relationships, your people will feel comfortable calling you when they identify a problem. They’ll feel more connected to you, heard by you, and inspired to do great work. By understanding the full range of each person’s emotional needs, you’ll be a better leader for everyone and know what it takes to maximize results.