I recently completed the Leadership Accelerator Program offered through the UB School of Management. There are countless things I learned—and I would be happy to talk with anyone interested about the value of the program—but the best part beyond the people I met is lingering thoughts about different concepts, ideas, and research. When reviewing my notes from the last few classes, I paused on this quote from a scholarly article: “Employees want leaders to be decisive but participatory in decision making, focused on big pictures but contribute to detailed discussions, and engage but not micromanage.” (Farrell, 2018, p. 166)
That’s a lot, to say the least. The article suggests that leaders face a number of paradoxes that are challenging and confusing. I’m sure we can all relate. Mixed messages are given to leaders and the opinions of employees vary, creating a situation in which it is difficult for leaders to understand employee expectations and communicate strategies that help employees appreciate the balancing act that each leader must develop. It took a while to get there, but if you ask me, the whole thing is about one detail: COMMUNICATION.
This quote is not only about leadership, it’s about possessing qualities that make you a great boss, manager, and colleague. When is this easy to do and when is this challenging? With 15 years of experience managing different personalities, varying levels of experience, and numerous group dynamics, what stands out to me is that my ability to manage effectively and create a positive team atmosphere was easier when our communication was at its strongest.
I take pride in being responsible for helping others achieve success. I take the work of developing talent seriously. I take teamwork, camaraderie, and synergy to heart. I took deliberate actions to cultivate trust, and I genuinely cared about my direct reports as people and professionals. And guess what else? I told them. I showed them. It was a part of our dialogue and office culture. Without trust, communication is far more complicated and without trust, it’s hard to walk the lines conveyed in that quote.
When I was stretched too thin, something had to give. Can you relate? We often lose teambuilding and professional development opportunities when we need them most. We miss the casual, everyday moments that strengthen our working relationships. We skip catching up about the weekend in favor of diving in on the lingering assignment that didn’t get done the day before. We ditch the group brainstorm session in favor of plowing through it to just get it done already. It becomes easier to do it solo than train someone, mentor someone, and help someone. It’s easier to not ask, to not invite the questions and conversation, to not follow up, to not leave your literal or virtual door open…
But funny enough, it all gets easier when we do those things. It may take time, but it is easier when we communicate. When we act with intention. When we are deliberate and authentic. If one aspect of what’s described in the quote is particularly difficult for you, consider sharing that with your team. Let them know you’re working on it. Do you participate in goal setting exercises with your direct reports? Do yourself what you ask of them. Hold yourself accountable. Be willing to get vulnerable. That’s where the growth happens. You’ll have a better relationship with your employees and your team will become stronger. When your team is stronger, your output is too.