Great leaders often have assertive and confident personalities that heavily influence their interactions with others. Sometimes these “strong” personalities go hand in hand with similarly forceful management techniques that can squelch innovation and the effectiveness of your team, because when people are worried about disappointing (or even angering) a boss they see as very much “totally in charge,” they may be reluctant to speak up and do their best work.
Does your management style cross that line between “strong” and “domineering”? Is it possible that you are unknowingly stifling your employees’ actions and opinions? Are you unwittingly killing innovation?
Take a look at the following problematic management scenarios and their solutions:
- People don’t speak up at meetings. To encourage more participation from “silent spectators,” end each meeting with a question such as “What are you going to do differently as a result of this meeting?”—then give everyone a chance to answer it. This not only keeps people on their toes, it also accustoms them to presenting their ideas in front of you and gives them opportunities to learn from how others present their ideas.
- Others embrace your viewpoint quickly. Savvy managers know that thoughtful and thorough discussion can yield new (and often unexpected) ideas, so they welcome reasoned disagreement. When employees quickly give up on their opinions, challenge them with a smile: “You’re accepting this idea that easily? What about . . . ?” Then offer arguments in support of their side for a while. Demonstrating a willingness to look at things from different perspectives will send a clear signal that you want people to speak their minds.
- Staff members don’t present new ideas. This scenario can arise when you shoot down their ideas immediately or completely without giving them careful consideration. Instead of saying “no” right off the bat, take the idea to the next level by reviewing the pros and cons of continued exploration. Employees will see firsthand not only that you are open to new ideas, but also that you are invested in helping them grow and understand their own thinking better. After you’ve used this approach a few times, your employees will be even more eager to present their thoughts to you.
- Few people come to you with issues or concerns. Even superstar performers run into challenges, and when they are too afraid to tell you that they need help, that can lead to big problems down the road. When they approach you, first listen without judgment, then focus on coming up with potential solutions (and not on analyzing how they got into this situation). If an employee is truly not performing up to your expectations, work with him or her to develop a formal performance improvement process (PIP) plan. Otherwise, coach—don’t condemn.
- You rely on only a few people. This creates a perception of favoritism and an atmosphere in which, outside the circle of “favorites,” only a very few extremely assertive people are likely to speak up with you. To assess whether you favor certain employees over others, create a spreadsheet with your staffers’ names and note how often you speak with each of them. If you see a pattern of favoritism, commit to broadening your communication efforts.
- Your entire team is not living up to your expectations. If you find yourself in this situation, it may be time to look in the mirror. Unless you’ve made very had hires, poor performance on the part of an entire team typically indicates problems with leadership rather than with individual employees. Examine your overall management approach and be sure to surround yourself with employees who are smarter than you (they make you look better!) and focus on how you can unleash their creativity and talents while clearing obstacles in their paths.
Changing Up Your Management Style
Do any of those scenarios seem familiar to you? If so, in addition to implementing the specific solutions described for each one, it may be time for you to reconsider your management style in general.
That doesn’t mean you have to overhaul everything you do, though. You just need to develop a more nuanced approach that recognizes that different situations call for different strategies at different times.
Here are some possibilities:
Command and control. You make the decisions and tell people how to carry them out. In a crisis, you act with authority—and maybe a little forcefulness, too. (When the pressure’s off, however, you’re better off using other management styles.)
Example: There’s an accident in the lab, and it’s critical to isolate the problem and evacuate everyone. To accomplish this quickly and safely, you need to act like a drill sergeant and issue direct orders.
Command and execute. When an employee lets you down at crunch time, you must step in and do (or redo) his or her work. (Note that this scenario most commonly occurs in small or cash-strapped organizations where there’s not enough training time for staff development.) If you have to resort to this management technique, make sure that you follow-up after the crisis with coaching and encouragement to help ensure that it doesn’t happen again (and to mitigate any sense of demoralization or intimidation the employee might feel after you “swooped in to save the day”).
Example: Right before it’s due, you realize that a grant application that you had delegated to a senior staffer needs to be redone, so you rewrite it. After the completed application is submitted, sit down with the staffer and go over what went wrong and discuss what can be done to prevent a similar crisis in the future.
Consensus building. You communicate a vision and want the team to participate in exploring ideas, deciding which goals to set, and determining how best to achieve them. When decisions are made based on consensus, everyone feels that his or her input is valued—and you get everyone’s buy-in on the project.
Example: As a new manager in a chemical-testing lab, you decide to use the “command and control” strategy to implement new safety procedures—a heavy-handed approach that alienates many of the company’s experienced lab techs who have been using the old procedures for more than a decade and feel that the new ones slow them down. In this situation a better tactic would be to include the lab techs in the decision-making process. First ask them how they could meet new safety requirements while maintaining productivity, then work together to create new procedures that everyone accepts.
Coaching. Provide individual mentoring to help employees develop critical skills. One way to do this is to look at how they accomplish their goals, then offer advice, suggestions for improvement, and encouraging stories about your own career development. This management technique can help build closer, more trusting, working relationships as well as increased productivity and better performance.
Example: Your new employee has a conflict with a more senior employee over time schedules and use of equipment. If you were a micromanager , you would impose a solution; if you were an impatient manager, you might merely warn the new arrival not to get a reputation as a hothead. But if you’re committed to offering effective coaching, you would help the new employee develop the skills he or she needs to resolve this conﬂict (and, perhaps, future ones), by offering suggestions for how to work things out peacefully or by describing your experiences with similar situations early in your own career.
Management doesn’t involve simply telling people what to do. Good managers exhibit leadership by paying attention to their employees’ behaviors and adjusting their management styles to address any issues, needs, and other concerns. Such adaptability is the key to managing employees to achieve their best results—and if they work for you, that is exactly what you want!
What management style do you prefer and how does it help motivate your team?