One time, I called on to have a talk with my sister over dinner after she announced her plan to resign from work. With only a few short months of leading a medical team that provide annual physicals to our clients, she’s ready to pack up and leave. The reason: she was frustrated and disappointed from her team members’ incapability to follow her exact instructions thus, according to her, they keep making too many mistakes in the process. Because of this, she felt things were out of control which explains her frustrations and helplessness towards work. Things weren’t going well as she wants and expects it to be and she want out. I continued to listen as she pours out all her negative emotions toward her team that went to almost an hour until she finally asked for my advice.
My sister, and like many more others, has a different view and understanding of leadership. Clearly for them, leadership is telling people to follow a set of procedures and expects them to follow to the letter. Just like what Henry Ford once complained: “Why do I always get the entire person when I only need is a pair of hands”.
Having lead an IT and medical technology department for more that six years combined, I have learned through experience how to nurture work teams and recognize signs that makes them tick. Overall, for my part, leadersip is letting go than controlling. Identifying strengths and liberating creativity than imposing restrictive rules. It all starts with enablement.
Enabling teams is the very first step in bringing out creativity and achieve maximum performance among team members. The following are some useful tips I have learned along the way while leading people in my workplace.
1. Recognize Individual Strengths
Everyone one is unique and are very capable in their own respects. It is counter productive to assign an indivudual on tasks that are not naturally his/her strengths. This can be done by observing closely how individual members work on their regular tasks and if they are passionate and able to do things well in short time – a skill. Start observing things like: how they organize their desks during and after work, the way they talk, the way they write, personal grooming, performance of work duties and etc. These provide small but important clues on how members work naturally and what sort of tasks to assign to them.
2. Failure Is An Option
I remembered a phrase from a well renowned director, James Cameron, while giving a talk at one of the TED conferences. In contrast to popular wisdom particularly in the field of business and sports, he said “Failure must be an option. Fear isn’t”. Human as we all are, we all make mistakes – period. As leaders, one must have high tolerances for mistakes for it is through them that we discover and learn from.
3. Nurture Independence
The time when I spearheaded an IT team for about six years, my ideas (I thought) were the best ideas until we huddled together for a brainstorming session. I was surprised what my team came up with with a bright idea with very minimum project detail. Work independence means providing them the freehand to think creatively based on their personal strengths. Only one must do, as a leader, is to give and clarify work objectives. Objectives, in this case, must not be too specific as this restricts creative thinking and innovation. Objectives must be very clear and general.
4. Provide necessary tooling
This is the very basic need for every worker in a workplace – tooling. This may be in the form of office supplies, books, softwares, computers or other equipments. In my IT team, I do provide only books and fast intrnet connection and I leave the rest for them to think. One good example in my experience was to look for a solution to integrate communication services in our office.We have emails, chats, document management, and calendar from different providers and ofcourse, with different user logins. Such setup was too much to manage as an administrator. If we were a big company, I can easily opt to buy an expensive software of the rack to finally solve this problem – but money was scarce. With time, patience and an internet connection, I was able to scour for the best solution for a very small fraction of a price.
It must always be remembered that tooling is used to build something economically and much faster. However, simple tools can also be made to make other more complex tools. One of those simple tools, yet the most important one, is the worker’s mind.
5. Promote Creativity
A leader’s idea is not always the best idea. This is most often times difficult for many leaders to accept. Many leaders are trapped in the thought of them having only the best ideas to contribute thus lending a hand to team inefficiency – unknowingly. Each member has different personal experiences and diffrent set of expertise based from learned experiences. Each one has unique potential that when pulled together can always create maximum results.
Google is one of the many companies I admire that promotes and welcomes new ideas. Their 20 Percent Factor is one novel way of promoting and supporting ideas from employees. In fact, many of their popular services came from their 20 Percent program. No wonder they always come up with better ideas all the time.
6. Strip out rules that hamper creative processes
An oil painter depends largely on his physical capacity and emotions. These are the only set of parameters that he recognize and limits his ability to paint another Mona Lisa. As with any other creative process it must not be defined by strict rules or policies that are common among manfacturing industries. Many companies believe that implementing the same manufacturing stanards like: Six Sigma and ISO will produce the same maximum results. Humans are not like robots that can be restricted in too much bureaucracies and expect significant results. Humans achieve milestone results when allowed to think beyond boundaries of rules, beliefs or any standards.
7. Create a happy environment
Happy employees achieves better outcomes. Any enoromous task, no matter how difficult it can get, becomes easy and light to take on to a happy employee. I experience this first hand in my IT team even when faced with a seemingly impossible task. I noticed also that they are also the most productive employees yet with the most challenging jobs.
Daniel Dumaraos is primarily a technologist, a lab scientist and a businessman who loves to write as his favorite past time. He blogs primarily on topics that centers around Business Leadership, Personal Finance and Parenting. Visit his blog at http://www.dumaraos.com.