Your Role as a People Leader (Pt 1)

Becoming a Manager or Team Leader is a big step, yet often people end up in the role without any clear idea about what’s involved. Often their only experience of leadership is that of being led, so it’s no surprise that new managers tend to mimic the practices they have experienced themselves. That’s all well and good if they have been led well. It’s not so good if they haven’t.

If you’re new to a management or team leader role, it’s important to recognise that growing a great team doesn’t happen by accident. Just as a hothouse gardener needs to create a good growing environment and tend to the individual needs of each plant, a manager needs to create a good growing environment and tend to the individual needs of each person on their team. In other words, if you want your team to bloom, you need to be intentional in helping them do so. It’s not enough to plant a seed and hope for the best.

What makes a good growing environment?
When we think about a good workplace environment, we often sum up the environment as ‘workplace culture’ or ‘the way we do things around here’. What we often overlook is the role that leaders play in developing that culture. The way you lead determines the way your people behave. If you want your people to do their job well, you need to do your job well too.

As a people leader, your job is to create an environment that makes it easy for your team to perform. While each person will need different things at different times, the basic growing environment is the same for everyone. For a person to do well in their role, there needs to be trust, clarity, commitment and accountability. In Part 1 of this 4-part series, we look at what it takes to build a foundation of trust with your team.

What type of trust?
Trust is the foundation of any good working environment and is a critical aspect of supporting your team to truly thrive. Before a person will take instruction or feedback from you, they need to trust you as a leader—and that trust needs to exist on three levels.

First, your team need to trust that you care about them as people. They need to know that you are on their side and are committed to their well-being in all aspects of life, not just at work. They need to know that they can bring you ideas, feedback and challenges, and you will respond with kindness and an open mind—every time. They need to trust your character is good, fair, open and honest.

Secondly, your team need to trust your integrity. They need to know that you follow through with your commitments and keep your promises. They need to trust that you live from your values and do the right thing, even when no-one is watching. If you want your team to behave with integrity, they need to trust that you work with integrity too.

And lastly, your team need to trust your capability as a leader. They need to know that you can lead yourself and carry out the functions of your role well. If you expect your team to perform their role exceptionally, then you need to lead by example. When your team trusts that you are a capable leader, they are more likely to respect your instruction and feedback.

Simple Practices to Cultivate Trust
The key to building trust with your team is consistency. It’s not enough to do some things well, some of the time. Trust is about developing behaviours that your team can rely on—or trust you to deliver—every time. The following practices are small, simple behaviours that will help you develop as a trustworthy leader in the eyes of your team.

Personal Check-Ins
Take time to check in with every team member on a regular basis. If you are working in the same building, take a morning walk and greet each team member face-to-face. If your team is dispersed, create a practice where you touch base with a quick hello in some other way. It might be a morning text with a thought for the day or a quick phone call acknowledging what’s on their calendar. It’s important that this check-in is brief, encouraging and personal—and it shouldn’t always be about work. This regular practice is not about checking-up, it’s about checking-in.

Whinge Outside
As a leader, there will be times when you want to download about someone’s behaviour or performance, so make sure you have a mentor or coach you can download to. This might be your own manager or Board Chair, or it could be an external source of support. Whoever it is, make sure it’s not another member of your team! Nothing erodes trust faster than talking to team members about each other.

Practice Affirming First
When team members come to you with new ideas, practice sharing all the things you like about the idea first, and only then pose questions about potential challenges. A simple process is to start with ‘What I like about the idea is…’ and list all the benefits. Then, pose some questions couched around ‘What I’m wondering is how might we…?’

By couching the obstacle as a question, you are keeping the idea open for further exploration and empowering your team member to take ownership of potential challenges. This creates a safe environment where your team trust you will listen to ideas with an open mind.

Own Your Mistakes
Your team know when you have dropped the ball, so there’s no point pretending you haven’t or blaming someone else. When you own your mistakes and take full responsibility for your shortcomings, you build a level of trust that you can’t achieve in any other way. Recognise your mistake, apologise where you need to, and commit to doing better next time. Vulnerability through acknowledging imperfection is a great trust builder.

Ask for Personal Feedback
Soliciting feedback about your business or organisational systems is useful; asking for feedback about your personal leadership is even more so. When you give your team permission to evaluate your performance as a leader, you are signalling that you care about doing a good job and want the best for your team. Make asking for feedback a regular part of your team interactions and make sure you act on the feedback you receive.

Do Your Job Well
When we ask team members what most frustrates them about their boss, most often there are two things that get mentioned immediately. The first is that their boss doesn’t hold people accountable, and the second is that they lack follow through. These two things are key aspects of effective leadership, and if you’re not doing them well, your team will notice. If you want your team to trust your capability as a leader, you need to consistently do these two things well.

Keep Learning
If you expect continuous development from your team, you need to show a personal commitment to development also. Create learning habits such as listening to relevant podcasts, reading leadership books, attending workshops or having regular coaching. Becoming a capable leader takes a deliberate intention towards continuous development, not just in your field or industry—but specifically around your role as leader.

Trust Goes Both Ways
Earning your team’s trust is essential for helping them grow, but being able to extend trust is equally important. If you want to truly grow your team—and each individual team member—you need to trust their character, their integrity and their capability also. If that trust doesn’t currently exist, then it’s your job to have some vital conversations and re-establish the behaviours you expect.

Once the expectations are clear, you need to be committed to doing your part well, regardless of whether your team members choose to do theirs. Nothing changes if nothing changes, and the only person you have the power to change is yourself.

Building a foundation of trust is the first step towards growing great people. How many trust building activities do you practice in your leadership role?