You want to encourage people on your team to be the best they can be.
I’m a big reader. So the first thing I did when I came across this problem was to start a search on Amazon. Admittedly I only read a few books. I’m no guru. I don’t even think I’m that experienced. But I do think I’ve found a few strategies that have worked so far. I’ve also found some dead ends, therefore this blog post is as much for myself as for anyone else.
Don’t get upset
This first one is hard for me. My initial reaction when things aren’t going as planned is to get exasperated when I think that someone is being stupid. Which is silly because honestly I’m stupid all the time and I know when people treat me like that it doesn’t work. If anything it is counterproductive. Intellectually this seems rather straightforward and obvious to me, but practically speaking it is always a bit of a challenge. Interestingly I’ve never heard it explicitly written in any management book, but it is implicitly written all over the walls of most management books I’ve read. I’ve found that stopping, taking a breath, trying to imagine why the person is doing what they are doing, asking them why they are doing what they are doing and then proceeding helps to humanize them to me. It also helps me from making silly factual mistakes about the situation.
Do give genuine and timely praise
Genuine praise. Lots of genuine praise. Which might mean thinking hard about the situation making sure to recognize things that are even slightly right. In my short career I think I’ve gotten a fair amount of praise. Or at least I feel like I’ve gotten a fair amount of praise and not enough feedback. Unfortunately I haven’t gotten what felt like genuine praise. Also it usually is just saved until I have a 1-1 with a manager or boss. So even if it was genuine it was difficult to keep it specific and make it a habit.
Do give actionable, specific, and timely feedback
The more consistent you can be the better. If you are giving praise regularly and you genuinely care about the well being of your team then they should be receptive of your feedback. Calmer is better. If you can’t be calm don’t give feedback. Once someone has become defensive, nothing you say after that point is going to be heard. If you can’t give feedback without people getting defensive this is an indication that something is fundamentally wrong. I feel like I’ve found it difficult to get feedback from people. One pattern I’ve seen for my entire career is a manager/mentor/leader who I work closely with decides we should have a 1-1. We get into it and we talk about where I want to go or what is going on. Then I will explicitly ask for feedback (thank you ThoughtWorks) and I will get nothing but praise doing a good job. Usually the least kind of helpful praise (see above).
Care about your team members
If you don’t care about your team members then they aren’t going to care about you or your team. Empathize with them. They are people and they aren’t always going to share everything with you. Sometimes people are irrational, but that’s pretty rare. Often if you take the time to understand where people are coming from you’ll realize you were missing some important component. This only increases the more you are surrounded with people you trust.