It’s often said, probably only partly in jest, that the hardest job in the country is that of manager of the national football team. The team’s success (or otherwise!) can have quite an impact on the national mood. It seems everyone has a view on tactics and team selection and what the manager should do. Naturally this indicates the passion for the game in this country, but also it shows how important leadership is. The manager makes the right decisions, the team wins, and we’re all happy.
“If only it were that simple”, smiles Lis Hughes of Frank Taylor & Associates, as she discusses leadership approaches, “but, joking apart, it absolutely goes to show how we recognise the importance of having good management. It may be a cliché to say that a successful team is greater than the sum of its parts, but it is very true. Good managers build, lead and develop good teams. It’s not easy, and huge volumes have been written on effective leadership. You can’t distil all that into a few bullet points, but nevertheless there are some key principles to which I have always tried to adhere.
First is authenticity. Your team aren’t fools; they will soon see if you are trying to put on an act. What’s more you spend a long time at work, too long to pretend to be something or somebody that you’re not. Be true to yourself, and the values and approaches that got you to your position as manager in the first place. Your team will respect you, and respond to you, all the better for it.
Secondly, never underestimate the impact the way you conduct yourself has. If you are downbeat or agitated that will soon convey itself to your team and very soon have a detrimental impact on team spirit and morale. You are in a unique position in that you can set the tone for your team in the way you approach work, its challenges and its successes. If you want your team to behave in a certain way, then the very least you can do is set the right example.
Thirdly, flexibility. In particular, to be able to switch between long and short-term goals. This means understanding the strategy and the smaller steps that help you achieve those longer-term objectives. You’ll need to be flexible in your approach to overcome challenges that will inevitably arise along the way. Management is often referred to as a journey, and this is a great analogy. If you think about a car journey, you may well begin that by setting the destination in your sat nav. It’s hardly unusual if, en route, for that sat nav to warn you of road closures or traffic jams ahead. You need to find an alternative route, and although you still have the same destination you need to be flexible and change your plans on how to get there. Business is often the same, the path you plan to take is rarely the exact one you end up taking; that requires flexibility.
That same level of adaptability is also required when it comes to managing your team, many of whom you will personally have recruited in the past. It’s crucial you understand their strengths and weaknesses, how they can best help the team and how best to motivate them. We can all probably tell a story or two of a manager we’ve had in the past who didn’t take the time to understand or get to know us, failed to motivate us and as a result didn’t get the best out of us. Don’t be that manager – it’s easily avoided if you invest in your team. Management doesn’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach, recognise your team for what they contribute and what they bring to the table. Spend time with them and get to understand their motivations, their approaches and their aspirations.
Last but by no means least, you too must keep evolving, keep a growth mindset and keep learning. You may be new to management, or have done it for several years, but in either case the only guarantee is that there is a new challenge just around the corner. How you react to that challenge will be determined by your mindset and approach and the strength of the team with you. I always advise people to expect the unexpected. If you’re in any doubt that, cast your mind back four years and ask yourself how much discussion your workplace had about a global pandemic?!