Managing your team members individually: a per-person approach

An starting point to assess your cost-benefit analysis for your team members should be tthe identification of their actual shortcomings and strengths. Sounds easy, but a huge percentatge of leadership misguidances come from a wrong implementation of this simple point. A simple, yet effective approach to this poses a clasification of each member based on his/her technical skills and motivation. I personally find useful to label the four areas of the resulting matrix as follows:

  • Runners: On your upper right side of the matrix you can find the highly skilled, highly motivated employees. Runners are worth their weight in gold, no need to say, for they will lead the team to the next level and become a benchmark and role model for ther rest of its members. Remember: Team leaders should just care about trying to remove any potential obstacles for a runner to do what knows better: run. Pep Guardiola, former FC Barcelona’s head coach, knew this very well when he was questioned about what to do to improve Leo Messi’s already outstanding performance in 2009. He answered:”I just have to make sure that he’s happy”
  • Grandpas: Just below Runners, we’ll find grandpas. These are typically obsolete or very junior professionals (that means investment required) very much willing to be learn and be helpful. Motivation is an asset, unarguably, though a practical team leader should evaluate the cost-benefit analysis of such investment to decide on its viability and potential risks. Thus said, the classic pitfall with grandpas is failing to properly identify  their training shortfalls and take them as motivational issues. Remember: Grandpa’s just need a bit of external help. Help them climb (to the runner zone) and you’ll gain an invaluable asset for your team.
  • Sloth Bears: Located in the opposite side of the matrix, sloth bears are essentially demotivated professionals. Such demotivation might be caused by different reasons, but, eventually, will result into a plummeting performance. This constitutes, precisely, the classic pitfall regarding sloth bears: mistaking their demotivation for a lack of knowledge and preparation. Remember: focusing on the causes of the problem, and not on its effects, is what sets apart a good from a bad team leader. If you really want to help your sloth bear members, push them right. This game of words (right to the runner zone and the right way of pushing) will help you remember that an unmanageable challenge will make your team member fall in the worst possible zone of the matrix: the zombie zone!
  • Zombies: A good lesson from The Walking Dead TV series is that no matter what you do with zombies, if you’re outnumbered they’ll always win.Therefore, if one of your team members is either motivated or sufficiently skilled, you should seriously consider taking his/her relocation. Remember: zombies are slow, but their number will grow quietly and, before you know, you’ll have a team of zombies.

Understanding the essentials of team leadership: the cost-benefit analysis

As your professional career progresses, your job will be directly or indirectly focused on managing other people. Barring very (rare) specific cases, that is a fact. The reason is simple: once you’ve proved to be good enough at your job, you’re expected to scale it up and take it to the next step.  And that means leading other people to do so.

Precisely the acceptance that your performance review will be essentially based on what you’re able to get out of your team, and no longer on how good your personal job, is turns out to be  a big impact for most new managers. In fact, a fair number of them will never accept it entirely. They’d act as such, but, deep inside them, simply keep working exactly as before. The reason is twofold:

  • Inability or lack of training: up to that moment,  most of these new managers have devoted a huge percentage of their time developing a specific set of skills, entirely related to technical or operating topics. From this moment on, however, all this knowledge is taken for granted and, as such, of secondary importance. On the other hand, the total amount of time dedicated to learning how to properly do what will be the core part of their daily job (managing people) is, comparatively, tiny. And that’s true even for those of them holding an MBA. As a result of this, the fresh team leader will have to face his/her new duties with a  feeble theoretical background and a field experience typically inspired (limited) by former bosses. That’s called the golden trap of a vertical promotion, and we’ll have an specific post devoted to it further on.
  • A wrong approach to his/her goals as team leader. The ultimate goal for every team leader should be clear and straightfoward: take the best out of your team at the minimum possible cost. That’s to say: a cost-benefit approach (check this Cornell’s paper on the matter if you’re interested in a deeper look at this concept) Don’t take it wrong: all criteria may and should be included in this definiton: employee well-being, work-personal life balance, economic factors..everything. Investing too little in a potentially outstanding employee is a failure, assuming a disproportionate investment with an unclear return is equally irresponsable. Remember that input factors for these types of investment are, just as any other, two: time and money.

This approach will help us identify our team member’s shortfall and needs and take further action. We’ll use a taylor-made approach for that in another post.

Walking your talk: how do you lead?

A few weeks ago, my editor ask me for a quick tweet grasping my thoughts on leadership. More precisely, she asked me about the differences between a leader and a boss. Now, this is a classic question typically leading to statements regarding the overall capacity to create a team out of a group of people, thus involving drivers such as his/her motivational skills, long-term vision or willingness to overcome daily duties to take the team/organization one step further. Something probably winding around the idea of trascending hierarchy (internal focus) to embrace customer or business-focused principles. To me, these kind of definitions are vague enough to be obviously true, but essentially non-workable. Don’t take me wrong: we do need leaders with such accomplishments, but, more importantly, leaders need to focus on tangible, simple actions to get there. Do you want to engage your team? do you really want to lead? then walk your talk: be coherent, be guided by the very same principles that you insist on holding your team to and, first and foremost, show your customers that your approach is not just a fancy theory. Rest assured: everybody will notice Thanks to my job, I meet smart people (or considered as such)  on a daily basis, hard worker professionals quite (less) frequently, but very few people that really walk their talk.

Becoming a role model is not about doing a lot of things very well, but just being rock-solid about a few, essential things. Coherence is definitely one.