As a manager, one of your biggest responsibilities is to inspire other people to be the best versions of themselves. If done well, everyone on your team will not only be more productive and efficient, but also happier with their jobs. One of the hardest challenges, especially for new managers, is to balance this leadership mindset (focusing on helping other people) while still finding ways to get your own work done.
Whether you have read countless leadership books, have been managing others for a long time or got thrust into a position ill-prepared, leading employees and empowering them to do good work is an art that can be learned just like programming skills or riding a bike.
While there is no prescriptive and guaranteed method to become the “best leader ever,” there are many actionable things you can do to ensure your employees are constantly headed in the right direction. Here are 10 tactical ways to help your employees be more productive — a great foundation for future leadership success.
1. Be yourself
There is no replacement for authenticity. People can sense fakeness! Having to put on a face with your employees every day can not only lose their trust, but it also makes work less enjoyable for you.
There’s no need to overcompensate with certain leadership styles based off of how other people lead — especially if it is out of your comfort zone. Behaving in a manner that is consistent with your beliefs and values will give you more energy each day and it will send a message to your employees to be themselves.
2. Create a culture of transparency and feedback
While many managers are afraid to do this, admitting when you are wrong is crucial to building an honest and transparent culture where everyone can feel free enough to be their best at work. For me, this starts at the highest level. So if you’re the CEO, learn to admit when you’re wrong.
Sometimes, as we sit in a leadership role, we think have to demonstrate control and always be right. Yet, it actually shows more courage to admit when you don’t know the answer or that you made a mistake. Doing so will establish a layer of transparency with your employees and promote a culture of learning. In the long view, it will allow you to change your ideas and tendencies without needing to maintain your ego.
3. Get to know each individual
It’s hard to remember that Jan told you her daughter broke an arm and that Jose’s father-in-law was in town for the weekend. Following up on the little things every Monday morning demonstrates a genuine care for your employees.
Asking about something that you know has been going on in someone’s life or checking in on someone when they seem a bit down can build a stronger connection between you and every team member.
With this connection will come an opportunity to understand what motivates your employees, what they enjoy doing and what they are working toward. When an employee knows that their boss cares about their success, they’ll have more motivation to work and they’ll feel an obligation to work hard for you. Plus, it will make it easier to give constructive feedback when they know you have their best interests at heart.
I personally go on daily walks twice each day during work hours. I typically invite two or three people for each walk. This helps me get to know people with my busy schedule. Make time for it.
4. Appreciate good work
Giving recognition for work that was is lacking can set a bad precedent. While the line can sometimes be hard to draw, being attentive to the effort, growth and output of your employees will allow you to give them proper recognition.
Many employees are so caught up in their own worlds and won’t give each other the recognition they deserve, so being the one to applaud good work can keep motivation levels high and show much needed recognition.
You’ll be surprised how much a “good job” goes with some people. It can make the difference between a happy and productive employee vs. someone who leaves your company.
5. Empower them with the best technology
People often spend hours on tasks that can be automated or highly sped up with technology. Most of the time, it’s actually cheaper to pay for things like calendar automation than it is to schedule meetings manually. There are solutions for many things today that you might not even know exist.
Take a look at the tasks employees are doing, especially the monotonous ones that bother them. Spending the time to find solutions that can automate or speed up those tasks will not only make them more productive, but also a lot happier.
6. Encourage risk taking
If there were a 40 percent chance that a project one employee could take on would fail and a 60 percent chance it would succeed, then the decision to pursue the project will be largely based on their perception of the risk of failure. In a culture where failure is met with harsh criticism and fear of being fired, these 60/40 decisions that, overall, would benefit a company, won’t be enacted.
Employees face decisions like these daily on whether to try something a bit more ambitious than the norm. Encouraging this risk taking will not only make employees more confident and autonomous, but it will yield more output within a culture of innovation.
7. Get everyone behind the mission and keep them there
One of the biggest challenges at a company, especially as it grows, is keeping each employee excited about the work that they’re doing. When people are working intrinsically and feel like the work that they are doing is the best possible way that they could be spending their life at the moment, their output is going to be exponentially higher.
If they’re basing part of their self concept on the work that they are doing and they care deeply about it, then each day they will be coming into work with the energy to give it all they have.
8. Give people freedom and autonomy
If people feel like they have to be doing their work in a particular way, have to wear certain things in the office, and can’t be themselves, they are going to be less happy and productive.
Having honest conversations about the type of work they want to do, encouraging employees to take a goal or idea and run with it, and letting them revolve their work around the lifestyle they want can create momentum in the office — encouraging employees to work harder on what they enjoy most.
9. Push people to do what they don’t think they can do
Autonomy is important, but without an overall sense of guidance, people might spend significant time trying to figure out what they actually should be doing.
Checking in and challenging them to ask questions like “why am I working on this particular thing? What else can/should I be working on? Is what I’m doing the best use of my time right now and is there a way to do this more efficiently?” can help accelerate their learning and productivity.
10. Hire the best people
It goes without saying, but in an ideal world you can hire people that are very passionate about the work they are doing, know how to deal with ambiguity, and know how to push themselves.
Often it’s not the case that everyone on your team is a shining star. Part of being a manager is helping to bring these superstar qualities out of normal people. That being said, knowing when the person isn’t a good fit and cutting ties is critical. No matter what tactics you employ, there are certain people that will never be a great fit in certain jobs.