As a first time manager, you likely feel tremendous pressure to be a “great leader.” But if asked you to define what makes a leader great, how would you respond?
Most managers are aware of the basic principles of good leadership, but few are able to organize the vague ideals they have learned over the years into an actionable framework.
Great leaders know that there are two major areas of management focus: tasks and relationships. If you excel in both of those areas, you will be rewarded with sustainable superior performance.
It’s important to note that balance between these two focus areas is essential. Managers who are solely task focused eventually burn people out. Managers who are solely relationship focused don’t set sufficiently high performance standards and challenge their teams to meet those goals.
However, managers who focus on task and relationship excellence inspire their teams to work together to reach their goal.
You’ll find a passion for task excellence in all great leaders. In John Eisenberg’s book That First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It on the Path to Glory, Fuzzy Thurston, an All-Pro guard who played for the great coach said “We realized in his first season that we were going to be a very good team … Lombardi wasn’t going to stand for anything less.”
That’s the attitude it takes to be great. But simply demanding task excellence isn’t enough to guarantee that your team will meet performance standards. As manager, you need to lead your team to meet those goals. Here are some practical ways you can support task excellence on your team:
- Cast a clear, inspiring vision. Your team should understand your goals and why those goals matter. That will provide a sense of purpose and motivation.
- Put critical requests in writing. Make sure your expectations for major projects – including deadlines and deliverables – are clear. Don’t assume that a casual conversation will be sufficient to define expectations.
- Provide the resources they need to excel. Providing resources means more than just providing funding, although that is essential. One of your team’s most important resources is their time. If their time is being dominated by ad hoc requests, they won’t be able to complete their crucial assignments to the best of their abilities. Protect your team’s time by managing their workloads to accommodate critical assignments.
Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team, recently won his 1000th NBA basketball game, making him the ninth NBA coach in history to achieve that feat.
One of the reasons for Popovich’s success is that he is intentional about connecting with players and staff to develop relationship excellence. He stated it this way: “We are disciplined … But that’s not enough. Relationships with people are what it’s all about. You have to make players realize you care about them. And they have to care about each other and be interested in each other.”
How can you connect with your team members and excel in your relationships with them? This is how:
- Get to know who your employees really are and what motivates them. Take the time to get to know employees as individuals. Learn what their goals are. Learn what makes them tick. Once you understand those motivators, you will be able to support their aspirations and goals by providing opportunities for them to grow and use their strengths.
- Show your employees that you value them. Recognize that your employees are human beings, not machines. They need to feel that their contributions matter. Don’t overlook the importance of saying “Thank you” and of recognizing their specific characteristics or accomplishments that make them assets to the organizaion.
- Give your employees a voice in decisions. When people feel they can speak freely to each other, the bond between them is strengthened. Share your ideas with the team, but then give them opportunities to critique the ideas and share their opinions.
Balancing task and relationship excellence is not easy, but those who master those two leadership skills are rewarded with highly engaged, highly productive teams.
Michael Lee Stallard, president of E Pluribus Partners, speaks, teaches workshops and coaches leaders. He is the author of the upcoming book Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work (Association for Talent Development).