Taja is Founder and CEO of Pulp+Wire, an award-winning, full-service consumer packaging, branding, and marketing agency in Portland, Maine.
The evolution of leadership was one of the biggest business lessons from the pandemic. How companies and teams were led during the most tumultuous time in recent workplace history dictated how well they navigated the storm, and by extension, their ultimate success.
With full teams of people suddenly working from home, leaders weren’t sure how to manage from afar. A common, knee-jerk reaction was to tighten the reins. It quickly became clear that employees didn’t like the inferred lack of trust and disempowerment. Leaders have spent the last two years honing their leadership skills, and acting less like watchdogs. They are seeing the value of empowering their employees, and seeing the reward in higher productivity and engagement.
For some, this shift in leadership was a big departure from what they knew. Many leaders tend to emulate how they were previously managed, which, in many cases, doesn’t hold up anymore. And this isn’t only because of the pandemic, old school leadership styles just aren’t that effective anymore. Dictating orders, and expecting the team to obey without input or collaboration is not how new generations want to work. The new work style is about leaders leading, not bosses purely calling the shots.
Much of this is ingrained in a company’s culture. Some leaders surround themselves with “yes” people, but that’s usually driven by insecurity or ego. Managers who hire this way usually find themselves surrounded by a team constantly looking to them for the answers. In practice, you want to hire people smarter than you – people who will challenge you and the way you think. You want people who value what you know but also bring their own value.
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Empowering people to think for themselves and inviting them to bring their full value to the team and company is a critical part of building a collaborative and innovative team. Here are some ways to enable your team to work more effectively and autonomously.
Learn to be wrong thoughtfully.
The best leaders own when they’re wrong. Not only does it show humility, it also encourages the team to be more open. It’s OK to admit that an idea was bad or something didn’t work. You want a team to challenge each other, and be willing to take chances. Modeling behavior that gives people permission to be wrong is step number one. There’s no room for ego in a successful business.
Stop apologizing! It’s OK to be wrong, and you don’t have to apologize for it. In many workplaces, people are afraid to have different opinions, and in a creative environment, it can be paralyzing.
Leaders, step out of the room.
Take a hike during brainstorming sessions. It will help stir up creativity, and keep your team from looking to you for all the answers. If you’re gone, they feel more confident. The idea of “looking wrong” in front of you is removed. Let them come up with solutions, and come back to you. You need to enable the team to be free thinkers – if you’re in there, it can hamper their candidness.
The takeaway here is to lead by leaving the room, and letting the team figure it out. They will bring solutions. The leader simply can’t be the one coming up with solutions over and over. Leaders need to feel secure enough to know that the team needs to be a team. You be the captain: let them scrimmage and play.
Build mindfulness into your process.
We live in such a fast-paced world. You need to have time to think – and not expect brilliance in the moment from yourself or your team 24/7 – give the creative thought process some breathing room. Thoughtful solutions are usually more effective and productive than fast or hurried solutions.
Make sure to regularly assess the team and your internal processes. Remember that trust goes both ways. Give your team the tools and support they need to succeed. Highlight wins, and watch their self esteem grow.
Empowering your team is one of the most effective ways to keep your workers engaged, productive and from seeking opportunities elsewhere. The extra time it takes to give them the direction they need will pay off tenfold.
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Author: Taja Dockendorf, Forbes Councils Member