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Trip Report: Management and Leadership Skills for First-time Supervisors and Managers

In January 2017, I was promoted to Team Leader. This move is a more formal management position, as I now have three people I supervise. To help in this transition, it was suggested that I enroll in some introductory management/leadership training to help round out my skills. Our company has used this course before, and it received favorable reviews.

The purpose of this post is to serve as a reference for what I learned; I also feel it would be useful to others to have access to a simplified version of what the course covered to perhaps help you decide if you wish to take this course yourself (or recommend to others in your company). This post is not a substitute for attending in-person; the discussions that happen during the training are just as valuable as the topics.

Overall, this was a useful course both in content and format. The facilitator was very engaging, and there was plenty of (encouraged) group interaction. It was interesting to hear stories about people’s experiences, as well as the questions they asked to the facilitator and to one another.

Takeaway themes: ownership, credibility, ask don’t tell, clarity

Basic information

Dates: 6-7 March 2017

Provider: National Seminars Training / SkillPath

URL: http://www.nationalseminarstraining.com/events/events.cfm?tc=mns2

Facilitator: Anthony Garofalo

Demographics: 16 people (9 women, 7 men) from a broad set of vocations (e.g., banking, non-profit, manufacturing) and years of experience

If you attend one of these workshops, expect to be presented with additional materials (e.g., books, DVDs) you can purchase on-site. They also offer several types of subscriptions that give you access to online materials (e.g., webinars, audiobooks, articles) and discounts to other training.

Leadership style

We took a 15-question leadership style assessment (1 = strongly agree … 4 = strongly disagree). Example question: “It is only human nature for people to do as little work as they can get away with.” This helps indicate your default management style on a scale of authoritative to participative to free rein:

  • Make a decision and communicate it to employees
  • State a position and tell it to employees
  • Communicate a tentative decision and allow input for change
  • Pose an opportunity and ask for input, then make a decision (can be slower; if you reject input from someone, explain why)
  • Define parameters, and followers make the decisions (i.e., managing other managers)
  • Followers define opportunities, and leaders are resources

Managers are about getting things done through people. They tell people what to do, and are task-oriented.

A leader needs vision and followers/people. Leaders are people-oriented.

Not everyone responds to your default style of leadership. How do you know what style your employees will respond to? Ask them.

The styles are fluid. For example, when you’re new in a role, you need to be more authoritative, then you transition to a less rigid style as the team gels.

Resources for being a leader

  • Network with other leaders
  • Books, audiobooks
  • Seminars, training events
  • Trade associations, industry meetings
  • Mentors
  • Communication skills

We discussed as a group some good and bad leaders we’ve had in our careers and why they stand out.

Credibility and trustworthiness are important traits of a leader.

Supervising friends and former coworkers

Many in the room are now supervising teams they used to be in. Anthony said this is one of the hardest things about management, as the relationship changes.

Another participant said it this way: “Be friendly, but not friends.”

  • Be proactive about potential issues
  • Discuss boundaries and expectations sooner rather than later
  • Recognize there will be sensitivity

The biggest concern with being friends with an employee is that other employees could consider the environment unfairly skewed (e.g., someone getting more favorable assignments). In some states, an employee could bring a lawsuit against the company and the individual manager.

Don’t be Facebook friends with people you manage. It can reveal too much, which would cause you to treat them differently.

Common mistakes

  • Failing to clarify expectations
    • Clearly state what “done” means.
  • Not training your staff
    • Provide training and support.
  • Forgetting to document
    • “If it isn’t written, it didn’t happen”. Tip: Send yourself an e-mail. It has content and a time stamp.
  • Making all the decisions
    • Involve the team where possible.
  • Not delegating
    • Use delegation to develop your staff.
  • Fixing all the problems at once
    • Plan, prioritize, and use a system.
  • Not giving authority or support
    • Empowerment is trusting people to make the right decision. Support your people when they do make a decision.
  • Being afraid to make changes / take risks
    • Model change, and facilitate it.
  • Working without clear expectations
    • Meet with superiors if you don’t know what’s expected. Begin with the end in mind.
  • Not supervising
    • Be visible and available. “Manage by walking around.”
  • Not hiring people more talented than you
    • Help people do things you can’t.
  • Not learning to be effective
    • Strive to be better; learn new things.

SELF profile assessment

http://www.nationalseminarstraining.com/selfquiz/

We took a 30-question interaction style assessment (1 = not at all like me … 5 = very much like me). Example question: “I consider myself to be good at small talk.”

  • Social – high need to direct, need people more
  • Efficient – high need to direct, need people less
  • Loyal – low need to direct, need people more
  • Factual – low need to direct, need people less

It’s a spectrum, and many of us are not an extreme (i.e., more situational rather than deep-seated). You should be able to move among the styles, as again, not everyone will respond to the same style that you have.

This reminded me of the DiSC assessment I took for a group fitness training. The categories are dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. As an instructor, you teach from your preferred mode, but you will have people taking your class that are in a different mode.

Trust bank account

We all have a bank account with everyone in our life — coworkers, supervisors, family, friends. The balance is measured as the level of trust. Without trust, there is no credibility. Like a bank account, there are deposits (doing the following) and withdrawals (not doing the following):

  • Treat people as individuals
  • Keep personal commitments
  • Show personal integrity
  • Clarify expectations
  • Attend to the small things
  • Apologize when you make withdrawals

Leadership strengths and other topics

Your job as a manager

  • Clarify expectations
  • Train your people
  • Hold them accountable

Principles of influence

  • Build credibility and trust through integrity
  • Nurture employees
  • Focus on strengths
  • Listen empathetically
  • Understand that one size doesn’t fit all; ask individuals what they need
  • Encourage and empower staff
  • Foster a sense of ownership
  • Be direct, concise, and brief
  • Engender respect and trust

Tuckman’s stages (cycle) of group development

  • Forming — welcoming stage; leader sets the vision; very safe
  • Storming — conflict; necessary so they can learn conflict resolution; encourage disagreement
  • Norming — establishing rules of conduct; trust is established; building consensus
  • Performing — shared purpose; high productivity; 1 + 1 = 3 (better as a team than as individuals); willing to take risks; people function on their own

Responsibility has to do with the doing of a task; this can be delegated. Accountability has to do with whether you did the task; this cannot be delegated.

Communication

We discussed some general techniques for written and spoken communication, especially when it comes to e-mail and meetings.

One study shows 7% is communicated through our choice of words, 38% in how we say it, and 55% everything else (e.g., body language).

Active listening

  • Don’t formulate your response while the other person is talking.
  • Use eye contact, nod.
  • Paraphrase what you just heard.

Things you can say that undermine your credibility:

  • “Do you understand?” or “Do you have any questions?”
    • Can come across as belittling
    • Ask them to paraphrase what you asked to make sure they understand.
  • “You always/never …”
    • Be specific; e.g., “Last week you didn’t send me the report by the deadline.”
  • “Your work is incomplete.”
    • Tell them how to fix it.
  • “You need to improve your attitude.”
    • You can’t change their attitude. Be specific about behaviors.
  • “I’ll be honest with you…”
    • So were you lying the other times?
  • “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
    • This undermines other people.
  • “Could you do this little task?”
    • The word “little” devalues the task, and thereby implies the employee isn’t valuable.
  • “Yes.”
    • Think before you answer.
  • “I have 5 people who work for me.”
    • They work with you, on your team, or more formally report to you.

Prioritization

Stephen Covey’s time-management matrix:

Urgent Not Urgent
Important 1: CRISIS 2: PREVENTION
Unimportant 3: PROXIMATE 4: BUSY WORK; NICE TO HAVES
  1. Manage these
  2. Stay in this zone as much as possible
  3. Delegate these; they are often someone else’s crisis
  4. Limit these

Only set a max of three goals (otherwise you’re likely to achieve none of them), and make them SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Delegation

Gopher delegation

  • Authoritative
  • Grunt work
  • Gets the boring stuff done and opens up your schedule
  • Doesn’t really help the person doing the work

Stewardship delegation

  • It’s about the employee taking ownership
  • Delegate the results (what), not the method (how)
  • Offer your assistance, but let them know they don’t need to use it
  • Tell them about pitfalls beforehand
  • Set up the expectation of getting status updates (keeps you from micromanaging)

Motivation

Engagement means emotional involvement. Motivation means a reason to act.

Extrinsic motivation — you do something to get a desired outcome; the influence is outside. This is the “carrot and stick” model (a.k.a. “The Great Jackass Theory”). Employees are donkeys and are motivated by the carrot. When that motivation wears off, use the stick to beat them. This mode is more about incentive and discipline.

Intrinsic motivation — you are driven by an interest or enjoyment. In this mode, you can’t motivate others: You can only create an environment in which they are motivated. If you don’t know what that environment is, ask those you wish to be motivated.

Team-building exercises (e.g., trust falls, ropes courses) don’t really work well because they’re not for everybody. Making something mandatory for those who don’t like such activities can have the opposite of your intended effect. If you choose to do such exercises, they should not me mandatory, and should not be work-related. For example, karaoke, bowling, or miniature golf.

Commitment, actions, and tracking

Commit to the following:

  • Community
    • Build relationships
    • Find common interests
    • Show interdependencies
  • Influence
    • Model behavior
    • Ask others how to get there
  • Personal meaning
    • Explain the impact
    • Appeal to the different personality types
  • Contribution
    • Set clear expectations of “done”
  • Growth
    • Support and training
    • Feedback

Your actions should create an environment where people can be motivated. Show what’s in it for them, and ask people what motivates them. You should also eliminate demotivators:

  • Fostering internal competition (doesn’t always work, can create animosity)
  • Setting up unclear expectations
  • Enforcing unnecessary rules (if you can’t explain why, perhaps that rule should be eliminated)
  • Leading unproductive meetings
  • Treating people unfairly
  • Being too critical (see the good in people)
  • Under-using your employees’ abilities
  • Being untrustworthy
  • Tolerating poor performance

Track your group’s accomplishments on a scoreboard. (This comes from Covey’s The 4 Disciplines of Execution.)

  • Let the team create the scoreboard
  • It must be compelling (not just meaningless ceremony)
  • Show team statistics (only the info the team needs)
  • Figure out what’s important
  • Allow team members to see if they’re winning or losing in 3 seconds

Interviewing

Behavioral interviewing — past performance is an indicator of future behavior. These interviews are centered around questions like “tell me about a time you…”.

Do 1:1 interviews instead of panel interviews; much less stress on the candidate.

  1. Determine the competencies that would make someone successful in that role. Pick 3 or 4 for hourly workers, 4 or 5 for salaried workers/managers.
  2. Create one behavioral question per competency. Give each candidate the same questions so that (a) you compare “apples to apples”, (b) every candidate is treated fairly.
  3. When judging résumés, look for patterns of growth.
  4. Use the phone screen to get a gut-check. These should be about 10-15 minutes. Why are they interested in the position? Discuss wages early to save everyone the wasted effort only to find out you both can’t agree.
  5. Pick 3 to 4 candidates to bring in. Know about the person before sitting down with them (e.g., don’t read their résumé as your walking with them to the conference room).
  6. Conduct the interview.
    1. Take notes. Tell them you’re taking notes to help you accurately remember your conversation. Don’t throw away these notes for HR reasons. Take notes on separate paper, not their résumé or application.
    2. Never interview across a desk; it’s a barrier and sets up a power structure. If a table has to be involved, sit at the corners.
    3. Tell them the plan: discuss the résumé, ask your questions, let them question you. This keeps them calm because they know what to expect.
    4. Ask them what they like most/least about their current job; ask them why they’re looking for new work
    5. Use the behavioral questions. “Tell me about a time when ____ actually happened to you. No generalizations. Take some time to collect your thoughts if needed.” Ask at least one negative question; for example, “Tell me about a time when you couldn’t satisfy a customer’s complaint.” If they can’t come up with a concrete example after asking them 3 times to be specific, don’t hire as they probably don’t have the competency required.
    6. When you take notes, use the STAR column format: Situation/Task, Action, Result. You can take notes in shorthand and fill in later if needed. Use active listening.
    7. When they question you, if they lead with benefits, that’s a red flag. They should be using this time to ask about the job, the team, etc.

Coping with complainers

  • Use active listening; paraphrase their issue
  • If they say always/never, ask for specifics
  • Don’t automatically agree with them
  • Focus on solving the problem rather than figuring out who to vilify/victimize
  • Sometimes complainers just want attention, so be aware of frequency
  • Don’t apologize or comment — only state facts

Coping with argumentative or combative people

  • “Arguing is a choice.”
  • Stay calm; be professional — don’t “feed the beast”
  • Think before speaking
  • If something insulting is said, repeat it word for word
  • Focus on solving the problem

Painless performance improvement

This technique is about correcting performance, not attitude. The goal is to intervene, not confront. There are no winners or losers — just outcomes.

  1. State what you observed. Don’t ask “why” questions.
  2. Wait for the other person to respond. Watch out for common sidetracking techniques: stalling, feeling like a victim, using guilt trips, attacking, shifting the focus. If this happens, say “Right now…” and restate the observation.
  3. Remind them of the goal.
  4. Ask for their specific solutions. (This puts ownership back in their court.)
  5. Agree together on the solution. For example, “We agree that you’ll be on time for your shifts or you will (note: will vs. may) be subject to progressive disciplinary action.” Or simply say, “I’m sure you’ll do fine.”
  6. Follow through.

Making change happen

People resist change because it’s uncomfortable, may seem unsafe, or is unpredictable. Maybe they’ve had a bad experience in the past, personally dislike the idea, or don’t trust management.

Organization change fails when employees aren’t involved or don’t have the ability to lead the change. Lack of management buy-in or having too much change too fast can also be issues. Trust is important, and you can’t ignore the importance of WIIFM (what’s in it for me) with your employees.

  1. Give your team a reason to do something different.
  2. Find the unofficial power brokers in the org or your team.
  3. Help your team see the possibilities.
  4. Empower your team. Give as much information, authority, and responsibility as you can.
  5. Thank and reward incrementally, not just when everything is complete.
  6. Be open to challenging assumptions and behaviors.
  7. Model the change yourself.
  8. Consciously work to overcome resistance.
  9. Remind people that change is inevitable.
  10. Document your efforts. Use progressive discipline as a tool for people that will only change if there are consequences.
  11. Celebrate the old. What you’re changing from did serve a purpose for a time, and it’s quite possible the people that created that first thing are still with the company/team.

Traits management looks for regarding promotions

  • Hard work
  • Consistency
  • Earned trust
  • Promising less but delivering more
  • Good communication skills
  • Respect (commanded and earned)
  • Consistency
  • Initiative to solve difficult problems
  • Contribution to the bottom line
  • Sense of humor

Personal balance

It’s easy to get caught up in work-related matters as a leader/manager. It’s important to have goals in many aspects of your life: family, friends, job-related, civic, financial, spiritual, mental, and physical.

You want a mixture of different types of goals:

  • Immediate goals — something you’re working on right now
  • Attainable goals — haven’t started, but can be achieved
  • Visionary goals — big picture, not actionable just yet

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