As you consider ways to increase leadership effectiveness, two exercises can help uncover and highlight your leadership style and values to share with your team. These practices are especially useful for leaders assuming new responsibilities or adding team members and serve to take personal leadership effectiveness to the next level.
Exercise 1: Leadership Operating Style
This exercise is simple and incredibly useful in helping your team understand your preferences and requirements for your behavior as well as theirs. It sets standards and expectations and helps people know how you will lead them. Importantly, it provides clarity about things often left to assumption and guesswork.
The key components are as follows and may be freely adjusted to fit your situation and personal style:
1. Communication. Write down all your contact numbers, emails, etc. that you wish your team to have. Let them know how you prefer to communicate with them at work and away from the office. An example, at work, I prefer to talk to people in person, followed by phone and with email as a last resort. When I am out of the office, please call my cell phone or my home number. When information needs to be shared quickly, I will use Slack or email, which I’d like you to check at least every two hours during the day. I will update you on the business in weekly team stand-up huddles and my direct reports during weekly meetings, both of which will occur on Monday mornings.
2. Accessibility. This lets the team know how to reach you in and out of the office but focuses on your boundaries rather than the method of communication. For example, “I am available to you at any time, even when I’m out of the office. If you believe it is important, call my cell phone, and we can talk. If you send me an email at home, call me to let me know it’s there.”
3. Flexibility. Depending on the nature of your business, it may be necessary to have people on-call, work extended hours, weekends, etc. This is an opportunity to provide the team with your expectations of how they may be asked to contribute. If it’s a 9 to 5 business, then this section may not be necessary.
4. Issues and Resolution. This is your opportunity to define your open-door policy or lines of communication throughout the team. It can be used to clarify that we raise issues in a respectful environment that rewards speaking up and does not punish those that do. It may talk about how we resolve team conflict. It may state, as mine does, that you only like surprises on your birthday and all other issues are brought to your attention as soon as possible for quick resolution. I make decisions quickly with 80% of the information and move forward.
5. Teamwork. This section sets the tone for collaboration and how you expect others to work together. For example, it may outline your preferred decision style: command, consult, or consensus; and describe the type of decisions using each method. It may outline your views on meeting deadlines and the importance of communicating with the team if delays arise. It may describe team ground rules that apply in every situation, such as no cell phones, no fire hosing ideas, and no personal attacks.
6. Personal development. This item may outline development expectations. For example, it is a 50/50 partnership between the employee and her supervisor. It may set expectations for frequency of informal and formal performance reviews and identification of development opportunities.
7. Personal time. This item can be used to outline vacation request expectations, setting boundaries between boss and employee during their away time, and overtime expectations.
8. Pet peeves. This is a general category that may not fit elsewhere. If you don’t like people to eat at their desks, or expect completed staff work with no spelling errors (as a hypothetical), this may be the place to list those items.
The key to this exercise is putting onto paper (one to three pages works) the requirements, preferences, quirks, and other items that will help people work better with you and set expectations with them. There is no right or wrong way to do this exercise, and you should complete it based on who you are as a leader, not who you think you should be to others. In the end, if you are unable to act consistently with your operating style, the exercise has failed to make you and the team more efficient.
This exercise requires a level of trust in your team, but if you don’t give them your trust first, you cannot expect it in return.
Exercise 2: Values Credo
This exercise intends to record the core values and supporting leadership principles that you expect to live by while recognizing and accepting you will fall short of this standard on occasion. The takeaway for the team is a lens into your worldview and your standards and expectations. This is a more intimate exercise than the first and gives the team additional insight into your leadership operating style.
Values vary widely by individual, so use these as thought starters rather than suggestions for your values.
Vision/Purpose. I will leave the place and the people with whom I work better than I found them. I will help build the skills of current and future leaders.
Passion/Energy: I will design my life to work on the things I care about most. I will be an energy-creating force in my interactions.
Integrity. I will consistently do what I say I will do. As a leader, I will work with others to always do what we say we will do.
Decisiveness. I will approach every decision with the question Why not? I will make decisions with a bias toward action and start something in motion. I will ask, “When would NOW be a good time to take action?”
Competence. I will seek, every day, to learn something new and ask a better set of questions. I will be a student of others and grow from these interactions.
Consistency/Caring. I will think first of the people before making any decision because it is my way. I will consistently challenge the status quo and ask; How can I make it better than it is?
Again, these are examples to jumpstart your thinking as you sit down to write your values credo.
Once these two exercises are complete, schedule a meeting to review them with your direct reports and, if you like, the broader team after that. If you cringe a little thinking about sharing something so personal, that is precisely the kind of emotion that signals it’s time to share. Do not edit the uncomfortable pieces, as they are the ones that give your team (and usually you) the most honest insight into your style and values. In these sharing sessions, it is common for relationship breakthroughs to occur for the leader and the team participants.
Takeaway: Creating high-performance team dynamics requires us to give more of ourselves than we may be comfortable with at first. I can say, unequivocally, that completing these two exercises will help you better understand yourself. Sharing the results with your team will change how people perceive and interact with you as a leader. These two exercises, followed by behavior consistent with the operating style and values credo, significantly enhance your level of trustworthiness, a key attribute of highly effective leaders.