As you consider ways to increase leadership effectiveness, two exercises help uncover and highlight your leadership style and values to share with your team. These exercises are especially useful for leaders assuming new responsibilities or adding team members and serve to take 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 learn how you will lead them. Importantly, it provides clarity about things often left to assumption and guesswork.
Feel free to adjust the key components to fit your style and situation:
Communication. Write down all contact information that you want your team to have. Let them know how you prefer to communicate while at work and away from the office. For instance, I prefer to talk to people in person, followed by phone, Slack, and email as a last resort. When I am out of the office, call my cell phone or my home number. To quickly share information, I will use Slack or email, which I’d like you to check at least every two hours during the day. I will provide business updates in weekly all-hands standing huddles and with my direct reports during weekly meetings, both of which will occur on Monday mornings.
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 it’s important to you, call my cell phone to discuss. If you send me an email outside of business hours, text me to let me know it’s there.”
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.
Issues and Resolution. This is an opportunity to define your open-door policy and lines of communication throughout the team. It can be used to emphasize and clarify that any issues raised are done in a respectful environment that rewards speaking up and does not punish those that do. It may cover team conflict resolution. It may state that you only like surprises on your birthday and all other issues are brought to your attention as soon as possible for quick resolution.
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 for using each method. It may express your views on meeting deadlines and the importance of timely communication to the team if delays arise. It may outline team ground rules that apply in every situation, such as no cell phones, no fire hosing ideas, and no personal attacks. It may emphasize the importance of individual accountability to the success of the team.
Personal development. This item may outline the expectations for personal growth. 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.
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.
Pet peeves. A general category that may not fit elsewhere. If you don’t like people to eat at their desks, or expect completed staff work without spelling errors, this is 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 set clear expectations and help people effectively work with you. There is no 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 effective.
This exercise displays a level of personal vulnerability and, accordingly, requires you to trust your team. But if you don’t first give them your trust, you cannot expect it in return.
Exercise 2: Values Credo
This exercise captures the core values and supporting leadership principles that you intend to live by while recognizing and accepting you will fall short of this standard on occasion. The result is a snapshot of your worldview, standards, and expectations. The values credo is a more intimate exercise than the first and gives the team additional context for your operating style.
CAUTION: Values differ widely by individual, so use the following as thought starters rather than suggestions for yours.
Vision/Purpose. I will leave the places 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 help others to do what we say we will do consistently.
Decisiveness. I will approach every decision with the question Why not? I will make choices with a bias toward action and starting something in motion. I will ask, “When would NOW be a good time to act?”
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 you) 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, an essential attribute of highly effective leaders.