As an AEC marketing and business development leader, part of my role is to groom marketing staff to grow in their careers and part is to help transform newly promoted practice staff into competent seller-doers. Over the years I’ve seen many people stumble in making the transition from employee to manager and manager to leader. I’ve done a fair bit of stumbling myself. Looking back, however, there are a few simple rules I’ve learned about being a good leader that I tend to share with those I’m coaching.
1: Talk Less; Talk Later – One of a leader’s primary responsibilities is to best leverage the resources of their team. As we move up the leadership ladder, we leave detailed knowledge of certain parts of business operations behind so we can focus on strategy. Yet to create strategy effectively, we need occasional access to that detailed knowledge. Because people often look to leaders for guidance and can be intimidated to talk unless invited, I think it’s important to adopt a habit of asking for input from my team before I speak up and certainly before I set direction. People are more likely to adopt what they helped create.
2: Share Credit and Accept Blame – When someone who works for you does a good job, share praise in a public forum, e.g., an email copied to your leader colleagues or an announcement an all-staff meeting, so the credit that person deserves is widely distributed. If someone makes an error, however, talk to them or email them privately to allow them to save face and publicly accept responsibility for the error and for fixing it. I’ve seen leaders throw people under the bus, and most often it angers their subordinates and disappoints their superiors.
3: Complain Up or Across, Not Down – When you are a leader, people are sure you know things they don’t and can control things they can’t so you become their barometer of the health, happiness and success of the firm. If you have concerns or frustrations with management, share them with leaders or your peers but NOT with subordinates or junior colleagues. I once saw a newly-designated principal stand up in the middle of his suite of subordinates and complain that he has no idea what it means to be a principal because nobody has told him yet. You can imagine the impact this had on his team’s morale.
4: Maintain a Modicum of Personal Distance – It’s counterproductive as a leader to wade into personal squabbles among members of your team or to try to maintain peer relationships with your subordinates. A friend of mine who ran a small marketing firm told me that, whenever his team goes to a bar to celebrate something, he buys and stays for the first round of drinks, then leaves and let’s them party without him. If two members of my team aren’t getting along, my job is not to pick sides, but to remind them that they have to figure out a way to work together. If someone is having a personal crisis that is affecting their performance, I can be compassionate, but I also have to make sure the needs of the firm are getting met.
5: Be the Change – If you want your team’s behavior to change, model what good behavior looks like. As you rise up the leadership ladder the lane of acceptable behavior in which you operate narrows with every step. Don’t just demand, demonstrate. Don’t just suggest, model. Tell people whatever you want to tell them, it’s what you do that they’re watching.