Leadership can feel quite overwhelming if we think too hard about it. I’ve been writing about it since 2015, and sometimes I feel like I still can’t describe it very well.
Someone asked me recently how to lead people. They were new to leadership and wanted a starting point.
It’s a very simple question, and I found my mind racing down multiple rabbit-holes to answer it.
Should I tell them about motivation theories or different leadership styles? What about coaching techniques or ways to hold people accountable?
It all became a bit much, so instead I came up with simple this four-step leadership process.
Sometimes, less is more. So below is the simple leadership process that goes back to basics.
Step 1: Understand Your People
OK. Step one is simple. Get to know your people.
So what sort of things should you get to know? There are lots of avenues to explore, so let’s look at a few.
Perhaps start with strengths and weaknesses.
This includes key skills and experience that they bring to the table. What are they good at? Where do they feel they struggle? Do they lack confidence in certain areas?
I’ve heard some people say you shouldn’t talk about weaknesses. That we should always talk about strengths. I disagree with this.
There is nothing wrong with understanding your weaknesses. In fact, it can help you either improve them, or otherwise try to make sure they don’t impact your performance too much.
Next, look at likes and dislikes. What sort of work do they like? What turns them off?
You can also observe their personal style. Are they quiet or loud, outgoing or introverted? A thinker or a doer? Are they analytical or a “get stuck in” type of person?
Then, ask them about their direction. Where are they trying to go? What do they want to learn? What motivates them? What’s their career and life trajectory?
Learn More: Leadership Weaknesses: Use Them to Lead Better.
Why Is This the First Step In the Leadership Process?
Understanding your people is fundamental, because it helps you with the other steps in the process.
Everyone is different, so you need to tailor your approach to each individual. One-size-fits-all leadership doesn’t work very well if you want to help people be at their best.
Without this key fundamental information, you’ll struggle to treat them in a way that motivates them, helps them to feel supported and leads to better performance.
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #209: How to Build Empathy Using the Iceberg Model.
Leadership Process Step 2: Set Clear Expectations
Setting expectations is an important part of leadership, because it provides the foundation for accountability and feedback.
Without clear expectations, people will go and do what they think is best, which might not match up with what you had in mind.
Failing to set clear expectations also means it will be difficult to hold people accountable for their actions, because they never had clear guidance in the first place.
In setting clear expectations, you might mention:
- Why the work or task is important
- What the desired outcome should be
- How the work should be done
- Who should be involved or be able to help
- When the work needs to be delivered; and
- Any key constraints or standards that must be adhered to.
Seems pretty simple, right? Just follow the list.
Not so fast.
Setting Expectations Might Look Different For Everyone
Unfortunately, we can’t just set expectations in the same way for everyone.
Well OK, we can. But people might get annoyed, confused or frustrated if we approach it the same way each time.
Remember step 1? Here’s where we start to use that information.
Depending on the skills, capability, experience, motivation, attitude and confidence of your team member, you may choose to set expectations slightly differently.
For example, when working with a very experienced and motivated team member, you might not tell them how to do the work. They already know (or can work it out), and might be annoyed if you try to instruct them about things they already understand.
But for an inexperienced team member, you might include all the details, so they understand what’s involved.
The point is, you’ll flex your approach depending on what your team member is bringing to the table. As your people grow in skill and confidence, you may lighten up on the details, and let them take the lead.
Learn More: How to Delegate Work to Improve Your Team.
Step 3: Maintain Sufficient Oversight
Obviously we can’t just give people work to do and cross our fingers. We need a degree of oversight to feel comfortable that we’re going to see the results we need.
Once again, the degree of oversight required will very much depend on what your team members are bringing to the table.
You need enough oversight so that you:
- Feel as if you have a good grasp of progress in the team
- Are able to help the team member course-correct when there is an issue or something goes off track; and
- Can ensure that the team members feel supported, rather than vulnerable and isolated.
Once again, this will differ across your team members.
For an inexperienced, unskilled team member, you might take the approach of requiring greater oversight. Perhaps that means daily scheduled check-ins, with ad-hoc guidance along the way, so you can see how things are progressing.
For the high performers in your team, using the same approach is likely to stifle them. They may feel micromanaged and disrespected, and you might see the unhappy side effect of a drop in motivation.
Learn More: Are you a Micromanaging Boss? Here’s How to Break the Habit.
Leadership Process Step 4: Provide Useful Feedback
Feedback is the crucial last step in the leadership process.
Why is feedback important?
Good feedback helps people to understand how they’re performing. Whether they’re on the right track, or going off-road.
It also helps you to identify areas for improvement and key strengths. These will help you tailor your efforts to help to develop your team, and maximise their potential.
Feedback also helps you to set a precedent for the future.
When you deliver useful feedback, people know what you’re expecting for next time. Poor performance followed by zero feedback often means that sub-standard performance is allowed to continue in the future.
Feedback can also be extremely motivational, especially if it helps people to improve, or is simply recognition for a job well done. Many people suffer from a lack of praise and recognition in our workplaces, and positive feedback can help to bridge this gap.
Ideally, your feedback should be:
- Timely – delivered soon after or during the delivery of the work
- Specific – rather than “nice job!”, it’s more useful to give them greater detail about what made the work good, or bad.
- Actionable – feedback is better when the team member can do something about it, so help them understand what the next steps might be.
Feedback is gold, so we should be providing it to our people, and asking for it ourselves. It can help people develop, which is a key part of the leadership process which shouldn’t be forgotten!
Leadership Doesn’t Need to Be Complicated
Obviously underneath of these four key steps, there are many nuances and details that we could focus on.
However, sometimes it’s good to keep it simple.
If you’re looking for a basic model for leadership, I think these four steps pretty much sum it up.
What do you think about this simple leadership process? Would you add any other steps? Let me and all the other thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!
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