Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Don't do people management

You can’t manage people. You can manage processes, assets, systems but certainly not people. If you want to get the most out of your individuals and teams you need to lead them, inspire, guide and develop, but never manage.

The problems can start when someone is promoted to management because they are good at their job. But leadership requires additional and distinct skills (and importantly a different attitude) from actually doing the job. If your managers don’t have the appropriate interpersonal skills, find it difficult to relinquish control, struggle to listen, shy away from conflict and you don't address these issues then you may be setting up the individual, team and organisation to fail.

You can be a leader of people, regardless of your level in the organisation. It is not about your position it is about your attitude. There is a lot of advice out there about leadership, below we hope are some practical thoughts on leading people.

1. Give people something worth following
Jim Rohn once said "You want to set a goal that is big enough that in the process of achieving it you become someone worth becoming." You don't have to be CEO to do this. Regardless of the size of your team or your level in an organisation you can set a vision. Lead by example, be the change that you want to see. People will rise to it.

AND IMPORTANTLY....Believe in your people to be great - with space, time, encouragement and the right support everyone can achieve more. Give them relevant interesting opportunities, set real goals and rewards and they will pay it back.

2. Accept you don't have all the answers
Being promoted to management does not give you all seeing, all knowing powers, and yet many people, still assume a directing role when leading teams. The problem my be due to lack of confidence or experience, arrogance, a mis-understanding of the role or false expectations. But you are not expected to have all the answers, so relax. Your role is to search for the right questions, ask and listen.

So involve people in decision making, particularly if they are on the front line, they have a significantly better perspective on what's really going on. Explain why (give people the respect of telling them the whole story, the bigger picture - they can handle it!). Listen, especially to the negative (yes some people are life's moaners, but the vast majority of negative feedback is invaluable information about your business) and then invite solutions. Ultimately, as a leader you will need to make decisions (don't fall into the trap of inaction) - but by involving your team the decisions you make will be informed, and likely to be more effective and your team will feel valued.

3.Take the heat, give away the glory
If you screw up, come clean and admit it. People forgive authentic mistakes. If your team screws up, take the heat for them, publicly and make sure you all learn from it.

If your team is performing well, promote them as often as you can. Even if you have guided, coached, supported and driven the outcome - give away the glory. If we are new managers this can be hard, because we may be too concerned with proving our own work and value. But here's the thing....As a leader your role is to make things happen, and having a committed, trusting team is key to this. Your team's success and recognition in the organisation has a halo effect on you. And more often than not others will promote you in return.

4. Have the tough conversations
In personal and professional life how often do we simply "let things slide this time", potentially because it is easier, we have too many other priorities, we are scared of conflict, don't want to hurt the other person or we kid ourselves that it is not such a big issue, really.

The problem is that this apathy can allow insignificant issues to fester and become real problems; problems that affect individual and team performance, and ultimately undermine your role as a leader. Having tough conversations can be hard but how you approach it can make all the difference.


  • The starting point is your intention. Ask yourself, is addressing this issue in the best interest of the team, the organisation, the individual? If it is then be brave and have the conversation.


  • Be sure to challenge the behaviour (not the person) - so let them know what is working well, what they are good at, what you value in them. Then address the issue - make sure you can evidence it with examples.


  • Make sure the challenge is understood - ask for feedback from the person on the behaviour being challenged.


  • Plan a path forward with the person. Get them to come up with thoughts for making the change and suggest ways in which you could support this.

5. Praise people, a lot
How often do you tell people they have done well? Hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly? We hear managers say they only praise when someone has done exceptionally well i.e. if they are simply doing a good job this is what they get paid for, so none necessary.


But praise is exceptionally important in rewarding and valuing people (especially when it is combined with the ability to challenge unacceptable behaviour). There is a correlation between praise and repeating desired behaviour and creating an environment of authentic reward is one that people enjoy working in.


When giving praise make sure it is timely. For small things give praise directly after the event, for big things a little while later ensures gravitas. And be careful if you wrap praise up in wanting something from your team members - you will undermine your authenticity.


A note: Some people challenge us on the praise question, saying that for some people there is nothing they can praise. We have 2 thoughts. 1: You're not looking hard enough, 2: They really are not doing a good job, so you need to have the tough conversations. Praise should only be given for a job well done, the desired behaviour.

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