If your boss thinks you can do better, you will hear all about it. If your team thinks you need to be better, you will hear the sound of silence. Your team is often far harder to please than your boss.
So as you step up to management, how do you pass the judgement of your team? I have asked several thousand team members what they expect from their boss. Whether you are a first time manager or an old hand, your team will be testing you against five criteria.
First, it starts with vision. You have to set a direction that gives your team hope, clarity and challenge. They need to believe that you are taking them to a better future. Your vision is no more than an idea, told as a story in three parts: this is where we are; this is where are going; and this is how we will get there. Make it simple, make it clear and offer hope.
Second is motivation. Forests have been destroyed on the topic and this is not the place to start another round of deforestation. However, in all the questions we asked of team members, there was one question that consistently predicted whether the team leader was seen to be motivational. It also predicted how well the leader would score on most other positive attributes such as decisiveness, vision, support and even charisma.
It was a magic question: if you score well on this question you normally score well as a leader in the eyes of your team. Here it is: my boss cares for me and my career (agree/disagree on a five point scale).
This makes perfect sense. If you have ever worked for a boss who does not care for you, it is very demotivating. In contrast, a boss who does care for you is a godsend and inspires trust and loyalty. Invest time in showing you care, and you will reap the dividends for years to come.
A good way to irritate your team is to avoid making decisions, and then change your mind when you have made a decision. So third is decisiveness. Slow decisions ensure your team is always working in crisis mode against tight deadlines. Changing decisions leads to wasted work and significant re-work, both of which are thoroughly demoralising.
Often the best way to make a decision is to delegate. Trust your team. There is a risk they may come up with a better solution: live with that risk. But even if they simply confirm the decision that you would have made anyway, it will now be their decision. They will own it and they will be committed to it: people rarely argue with their own ideas.
Fourth, there’s the acid test of you as a leader: whether you’re good in a crisis. Leading along Easy Street says nothing about you. It is in tough times when the best leaders come to the fore. Being good in a crisis is a mixture of substance and style. In substance terms, leaders drive to action and look to the future. Leave the analysis of what went wrong and who messed up to another day, or maybe another lifetime.
The details of how you handled the crisis will soon disappear into the land of myth and legend. People will forget what you did, but they will remember vividly what you were like. Being positive and calm normally beats running round like a demented Rottweiler.
Finally, there’s honesty. As one leader put it: “Honesty is not about ethics and morality. It is far more important. It is about trust.”
No one wants to work with a leader they do not trust. But trust is a high hurdle: it is not about seeking popularity or about avoiding lies. It is about having the courage to say it as it is, positively; to have difficult conversations about expectations and performance; always to deliver on what you promise; to show you respect and understand the needs of your team.
Do these five things well and you will become the leader they want to follow, not the leader they have to follow.
Jo Owen is an author, a keynote speaker and the founder of eight NGOs. His latest book is Global Teams (FT Publishing/Pearson)