Last week I was out for a walk in my neighborhood. As I was leaving the house there was a dad and son passing by. This was just a little guy, a toddler just learning to walk and begging to get down and try out his wobbly little legs and new found freedom. I heard his dad say, "Okay, you can get down but you have to hold my hand the WHOLE way." A few blocks into the walk I passed a mom and her two kids; one of them on a scooter, the other running alongside. The kids had put some distance between themselves and their mom and she was calling out to them, "Be sure to stop at the corner and wait for me before you cross." And as I rounded the final corner towards home, I caught site of a couple of "tweens" on our block cruising the neighborhood on their bikes. Relishing the freedom of both unscheduled summer days and finally reaching an age where they could be out exploring on their own.
Watching all of this neighborhood activity got me thinking about my own nieces and nephews and their relationships with their parents. I've witnessed these parents adapting and adjusting their parenting styles to each new phase of their kids growth; matching communication styles and levels of guidance to the needs of the kids at each particular step. Letting go of hands, letting them run ahead, eventually letting them go off to explore on their own.
And that prompted this question:
As a leader, have you considered that the people you manage may need you to adjust your style as they "grow up" in your organization?
You might be thinking right now that there is significant proof related to the importance of consistency as a leader. I agree with all of it. Consistency in mood, consistency in behavior and consistency in decision making are keys to successful leadership. Your organization and your team need to know what to expect from you; volatile leaders often create unstable organizations and it's hard for people to follow you if they don't know where you're going on any given day.
This is different. The number of times that someone has complained to me about not getting the kind of guidance, freedom or feedback that they want from their boss is too numerous to count. Do any of these sound familiar to you?
- "They're always in my business."
- "I never hear from them. A little direction would be nice."
- "I don't know if we're on the same page."
- "I can't do anything without getting approval first."
Consider that each of these statements may be a result of an individual being managed as either a brand new employee or a tenured employee, rather than being met right where they are.
Just as we grow in life, we grow in our careers. We start off with a lot of learning in front of us. Our need for regular guidance, positive feedback and assurance that we are on the right track is high. We want our managers to be available to answer questions and help us with problem solving when inevitable mishaps arise. Somewhere along the way we become a bit more independent. We gain confidence in our knowledge and can handle an increasing number of issues on our own. Our need for touching base declines, and feedback can be a bit more direct. We can handle the truth. Eventually we move to a stage where we grasp broader business challenges, influence client relationships, and make critical decisions to resolve issues proactively. We're ready to give our bosses feedback and contribute to the growth of our organizations.
In order for these changes to take place and for healthy individual growth to happen, managers need to be tuned in to each person's needs and adapt accordingly. Sure, micro-manage in year one but then give them some room to run in year two. Recognize that each person on your team needs something a bit different from you. Adapt and adjust your style to cultivate their growth. Just like my garden needs more water to stay healthy today than it did a few weeks ago, growing employees need different things in different seasons. One size does not fit all.
You might be thinking, "I've got my style. People get used to it." And that's true. Individuals are resourceful and adapt to their environment. But the question is, will they flourish? If they're busy expending energy to fit your style, will their strengths shine?
I've created a tool that might be useful for you if you're excited to reflect on this a bit more. If you're willing to consider each person you're "growing" and what they need in order to thrive, check it out. And then...celebrate YOU. Your willingness to dive in and grow your own leadership says a lot about you. Cheers!