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Managing a team involves more than steering employees through a series of predetermined exercises. To instill meaningful guidance, a leader must become a boots-on-the-ground instructor, coach, and trusted advisor. It involves more teaching than oversight, generative conversations than lectures. Usually, it means spending between 70%-90% of your time communicating with employees and stakeholders to ensure the company’s success.
But while many junior managers grasp the importance of KPIs and supervision, they fail to appreciate the impact they could have as a teacher and mentor. Here’s why teaching should be a cornerstone of your executive and senior leadership approach and how to become a better manager.
7 Tenets of Team Management and Teaching
1. Mentor employees one-on-one.
In a 2011 organizational behavior study, Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School found leaders are most effective when they demonstrate competence and warmth. Proximity and direct, frequent communication are key to developing relationships with your reports and creating an environment that feels comfortable. With personalized, one-on-one instruction, you can foster a sense of familiarity that will allow you to connect with your team. Individual instruction also creates space to address their specific needs.
2. Embody and discuss principles of integrity.
The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals the public is losing faith in authoritative figures. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to prove you’re invested in your team’s success and earn their trust. It might be an uphill battle, but behaving ethically will help you build a foundation of trust. To establish credibility, be honest with your team and model the attitude and behavior you want them to reflect.
Sylvia Metayer, the CEO of Sodexo Corporate Services Worldwide, says she holds herself accountable to employees by first asking about their top priorities and then together setting milestones for how to reach those goals. At the end of every year, she hosts town hall meetings to discuss her efforts. By setting this example, Metayer establishes a sense of reciprocity that encourages people to excel and stay with the organization.
3. Become a mentor and advocate.
A good teacher doesn’t just lecture—they help students realize their potential and build a career for themselves. Learn what your team’s goals are and encourage them to consistently evaluate their progress toward meeting set milestones. For example, discuss their short- and long-term goals during one-on-one meetings. This creates a sense of purpose and encourages your team to define what they want and how they contribute to the organization.
4. Employ the Socratic method.
Socrates believed in using generative questions to reveal the truth. Business leaders can adapt this cooperative approach by asking their team questions to help them uncover new information. The investigative nature of these conversations spur teams to explore new perspectives and brainstorm; it also encourages greater participation, which will improve your team’s ability to recall details about the meeting. Lessons that are interactive are easier to remember and understand.
5. Provide opportunities for self-determination.
Instead of directing an employee how to perform a task, explain the objective and see what solutions they come up with on their own. Think of yourself as a facilitator instead of someone who needs to solve every problem.
6. Make yourself accessible to team members.
Sydney Finkelstein, Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, says a well-executed lesson is “informal and organic, flowing out of the tasks at hand,” (Harvard Business Review). To manage and train people effectively, Dr. Finkelstein explains, you need to make yourself accessible and integrate work processes across employment tiers. By getting into the trenches with employees (or at least keeping your door open), you’ll identify opportunities to teach in medias res, when those lessons will be the most memorable and relevant.
7. Break out of the office.
René Redzepi, entrepreneur and co-owner of the Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, relocated staff to create a pop-up in Tulum, Mexico. Redzepi and his team use travel to broaden their perspective and research different cuisines and cultures, which in turn exposes them to new preparation techniques, ingredients, and spices. Redzepi has continued this tradition for years because he believes it helps his staff stretch creatively and adapt to new settings.
You can apply the same technique on a smaller scale by taking reports out for lunch or dinner, for example, or participating in activities off-site. By putting your team in a new environment, you can help them break out of their routine to encourage participation, think differently, and stimulate conversation.
Continuous Learning Through Every Career Stage
The most effective leaders challenge their reports to help them grow. There are infinite ways to improve and innovate, and a teacher can help even tenured staff attain new heights in their career. If you’re unsure what to teach your team, try asking them what they’re interested in learning. By continuously expanding your team’s repertoire, you can help them master new abilities, develop independence, and hone their problem-solving skills, all of which will ultimately contribute to a stronger, more productive workforce.
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