We are working in a highly unique era: there are currently 4 to 5 different generations in the workforce. Of those generations, Millennials (ages 27-42) actually make up over one third of the US workplace population. Many of them are in leadership roles and often find themselves leading teams who are either much older than them, Boomers and Gen X, or younger than them, Gen Z.
This unique combination of ages and experience levels can make leadership and team cohesion a challenge. As a manager myself, I’ve had the opportunity to grow and develop my own team at Virgin Voyages from the start-- and it hasn’t always been easy. I am actually younger than all of my reports, but I take extreme pride in having successfully built a purpose-led team that contributes to an overall mission.
You’ll likely pick up on the “do’s and don'ts” of leadership based on the management that you’ve experienced yourself. If you’re anything like me, you’ve had only a handful of motivating and inspiring leaders, and a multitude of bad ones.
If you find yourself struggling in your leadership role, here are a few tips and things to consider based on my experience that have helped me build one of the best teams of my career so far!
Establish Trust. Showing up for your team is a must, especially during this era of remote work. This is one of the most important steps in setting a solid foundation. Showing up means that you’ve created an environment where they feel comfortable to reach out to you for help if needed. They trust you to support them, whether it be helping them navigate a challenge and problem solve or simply be a listening ear. This might look like stepping in to complete tasks that have been delegated out in an effort to help out the team. Establishing trust also means you are looking out for their interests, and ultimately providing opportunities for them to enhance their skills and flourish. If you do not have consistent one-on-one time scheduled with each of your team members, this is a great way to start establishing and building trust!
Take the time to understand everyone’s journey. One on one time is a great opportunity to do this. Remember that every report you have has a different set of experiences (personally and professionally) that will shape their lens that they view the world with. This impacts the way they learn and adapt. Some will require multiple demonstrations, others verbal processing, and some might prefer to just be thrown into the fire. As a leader, it’s important to create space for various training and skill building so you can observe your reports and learn how they thrive.
Create team goals and a shared purpose. Having specific goals for your team will ensure alignment amongst the team members and reduce any role ambiguity or conflicts that may arise due to differing expectations. This also fosters motivation, collaboration, and accountability to the same overall mission- especially if you establish these shared goals collectively as a team. Sometimes the task at hand is so monotonous or grueling it becomes difficult for reports to maintain motivation or engagement. Team goals and shared purpose can reposition these small but important tasks as critical contributions to overall outcomes.
Be as transparent and open as possible. One of the hardest parts of being a people leader is oftentimes managing change and transitions. There are many company decisions of which we have little (or no) control. Change and transition can cause a ripple effect of impact- the team may be unhappy with the direction the company is going, or may not understand the “why” behind shifting tasks or focuses. Your role here is to listen and create space to express frustrations, as well as guide your reports on how to best move forward with change. Acknowledge the sentiment but be sure to reinforce how this new direction connects to the overall mission.
Be confident. As the saying goes- confidence is key, and it couldn’t be more true! Even if you feel as though you have no idea what you’re doing, or if you question whether you’re even doing it right, it is so important to present yourself and speak with confidence when engaging with your team. Whoever gave you this position trusted you enough to be able to figure it out and the ability to “figure it out” is the ultimate job requirement of leadership! There isn’t a handbook for everything you’ll encounter in your leadership role, and coming to terms with that will allow you to fall forward and not back. Trust your instincts and the ability to “figure it out”, and if you’re wrong along the way, remember it’s a mistake you can learn from. Confidence is also owning your mistakes with your team- this can really foster trust in addition to showing reports how to course correct and overcome setbacks themselves.
Remember that you can’t be everyone’s friend. Sad, but true. Not everyone on the team will be on board 100% of the time and it’s important to avoid the common pitfall of becoming the “accommodation department”. Listening is important, and sometimes your team will have great suggestions for tackling goals more efficiently- but be sure to differentiate between constructive criticism and complaining. It’s impossible to please everyone so a good tip is to strive to “give and take”; try to understand everyone’s role in the shared team goals and determine the best way for everyone to work together. Which brings us to the last tip…
Collaborate with your team. I genuinely love getting my team together (even in a virtual huddle) because we’re all committed to helping each other and figuring out ways to make the team and our processes better than the day before. Creating space for collaboration and collaborative dialogue can make a significant difference in the level of ownership and engagement the team feels over shared goals. It’s also a great opportunity for you to listen and learn so that you can lead more effectively.
Even if you have prior management experience, the teams you lead throughout your career will not be the same so you may find yourself struggling in leadership at any point in time. Be prepared to adapt your management style because everyone learns and works differently. And if you get stuck, refer to these leadership tips!
When you put all of these into thought and practice, you’ll see how each of these tips are an extension of each other. You can’t establish trust without showing support, transparency and understanding; you can’t achieve goals without shared ownership and alignment; and you can’t lead a team to results without the confidence that you can navigate challenges and overcome setbacks. In the words of Stephen Covey, when it comes to leadership “What you do has far greater impact than what you say.” You’ve got this!