How to lead a team? Motivate your employees to be their best.
Did you start your business with the dream of being a brilliant leader? If you said no, you’re not alone. Most businesses are born out of a passion for a product or service. The masterminds behind them weren’t necessarily looking to become leaders.
But if you have a thriving business that is on the ascent, with one or more employees, that’s exactly what you are: A leader. And it’s your responsibility to set the tone and create a workplace where your team and your business can succeed and grow.
Here are 9 important ways to ensure you’re laying the groundwork for a winning team.
1. Work on Your Leadership Skills
If you’re lucky enough to attract great employees who are willing to learn and grow, you owe it to them to do the same, as a leader. Among some of the qualities of great leaders is the ability to:
- Empower others to do their best work
- Be willing to listen and create a safe environment where employees can be themselves
- Have a strong vision that others can relate to
- Foster strong connections among team members
- Mentor employees
Some people are instinctively skilled at leading, while others have to work at it. Either way, it’s helpful to study and practice leadership. Be open to reading leadership books, listening to leadership podcasts (this one comes to mind…), and taking in-person and online leadership training courses. It’s the kind of thing that pays off in huge dividends.
2. Communicate Clearly
Imagine being a crew member of a large ship headed out on a fantastic voyage to bring back mountains of gold. To do your job well, you would need to know:
- Where you’re going
- How long the journey is expected to take
- The goals of the operation when you arrive
- Who is going to do what
- How, exactly, your role contributes to the main goal of bringing back the gold
- What happens when the gold is brought back
A strong vision has to come with setting clear goals and effectively communicating those goals.
That doesn’t mean data dumping on your team members with minutiae in your weekly meetings. Good team leaders focus on a handful of priorities to communicate, and connect them to the overall vision and company goals. This will go a long way toward ensuring everyone knows exactly where the ship is headed and what they can do to ensure a successful mission.
3. Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
Your business is your baby. It’s hard to hand control over to others, even though you know you need to step back and be more of a leader than a worker.
One of the worst things you can do is insist that your team members do things the way you’ve always done them. While it makes sense to orient your employees to the way you’ve structured certain systems, at some point, you’ve got to let go and let them do things their way.
As a boss, your role is to work on the business, not in the business. Let them develop their own client relationships, manage their workload, and get the job done while you sit back and map out the big picture.
4. Create an Us vs. Them Mentality
In regular society, this is not a great strategy for navigating the world. But when it comes to building winning teams, a sense of cohesion and purpose (even rivalry) can go a long way. In fact, thinking of your employees as members of a sports team helps put things in perspective, for them and you.
If you’re the coach of a sports team, you provide the support and strategy to bring your team into the number one position against your competitors. Each player on the team has a role to play in the victories, large and small. You may lose a few games from time to time, but it only makes the team stronger and more motivated to be their best. To really sell this system, you could gather metrics of your competitors and provide a clear line of sight to how you measure up.
5. Set a Respectful Tone
Nothing makes an employee feel more discouraged than a boss who doesn’t respect them. That often comes in the form of questioning their judgment, micromanaging their work (see #2), publicly reprimanding them, blaming them for mistakes they didn’t make, and just generally making their work life unpleasant.
Most successful leaders go out of their way to create a respectful workplace where an emphasis is put on positive, productive interactions. Being clear about the importance of respect in the company’s vision and values is a good start, but that won’t work if you don’t model the kind of behavior you want to see in your employees. If someone is negative or gossipy, you will have to manage it swiftly and clearly so other team members feel safe and supported.
6. Hold Team Members Accountable
In a small business, you need team members who are doers. It’s helpful to encourage great ideas and support your employees to carry them out. Make it clear that your expectation is that everyone pulls their weight and is accountable to you—and their colleagues—for doing their part.
This is important to building trust among team members. If they know they can rely on one another to get things done, they can work efficiently and without friction. Depending on the nature of your organization and the types of roles you employ, it may be helpful to conduct regular performance reviews, and connect them to bonuses or pay increases.
7. Offer Regular Feedback
Employees generally thrive on feedback—even if it’s negative (and delivered in a constructive way). As a leader, it’s your role to make sure your team knows if they’re doing everything right, or if they could stand to improve.
Performance reviews are good times to be specific about how employees are doing their jobs, but they’re not usually held regularly enough to be truly helpful. It’s advisable to offer feedback in two ways.
Feedback on the Fly
Make it a habit to tell an employee they did a great job on something when you notice it. Be specific about what made it great, i.e., “That was a tough situation with a customer who was clearly unhappy. You did a great job resolving the problem because you stayed calm, positive, and focused. Well done!” The same goes for a situation that they could have handled better.
Regularly Scheduled Feedback
At regularly spaced intervals, hold one-on-one meetings with employees to go over projects and to provide feedback. If an employee needs to improve an aspect of their work, it’s helpful to check in regularly and mentor them until they get it.
8. Reward Performance
It’s not enough to tell your team how great they are. You’ve got to show them the money (or other incentives). Small businesses tend to be cash-strapped, but if you have your eyes on growth, you’ve got to consider bringing on an employee as a significant investment in your company’s future.
Even if you can’t afford top-of-the-line pay, be as reasonable as you can and look for other ways to reward performance. If the company does well for a quarter or two, share the wealth to help motivate employees to strive even harder to make the business a success.
Another way to give your team a boost is to provide opportunities for professional development. That might be on-the-job mentoring or shadowing. Or you might spring for more formal online or in-person training that will help them in their current role and also elevate their overall resume.
Perks like flexible work hours, extra vacation (or even unlimited vacation), and the ability to work from home matter more to some employees than a higher salary. In fact, around the world, work schedule flexibility is one of the top three reasons people are motivated to make a career change. And a Yale study showed that gig workers (in this case taxi drivers) would not trade their flexible work schedules for less than twice their current pay.
9. Encourage Camaraderie
It’s one thing for you to be likable to your employees, and something else for them to like one another. As a leader, you have a lot of control over how colleagues relate to one another. It certainly starts with establishing a company culture and valuing respect, but it can evolve into something special if you create the conditions for employees to forge their own bonds.
A simple (and unimaginative) way to get people talking is to do the mandatory birthday cake celebration in the breakroom or a monthly pizza lunch. If your team is easygoing and up for anything, that might do the trick.
But you can do better than that by simply observing your employees and asking for input on activities they might like to do together. Maybe it’s a day of volunteering at a local animal shelter, or hosting a trivia night with their partners. Other workplaces might prefer putting together a book or movie club. The key is to customize the activities to the people who will be participating in them.
Effective Team Leaders Aren’t Just Born That Way
Leadership may not come naturally to you, and that’s okay. Learning how to lead a team is a process. One of the most important aspects of being a leader is having the humility to learn and grow in your role as your employees evolve into theirs.
If you start by exhibiting the kind of respect, communication, loyalty, and integrity that you expect from your team, you’ll have the basis to become a strong and effective CEO.