I read at a snails pace, but when I picked up The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, I breezed through pages like the book had somewhere to go.
The book is about how Horowitz and his team built businesses when they had no easy answers. I tell you this for two reasons. The first is so you read it, and second is because I love the title. Doing hard things in life is difficult and most people shy away from them. But exceptional people not only do the hard things, they relish the opportunity thats in front of them.
Leaders are no different. There are easy things for a leader to care about and there are hard things for them to care about. The easy ones are pretty obvious – P & L, revenue projections, growth targets, business strategy, etc. While all of these are critical to success and a requirement to do most management jobs, I have found the hardest and one of the most overlooked things is the personal development of team members – as I like to call it, “creating the best version of your team.”
In order to create the very best version of your team you must have the ability to create a dynamic relationship with the individuals on your team. That relationship should have depth, understanding, care, and ultimately a desire to see them succeed. I realize this might be a foreign concept to some leaders who still think of managing people as ruling from an ivory tower, but you surly don’t want to fall into that category.
Here are 5 fundamental areas you can focus on to create the best version of your team.
- Patience. “results, results, results.” I know that’s what we are measured on in business, but if that’s all you’re focused on with your team members you will be hard pressed to consistently meet expectations. Instead, you might actually create a team that resents you. If your team is doing all the right things, but the results are still out of reach, put patience into practice. Burn one of my favorite sayings into your memory "Patience is a Virtue". Patience today, will lead to results tomorrow.
- Honesty & Transparency. This one is big. Honesty and transparency is about keeping the lines of communication open. When you take away fear and uncertainty, your team has more time to focus on what really matters. This also means you must be clear, concise, and direct when giving feedback in order to help your team grow. Most people immediately think of negative feedback or the ole’ sandwich technique (open with a positive statement, followed by constructive criticism, then close with a positive statement), but I want to challenge you to give positive feedback by focusing on team members strengths. Positive, comments build confidence. They also make people more open to receiving honest or constructive feedback at the appropriate times.
- Humor. I am the furthest thing from a comedian, but this life is too short to be serious all the time. One of my favorite quotes is from the famous basketball coach Jimmy Valvano “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special.” I don’t care how serious your job is, I don’t know one person in the world who doesn’t like a good laugh. In fact, some of the funniest people I’ve met had some of the most serious jobs in the world. (One of them was a funeral director.) Humor means different things to different people. I get that some people just don’t think they are funny, but it doesn’t mean you can’t connect with your team over something funny. Have the ability to laugh. Humor does not mean a laugh at the expense of others on your team. But self-deprecating humor is always a winner.
- Financial Commitment. When you spend money on you’re team, it’s a sign you care. This isn’t the salary or commission an individual is paid. It’s an online learning platform subscription, a ticket to an industry convention, or an unscheduled personal day off that team members can use to give back to their community. It’s hard to measure how this financial commitment impacts each employee and the results the business will see from it, but there is no doubt it will help them be more committed to you because they know you are investing in them.
- Time. Years ago when I found out my wife and I were going to have our first child a good friend of mine told me something that stuck – “Kids spell love… T.I.M.E.” I now have two kids and this is undoubtedly true, not just for your kids, but for all relationships in life. There is nothing more valuable you can give than your time. It doesn’t always have to be long periods of time, it can be as simple as going out of your way to spend 5 minutes talking to someone about their day or asking about their family. Some of the most valuable times I have with my team aren't at the office, they are at an offsite lunch or a happy hour beer. It’s a time when we can share what’s happening in our lives away from the office and use those connections to motivate us to achieve more when we get back to work.
People don’t remember how great profit margins were 4 quarters ago or how a business decision changes revenue for a quarter, they remember leaders who helped them develop into the best version of themselves. They remember the people who change the trajectory of their life, and that’s a hard thing worth pursuing.