Monday, March 17, 2014

Building Our Leadership Team Part 3… How to Choose Your New Apprentice

So… I’m afraid that I glazed over some of the details… the actual instruction on how to mentor our newest apprentices when they enter the role of supervisor. As we’ve discussed, the skills, traits, and qualities that make people great team members are not enough to make them great leaders. As we move into roles in which we are responsible for the behavior of others, we usually find we need a whole new set of qualities and skills. Some of us are great natural Leaders (I do not include myself in this group), and those lucky ones will already have many of these skills, and also find that they’ve been using a few of them all along… Lucky bastards.

The responsibility for the behavior of others (in particular if those others were peers not too very long ago) often adds a ton of stress to our apprentice. Before we get into supervisory roles, most of us will have experience with multiple bosses, who used various way to "motivate" us. All we have to do is think back and remember how we were treated, and we will have examples of how NOT to treat those for whom we are responsible. But what is the right way? And how will we find the right words? How will I "motivate" those people? And perhaps more scary, how will I tell these people to stop doing something and get back to work? Not long ago your new supervisor would have been standing around joking (at least some of the time) with these team members, or watching them stand around saying nothing. Now you are expecting them to tell those same team members to get back to work. To be good mentors we need to put ourselves in their shoes and remember what it was like for us. We should expect that our apprentice will be excited about their new responsibilities, and also scared and nervous. Even if they are great natural Leaders they will not be confident in their ability to handle these new situations.
The question becomes, how do we teach them these skills? In the past I have made the mistake of simply allowing them to fend for themselves, and then I would clean up the aftermath. Meaning, from my own experience I would have an idea of the kinds of situations they would encounter, and the people whose behavior would need to be corrected (poor hires, both inherited, and my own while still learning to hire). I did have the foresight to talk to them daily, and instruct them verbally on how to have the needed conversations. Those conversations would inevitably go wrong, and the apprentice would call me, or talk to me the next day upset about this thing that went so horribly wrong (in fact it rarely went that wrong). I would talk to them about how it went, and then have to sit down with my apprentice and the team member to sort things out. I think this is the default method for far too many of us because we feel we are already stretched too thin with our time and energy. We simply don't see any other way to do it...
Well... I'm here to tell you that there is another way, and you can and should make the time to do it. Having done it both ways, actually if we're being honest here... many ways, most of which did not work out well enough that I would suggest you follow them. I am a great failure... I keep trying, and failing, until I get it right... or at least right enough that I am happy with the results. So, the way I would suggest, very strongly suggest if you want to change the culture on your team and move it in a positive direction, is to work alongside your apprentice. Yes... work right alongside them.
I would bet that you are not so unlike the rest of us. You know which team members you would like to see as future supervisors long before that opportunity comes up. So, since we have decided that the easiest and most dependable way to get great leaders on our team is to develop them ourselves, we have to start the development process early. You’ve heard the term “take them under our wing”, right? Well… what does that mean to you? How have you been doing it? Since I don’t know what you have been doing I certainly can't ask you to drop your entire process, and I must ask you to be honest with yourself again. Has your process been helping you achieve the results you want? There may be parts of your process you want to hang onto, and… you will have to judge for yourself. Please do not continue to do things “because that’s the way we do them”, or “because that’s how I was taught”, or “because it’s the only way I’m comfortable/confident doing them”. Changing the culture of your team will not be easy or comfortable. You can do it. And… you have to understand that they way you’ve been doing things has not been achieving your goals. So… you have to change what you are doing… change how you are leading the team.
So… you will talk with your ‘soon to be supervisor’ about the behaviors you see that should be rewarded, as well as the behaviors that should be checked. It’s not appropriate to have a team member included in your ‘difficult’ conversations with other team members, so you can’t give them direct experience yet. You can however talk to them afterwards about the kinds of conversations you have, and how you approach the conversation. You can talk about how team members get defensive, and how to deal with that (maybe that’s for another post). We ‘prime’ them, giving them information to chew on along the way. Give them a copy of both of our beginner books… How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, and Developing the Leader Within You by John C Maxwell. Remember how much money they are making… can they really afford to go out and buy books? Just give them a copy of each book, and consider it an investment. You can’t force them to read them, and if you have chosen the right people they will read them (even if slowly and with some pushing). Remember if it seems difficult for them to get through the books, they might have an easier time listening… in which case you will purchase them audio books. Yes… I know how much they cost. Should we go over again how much you want to be the kind of Leader you want to be? How much you want to change the culture on your team? How important is it that you achieve your goals?
So once this team member actually has the title Supervisor, we actually work alongside them as much as we can. We encourage them to tell us what behaviors they see that should be rewarded, and what behaviors need to be changed. From there we talk about what a conversation should look like if they were having it, and we can even practice the conversation, just the two of us. When we find the opportunity to have a needed conversation on our supervisor’s shift, we can pull the team member aside, and either have the conversation together, or we can have it and allow the new apprentice to watch and take mental notes. Later, we will talk with the apprentice alone to discuss how that conversation went. If we did it together we have so much more to talk about. How they felt, what would they do differently, talk over the whole thing with them… they have to process it with our support in order to get better at it. If they did not have the conversation, we will include some prep for what they will say next time, because they are minimally going to participate, if not run the show.
With this method you will find your apprentice, that is, your new supervisor in this case, will be much more skilled at having 'difficult conversations. As an added benefit, the rest of the team will see that the supervisor has your complete support, so the team will likely be easier for the apprentice to handle... they will get less ‘push back’. As a direct result of your involvement in their development, your relationship with your apprentice will deepen. They will develop trust, and loyalty towards you, which will pay dividends you may not see until some time later. Please don't worry that you'll have to work with them forever. If you picked the right person for the job, it will not take long before they are controlling the conversations, and you only job is to give them a bit of feedback afterwards.
This method does mean more time invested. And… if you were to follow through with both, and weigh the two against each other, you’d find that throwing them to the wolves takes much more time and energy than you imagine. It takes a lot of time to go back and fix the inevitable mistakes with that one team member. In addition, there is the cost to the team morale. When your new supervisor has a talk with this team member, and it goes sideways, the team member is going to be upset. When a team member is upset, what do they do? Yes… they bitch to their peers. So now, between the time of the conversation, and when you can schedule the meeting with both of them to fix it, there is a torrent of complaining. You must also realize that you cannot ever really fix the negativity that is now rolling through the rest of the team. We don’t see the other team members that angry team member spoke to, who they spoke to, and how the description of what happened changed when it was passed from person to person. Even small negative things can turn into a mess, and have a very negative effect on the team.
Over time, with a lot of good will and energy, you can change the morale of the team for the better. And… I can tell you from my own experience, it is much more cost-effective to simply invest the time up front, and not have these waves of negativity rolling through the team in the first place. Not only will you gain the trust and loyalty of your supervisor, but also their shifts will certainly be much more productive and consistent. And that’s what we’re in it for right? Not just what happens today, but years from now.
There is a key here… With everything we do we teach our apprentices. Everything! We don’t always think about it that way, and we are constantly influencing the people around us. It ‘s up to us to decide what kind of influence we will be.
By investing the time and energy with our apprentices we are helping them develop their Leadership skills. We are also (too often unknowingly) teaching them how to teach their apprentices, which is the key to our long-term growth. We want to turn our team into a Leadership development machine, and teaching our apprentices the right way to teach others is the only way to do that.
Hmmm... I guess we still have to talk about how we choose the people we see as our future stars. I’ll try to get to that soon.

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