High performing teams will draw out the best in their team members. However, it’s impossible to do that without holding them to a high standard. Upholding a high standard requires tact and skill. You need to be careful how you explain the standard, and how you enforce it.
If you come on too strong, you run the risk of intimidating the team, making them afraid to take risks, or forcing them to hide their mistakes.
If you come on too weak, the team may not get your message full-strength or respect you.
Here are six ways to approach your team with a standard and grace:
1. If you present the high standard in an attitude of belief in your direct reports (you know they can achieve and maintain it), you are more apt to win their confidence and avoid creating a fear of failure.
2. Be clear in defining and explaining the standard, and confident that it is achievable, then solicit your direct report’s input on how they want the team to achieve it. What is excellent to you may not be excellent to each member of your team. Your team wants to know your definition. Please be sure to make it as tangible as possible so that everyone knows when it is achieved. Some examples may include the percentage you want sales to increase, or how much you want to see their engagement score increase by. Once it is clear what the standard is, it is time to see their ingenuity at work. How do they want to achieve it? By listening carefully to their response, you will not only learn a lot about them but also about how to improve your style of achieving excellence.
3. Implement a flexible leadership style. It is time to adjust your style to your team according to their personality type. How do they work best? What helps them be successful? What energizes them? What frustrates them? What stresses them out? How do they want to be held accountable to the work? (You should not be the accountability partner here; instead, encourage them to own the project. Instead of checking in with them half way through the project, they could let you know halfway through.) Where are they likely to fall short and how can they best overcome those shortfalls? How do you want to be updated? These are all questions to consider. When you use a flexible leadership style, you set them up for success.
4. Be clear on what the priorities are and share the reason why, so they gain more of a strategic mindset.
5. Review review review. Have a review time with your direct report. What's working great? Can it be systematized? For some ideas on that, look at the book, E-Myth Revisited. If you can get it into best practice form, that will pay dividends for you and your team. What's not working well? How could it be improved? Some go with a “top 3 things going well” and then a “top 3 things to improve” review.
6. Now the key to maintaining the high standard is what happens when the team falls short of the high standard. It is important not to lower the standard to mediocrity, or else your team will become mediocre. Instead, move towards showing grace. This is a time to show a high degree of empathy and to lead with appropriate vulnerability. This is a great time for both you and your direct report to look for ways to improve. Since you made sure the standard was achievable, you want to move towards a solid debrief. I would encourage the direct report to write how they should have done things differently, and you can refine their thoughts so that you both have principles for the future
Holding a high standard is essential. So is showing grace when the standard is not met. The key is to keep believing in your direct report until they show they cannot perform their role or are unwilling to grow in their role.
Chew On This:
- What would your team be like if they were fighting for the higher standard while knowing that they would be met with grace if they came up short?
Ryan Bailey is an Executive Coach who specializes advancing excellence in leadership and across business teams.