By Tomas Kucera
June 18, 2017
When you look around you can divide managers into several categories. You find some who truly adhere to the definition of leaders, have the vision for the team, are business people, with clear understanding of what needs to be done and doing it even when it is unpopular. Then you have those who abuse the management position, the jerks, who go after their personal goals regardless the costs. Finally, you have the people pleasers. Managers and leaders who subscribe to the notion that their main task is to make their teams happy because that will produce results, and make the manager popular.
What's wrong with pleasing people
Happy people are productive people. That is probably true. Various studies has shown that happy people are more likely to be more productive than unhappy people. However, happiness is not the only path to strong company culture and high performing teams. In fact, I would argue that there are better ways to achieve great results than focusing on keeping people happy.
Happy people won’t leave. That is to some extent also true. Until the moment they stop being happy. The problem is with keeping people in the company by trying to make them happy with various perks, fancy office space, or not telling them the hard truth. This approach leads to creating a culture of entitlement. You are building no resiliency. The moment business doesn’t go as planned, and you need to do something that will make people unhappy (being it cutting the perks, giving no bonuses, or even reducing number of employees) you are pretty much done. These things are difficult even in cultures with resilient people and they will destroy the productivity of the team and atmosphere in culture of entitlement for months or even years to come.
I’m not advocating that you should keep your team miserable. Far from it. Numerous studies has shown that positive emotions invigorate people and lead to higher productivity. What I’m questioning is how you elicit these positive emotions. It is not by trying to please people. With pleasing people and the culture of entitlement, you are only a step away from doing something that will displease them, elicit negative emotions, and the productivity plummets.
How to be a leader and not a people pleaser
So if trying to please your team is not the right strategy to leadership, what is? Well, it is not about keeping your team happy, it is about making them feel valuable, respected, engaged and energized. How do you do that? How do you build a high-performing team of resilient people who don’t need to be constantly pleased by the world around them? By following couple of simple practices:
- Show direction – one of the key expectations from any leader is providing a vision. You need to be able to clearly state where is the organization heading and outline steps how you expect that it gets there. The best way of showing direction is not just by talking, but by leading the way. Leading by example is a must if you expect others to follow.
- Explain “why” – not only you need to explain direction, you also need to be constantly reminding people “why”. Only if the team understands where you want to go and why, they can help you to get there. Only by understanding “why” people can make sound decisions, and if they run into obstacles, they can overcome them the right way that gets the organization closer to fulfilling the vision.
- Keep the focus – help the team to keep focused on what matters. Too often managers instead of focusing their team on the top goals, create more and more distractions just for the sake of doing something. Yes, you could do these twenty things, but your job as a manager is to distil it down to just a couple with the highest impact, and then guard it with your life.
- Say “no” – learn to say “no” to things that are either not aligned with the ultimate goal, the business model, the organizational culture, or that maybe are aligned, but are not a priority. Saying and owning the “no” is one of the most important things you as a manager can do since it builds your credibility, it grows your influence, and it helps your team to be focused on the right things.
- Build ownership – you don't need to give people equity in the company to create a sense of ownership. In fact, chances are that won't work anyway since the stake in the company will be negligible for each individual. What you can give them is psychological ownership. They need to "feel" they "own" something, regardless whether it is true in the legal sense of the word. You can increase psychological ownership in couple of ways. Invest time and effort in training your team so they have the capability to own a piece of work, explain how their work contributes to the vision, state who owns what so you create clear responsibility and accountability lines, and finally don't direct people but rather provide guidance and suggestions without enforcing your way of doing things.
- Treat them like adults – way too often we tend to treat our people like 5 years old kids. We spend lots of effort hiring the best and the brightest and then micromanage them in every single thing they do, or try to shield them from unpleasant truths. Treating people with respect is one of the key skills you need to have as a leader.
- Provide feedback – provide a clear, candid, well-meant feedback. You as a manager have a moral responsibility to make sure your team knows where they stand. Every single individual on your team should understand when he is doing well, when not, and what they need to work on to get better and grow.
- Help them grow – and I don’t mean giving your team some professional training. The one thing you can do is to identify what skills your team needs to develop to be better at their current and more importantly at their next job. By providing feedback, stretch goals, and building up their confidence and interest in learningyou are not only helping them to do a better job but you are helping them to be a better human beings as a side effect.
- Promote hardship – nothing worthwhile doing is easy. This might be a cliché but it still rings true. If you want your team to feel great, they need to work on something hard. Setting the bar high, giving the team challenges that stretch their skills and abilities, and expecting hard work will ultimately lead to huge feeling of accomplishment and pride once the work is done. If someone on the team is underutilized, either by not tapping their abilities or by not using all their time, these people will be dissatisfied, will focus on the nonsense, complain about every small unimportant thing, work on stuff that is not important and ultimately leave the company at best, or destroy the team morale at worst.
- Make them proud – celebrating successes is a great way to show to the team that their work has a meaning. I don’t necessarily mean giving a big party. It is much more important to stop regularly, look back at what was accomplished, what the results of the hardship are, and make it clear that it is the team that made it happen. It is the team that changed lives of other people through delivering a product or providing a service. By doing this you make your team proud, they will feel a sense of purpose and ultimately increase a sense of ownership and focus on continuing to do a great job.
That’s it. It says nothing about making the team happy, pleasing them, or fulfilling all their wishes. Simple right? Simple, but obviously not easy. It is much easier to please than to lead. A good manager and a leader is able to build a culture where happiness is a by-product of doing a great work. You don’t need fancy office space, you don’t need free meals, cars, or other perks. The only thing you need so to make your team feel valued, respected and proud of their accomplishments.