This week has been an interesting one for me, and as such, it has led me to my topic this week. I will be circling back again to some more info on Agile BI, and specifically on the service-oriented methods. This week though, we are talking about leading people and inspiring loyalty. Early in the week, I received a very interesting offer to leave the post-secondary institution I have been working at for the last year and move into a consulting firm. I spent the week agonizing and weighing pros and cons of both. Eventually, I decided to stay where I am and continue building up enterprise BI, following the structure of a six-year roadmap I have been working from.
The primary motivation for staying where I am: in a word, loyalty. There are fantastic people I work with who are driven and passionate about what we are building. But the primary thing that made the decision easier for me, was not the loyalty I have, but rather the loyalty I was shown. Both of my colleagues in data management asked me, on a personal level, to stay. Both used the same words to describe what their reasons were for wanting me to stay, and that struck a nerve with me. I thought about what I was giving to my team, and what that looks like to others.
To put this in some perspective, we have a mixed matrix structure at the office, and I do not sit at the top. I do not hold a position as a manager, or even a team lead. I am a senior BI analyst and run backup as DBA for liability coverage. Having such a small team to work with (there are three of us) though, has given us plenty of opportunity to all work together and help each other out. I come from a background of leading people, and I believe it when it was pointed out to me that I have the “no man left behind” philosophy as a hold over from my military days.
We do not always get to choose the people we work with, but this has never been an issue for me. I lead naturally from the front, and those that want to follow, are welcome to join. It does not take a long time for the people I work with to make the decision to either keep up, or not. This leads me to the core of this week’s argument. From my experience as a leader, team leader, manager and executive, I have only two rules about leading people. These two rules are the only rules you need to affectively lead people and inspire loyalty in the people you lead. These two things are also the two things I get from my current manager, and it is more than enough for me to respect him as a leader, and as a person.
Number One: Challenge your people, constantly.
I do not mean be difficult or push them to constantly feel overworked. This isn’t about piling on hundreds of hours of menial tasks that you just don’t want to do. I mean, actually challenging them to do better and be better at what they do. Push the limits of their comfort zone and introduce them to new tasks that make them think and become engaged in their work. Find out what drives them and use it to push them forward. Make them better at what they do by leading them towards the things they want to do, and task them to discover more, learn more, and be more than they are, every day.
Challenge yourself as much, or more than those around you. Find the things that will make you a better leader, a better worker, and a better person and face them head on. Lead from the front by challenging yourself and showing results. It will inspire those that want to follow to do the same. My father has always said of me that to reach for the moon was too easy, Saturn is out there somewhere. No truer words have ever been said.
Number Two: Support your people, always.
Again, I will start with what I do not mean. I do not mean hold their hands and guide them through each step. I do not mean to do work for them. These are your colleagues, and they are adults (In theory). What I mean is, support them in facing the challenges you present. Send them articles and links that would interest them, that show them the way forward, and open their minds. Suggest webinars, seminars, and conferences. Push them to seek out authors and to read about the things that inspire them. Help them think or rethink solutions to problems. Play devil’s advocate and continue to challenge them to think from new perspectives.
Support yourself in the same way. Seek out new ideas, new perspectives and different ways of solving the problems you are facing at work. Reach out to the same colleagues and lean on their expertise as well. Engage with them on things that are difficult. Working together as a team is not a sign of weakness, and it is not a sign of poor leadership. If you are open about the issues being faced, and earnest in seeking perspective, you will build a strong and solid team, and one that will follow you into the very depths of hell.
That is all there is to it. There is no “magic bullet” here, just earnest, open, honest hard work as a team. Work together to push and drive each other, don’t separate yourself from your team, and lead from the front, constantly challenging and always supporting. I suppose that would fall as the secret third rule. If you want to lead a team instead of just manage people, do not separate yourself from them. You don’t necessarily need to sit in the middle of your team, you earned that office after all, but don’t be absent either. If your team only hears from you as you assign tasks and collect results, you are not leading the team. You can be replaced by a Kanban board and an algorithm.
As a final note for those who struggle with the belief that because you are a manager you are infallible, or otherwise above your team in some way; you are not either of those. We are all human, and we all crave the same things: respect, challenge, and support.
I have had four fantastic managers in my lifetime. Four out of dozens. All four of these people worked very visibly within their teams, challenged me, supported me in facing those challenges, and solely led from the front. Currently, the two different managers I work with, follow at least two of the 2 and a half rules above. I am extremely lucky to be surround by people that have chosen to follow me, and I have chosen to follow, and that is worth more than dollars in a lot of cases.