Are You a Manager or a Leader?

Liz Presson • 9 February 2014

“Just because you’re a manager, doesn’t mean you’re a leader.” Everyone in the room nodded in agreement.

We know that leadership is about getting to know people and their motivations. It’s about making people feel like…people. It’s about inspiring and empowering employees, so they enjoy doing, thinking about and talking about their work.

Strong leaders create and foster employees who make independent decisions based on leadership’s direction, while managers are more likely to remain the gatekeeper in the decision making process. Here’s a collection of methods and ideas from the group of 20 business leaders who came together at Yonder– if you’re focused on becoming a leader, not just a manager, these are for you.

Focus on Personal Growth

In conducting interviews of 100 people to collect qualitative data on modern motivations in the workplace, I’ve found an undeniable pattern. People who love their job feel like they are growing as a person, and they have a mentor at work who genuinely cares about their success—both inside and outside of the organization.

The idea of personal growth itself has changed– “growing” doesn’t always mean a growing paycheck and a fancier title. When you look deeper you can find other motivations. You might find that an employee wants to become a great public speaker, or he or she might look at personal growth as cultural experiences through travel, maybe he/she might be looking to grow a blog of their own. If you’ve hired driven people, they’ll have their own personal growth goals. If you can speak to those goals, you’ll become a part of their success instead of a hindrance, as many jobs have become.

Don’t Default to Money & Promotions

Getting a promotion feels good, in fact, it feels great. Some might even view a promotion as personal growth. But many times, promotions can put employees in a position to do mediocre work. This has been happening for decades, and it’s better known as the Peter Principle. Jobs not only become challenging, but the work no longer aligns with core skill sets or desired skill sets of employees.

Patti Chan, managing director of projects at Intridea, explained how she sees this come up with her team, “Not all developers want to be managers—and the best developers don’t always make the best managers. We have to recognize this and find ways to incentivize awesome people without taking them away from the job they’re great at.”

In addition to or in lieu of promotions, it’s common to default to money as a reward. When we discussed money as a reward at Yonder, most of the companies who had given additional compensation for personal or organizational achievements found that after giving once, it became expected regularly and taken for granite almost instantaneously. Instead, work to incentivize based on deep-seeded motivations at the individual level.

How? Here’s one method…

Identify Individual Motivations

The acronym SCARF represents five qualities that will help you decide on the best incentive for individual team members. Great leaders treat people like people—and everyone is different.

In a recent post on First Round Review, Jason Stirman, head of operations at Medium, explained that the acronym SCARF helps the crew at Medium recognize people in their company with no managers. 

SCARF stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness.

– Status-oriented employees can be motivated by a possible title change, or having their name attached to more important projects.

– Certainty-oriented employees are motivated by the reassurance that their job is important and they are excelling.

– Autonomy-oriented employees may need the ability to work from home, or simply slip on their head phones to tune everyone else out.

– Relatedness-oriented employees are energized by opportunities to socialize with their coworkers — happy hours, softball games, etc.

– Fairness-oriented employees want to know the playing field is even, and they aren’t being exploited or cheated. They need to hear it consistently.

“Basically, when a person is honest with themselves, they’re most motivated by one of those qualities,” Jason said. “As a manager, you can figure out which one motivates which employee, and reward them accordingly. A lot of managers will look at their team and think, ‘We should do a round of compensation increases because everyone’s been working so hard,’ but this isn’t the best incentive for everyone.”

This method of motivation means that some employees may stay in the same position in which they joined the company, and that’s okay. In fact, there are many ways to experiment with hierarchies and give people more responsibly with ever-changing structures.

Experiment with Hierarchies

A great way to identify internal leaders and experiment with skill-sets is to rotate leadership positions or, in a more extreme approach, flatten the organization. This also works out well, because often times, especially in larger organizations, the people who are on the front lines, don’t get to interface with decision makers. Carl Smith, founder of nGen Works, said it best: “The people on the bottom, who know the most, are usually respected the least.”

Brian Doll, VP of marketing at Github said, “Even if management is hierarchical, communication should be flat.”

This can be done with temporary hierarchies, by rotating leaders of agile sprints, and with circles– the structure that the Holacracy methodembraces. The goal is to create an environment where the ability to propose ideas is completely open to everyone within the organization.

Practice Transparency

Finally, if you want your team to work together seamlessly, everyone must feel like they are fully informed and in the know. Your team has to trust you, and just as importantly, trust their co-workers.

“If a team is going to succeed, it has to know everything that’s going on. If there are any hidden agendas or withheld or missing information, then the team will make unnecessary mistakes,” Carl Smith said in a blog post explaining the Jellyfish Model created and practiced by Carl and team at nGen. 

Lullabot, goes as far as sharing the company’s books with employees. Each month, Lullabot’s director of operations, Seth Brown, shares a “weather report” with the team. Not only does this help drive economic understanding, this type of transparency can make employees feel like they own part of the business– they see their direct impact.

Jeff Robbins, co-founder and CEO of Lullabot, mentioned that he sends out an email or a “note from the desk of the CEO” where he shares honest information about the state of the business. The simple act of transparency sparks discussion and a sense of openness.

Motivation based on individual needs and personal growth, rotating leadership and full transparency yield the greatest results when you start with the right people. Great leaders, above all else, know how to identify talent for their business and they hire managers of one. When you hire people who can manage themselves, you don’t need to be a manager, you can be a leader.

We’ll cover attracting, hiring and on-boarding the people for a distributed team next. Enter your email address below to get these posts to your inbox.

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