A Few Tips on How to Be a Better Team Leader / Boss / Manager
Are you a manager with with a staff under you? Corporate? Freelance? Manual labour? Are you in a position where people are looking to you for guidance on a canoe trip? Sure, sometimes you might be placed in such a situation without wanting it, and sometimes it's your job to do so. Whatever the needs are, there are a few personal bits of advice I can give you from experience that may help you become better at it.
You lead by example:
If you have high expectations of people on your team, you better embody them to the fullest extent. There's nothing more damaging to team morale than someone who expects more than they themselves deliver. No matter what level of seniority you may have, you should try to be the type of worker that you want your workers to be. If your own actions don't reflect your expectations, you will find your peers begin to lack morale and their productivity begin to decrease.
Sure, having a slave-driver mentality may keep the cogs turning, but in reality they're probably not turning as well as they could be. You know that famous saying, "One bad apple ruins the bunch"? Well, it's completely true. And if the team leader is the bad apple, sorry to say, there will never be a good team. Which brings me to...
Identify the bad apples:
Having someone on your team who is unproductive and negative will eventually demoralize the entire group. It's been proven in scientific studies and the best possible course of action is to isolate the individual in a private setting and have the decency to give them at least one chance to improve their behaviour. If you are in a managerial position and the person is an asset, use something like a three-strike law. If they fail to improve, it's better to let them go than risk "ruining the bunch". The key concept here though is to be able to successfully identify such an individual, and deal with them in an appropriate and professional manner.
Keep criticism private:
One of the worst things anyone can do is criticize someone's performance in a public setting, especially in front of other workers. Do the right thing, ask them to speak to you in private and explain your opinions and expectations in a non-confrontational and mature manner. Yelling, nagging, or putting anyone down will never help you. It will only put the person on the defensive, which in most cases will result in a rebellious mentality and the complete opposite of improvement.
Some words are better than others:
Changing the wording of sentences that naturally would use "I" as the principal will drastically change the way it is perceived. Instead of saying, "I want all of this done in one hour", you can try saying "it would be great if we can finish this in an hour." Same basic meaning, but instead of you demanding it, you are now including the whole group and softening the usual harsh connotations. In some cases replacing "want" with "would like" will make a huge difference. Save those harsher words for the times when it's really necessary, but do use them in a positive way.
Work outside of your job description:
Yes, as a team leader, you have the power to demand that a task be done with no involvement whatsoever [depending on the situation]. And yes, sometimes you find yourself swamped with responsibilities only you can perform. Taking the initiative and "stepping down" to begin organization for a task, or just helping lift a box or two, will show that you are part of the team. Your peers understand you are busy, or have other things to do, but you can build better morale by simply getting involved on their level. Get everyone together, start the project, step away to fulfill your own duties, and you make sure your team knows you're a part of it.
Positive reinforcement and rewards:
If someone is doing a good job, let them know. After successfully and satisfactorily completing something, your team should know they did a good job. Not only does this [and I know I mention this a lot] keep up morale, it allows your team to know what you expect of them in a very positive way. Let's say your workers finished a task or duty planned for the day one hour early, reward them by letting them go home early if your situation allows for it.
This one brings me back to the first point. Having high expectations is one thing, but having unrealistically high expectations is another. Be smart, assess the situation and if necessary ask the team about their own expectations for a given task. Assign the right people for the right roles.
On the flip side of this tip is the ability to be too soft as a leader. Make sure you're not letting anyone take advantage of your positive nature, deal with problems in this area in a more direct manner.
You can never be the perfect leader, but being better is always the goal worth pursuing.
Working for an as**le, a dictator, or a lazy derivative of either is on the far end of the spectrum, but it's something that most of us can relate to from personal experience. And most of us can remember how they felt about that job.
When leading, ask yourself, what did you like about people you've worked under in the past? What did you dislike? Draw on those times when you were part of a good team and try to understand the dynamics behind the success of it. Most of these tips, when used appropriately, are fairly easy and will result in strong group mentality and better productivity.
When in doubt about how to respond to a specific situation, put yourself in the other person's shoes.