What it takes to successfully overcome the challenges of a VUCA world? How to be a good leader at work?
You must win the under-3 fancy dress competition. You must get straight A’s in school, have the most beautiful cursive handwriting, pick up a few foreign languages. You cannot be #2. You must be the state topper of the board examination to get a place in the “elite science section” of the city’s most sought after school, known to churn out the next class at IIT/AIIMS. Burn the mid-night oil, crack the entrance exam, and then compete with the country’s smartest folks to ensure that you are a university rank holder.
Sheila Auntie’s daughter landed up with 12lpa package right after her undergrad last year, so you cannot be short of 15lpa. A software engineer in one of the world’s most renowned tech firms, you excel as an individual contributor.
Now, you are all charged up and must climb the proverbial ladder. The Wolf of Wall Street – you need speed, you want it all now. You see a fork in the road – continue grasping rung after rung until you reach the top or get that MBA and possibly, skip a few rungs. Déjà vu – Burn the mid-night oil, crack the grueling admissions process, and then compete with the world’s smartest folks to ensure that you are a university rank holder.
You re-enter the corporate world with that dream job – churning out stellar excels & presentations, trying to create value and make an impact. You spend a few more years of your career trying to amass great accomplishments and achieve stellar performance, and definitely harnessing the skills to seek the answer to the most common question in corporate life – “how to be a good leader at work” . You’re a star!
And finally, you get that much deserved “step-up” from being an individual contributor to a manager (only to soon realize that this is going to be one of the most difficult and stressful times in your career. How to survive in a VUCA world? Or perhaps, how to be a good leader at work?
Unfortunately, the approach that made you successful as an individual contributor (maybe, part of a larger team) is not necessarily going to work in a management position. This is no longer all about you. Let’s just say – “It’s not me, it’s we!”
Having said that, real growth begins at the end of your comfort zone. Don’t fight the discomfort, deal with it! Here are a few pointers that helped me navigate choppy waters and provide the leadership in VUCA world
Have a mentor or coach
Most often than not, you cannot just throw yourself into any role and expect to thrive. After 2-weeks in my new role as a General Manager at Urban Company, the co-founder and the senior management had scheduled 1:1 coaching sessions. Always explore and access organized resources within the company if you want the key to how to be a good leader at work.
. At the same time, I did not shy away from seeking advice from mentors from my past firms. Connect with people you feel are great managers or leaders and find out what they did right!
Accountability vs Oversight (how to be a good leader in the workplace)
The most common temptation was to do the work myself as opposed to assigning it to someone else (You will always think it would be faster if you did it yourself). Worried about the quality of work or adherence to timelines, you might end up micro-managing. Avoid it. With a fatal risk control mechanism in place, if you had to choose between 99% perfection with your involvement vs 90% perfection without your involvement, go for the latter.
If you try to do the work of your entire team, not only will you be overwhelmed (risking frequent burn outs) but you will also be unable to develop your people. Spend time in setting your team’s OKRs/KRAs such that they are aligned to yours and impart accountability or ownership. Remember that your goal is not to do the work yourself but that of overseeing. Build in a review cadence that works best for you – For me it was a weekly 1:1 check-in every Monday with each direct report, specific to their workstreams and a joint team review every two weeks, for a stock check and direction setting.
The breadth of activities in your portfolio would have increased – do not let the daily grind swallow up all your time. Instead, focus on problem solving or strategic thinking!
Pull vs Push
may not always be enough. Therefore, foster a culture of open communication within your team and allow individuals to reach out to you wherever your intervention or support is required. Given that people from many cultures may not be comfortable with this approach, as a manager, drive home the point that asking for help when required is not a sign of weakness. This not only ensures that you do not suffocate your team with too many meetings but helps your team develop a sense ownership & confidence (imperative for them to scale).
Develop a winning team – appreciation & criticism (how to be a good team leader at work)
As a manager you will need to ensure team morale is maintained. Appreciate specifically, publicly, and frequently. However, it is not all roses! If someone is underperforming, you will have to intervene. Choose your battles wisely – You cannot fix 5 flaws, work on 1 or 2. But remember: Critique more generally, 1:1 and less frequently.
Your new role requires you to think and behave differently. It is a huge transition, and one that is not easy to make overnight. In the meantime, go easy on yourself – if it does not come naturally to you, put a structure to the madness and take it one day at a time.
Onwards and upwards, always!