Nine months into being a new mom and I’m getting to see things through the eyes of a newcomer to this world. From her point of view, everything is little, everyone is new and anything is possible. As she tries to stand up, if she stretches her arm just a bit more, she will have a sturdy place to hold on. If she steps a little farther, she will be well balanced. It won’t take much, but for her it’s the difference between standing and falling.
Taking little steps and making small adjustments is how you learn and grow and evolve.
As leaders, understanding that the smallest things make the biggest impact is central to being an empowering manager. How you speak to your team, the kinds of questions you ask, and how you regard people are just a few small choices you can make on a daily basis that will dictate what kind of manager you are. The best ones know that these subtle nuances really, really matter.
So what does it take to lead people in this “small but mighty” way?
Take baby steps in the right direction. As a manager (as in life), focusing on simple things you can do to be a better manager will go a long way. Maybe it’s an extra 5 minutes with a team member brainstorming a new idea, or maybe it’s picking up the phone instead of sending another email. For some, it’s simply pausing to ask a question instead of giving a direction. Look at small changes you can make because they will have the biggest payoff. And you’re way more likely to do them.
See others with fresh eyes. Kids give people a chance, and you should too. Ditch “old stories” you have about the people you lead, and instead channel that negative energy in a positive way. Hand over the reins to let him or her disprove what has seemingly always been true. Maybe she needs a little coaching, feedback or guidance. It’s actually your job as a manager to provide the tools to help others change and realize their potential - it doesn’t always come right away. However, everyone is naturally creative, resourceful and whole, and you may be surprised by what they’re capable of.
Have a fearless vision. Sometimes you have to be fearless for your people. Dream up a vision and be bold about what’s possible. Work with them to actualize that (with baby steps - see #1 above). As cliche as it sounds, reach beyond what you think is possible and inspire others to do the same. Just because it hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean you can’t be a trailblazer. Even if realities or red tape limit you in some way, you will achieve more than you might have otherwise, and your team will have a new energy to work from.
As I sit with my clients today, I notice that the challenges they face haven’t changed much from nine months ago. Organizations are still evolving daily and adapting to our changing and demanding world. Managers are still central (and struggle) to inspire, empower and enable their people to meet those challenges. The only way this dynamic will change is if we each change.
As I observe my 9-month old, I'm inspired by the leaps she’s making with the smallest of maneuvers. It reminds me to go back to the basics - that small modifications make a difference and do matter.
Yes, leading people well is no more complex than a baby's first attempt to stand up. In both cases you just have to be willing to take small steps in a new direction, and everyone can do that.