When it comes to employee engagement, the direct manager has a vastly higher impact than the CEO. Understanding that the ÇEO sets the direction and overall culture for the credit union, the actual execution and employee impact happens at the team level. A lot of us have been in meetings or training courses and asked the question “who is the best leader you ever had?” The majority of the time the person that comes to mind is in that direct leader role, a manager, a coach, a teacher, a parent, etc, not someone 3 or 4 levels up. We remember the great CEOs of course, we respect them and are thankful to have worked on their team. But they do not have that direct, day to day impact on our work, our development, or our lives that our direct leader does.
As a manager, a leader, if you ever utter words equal or similar to, “I have no idea why my team’s performance is so poor,” or “I’m so tired of the attitudes and lack of effort”, stop, take a breath, and take a long look in the mirror. A quote I love from the movie Remember the Titans is “attitude reflects leadership”.
Leadership at the team level has the biggest impact on how our team members feel about the organization and their role in it. Leadership is not management. Both are typically necessary in credit union management roles, but being strong in one does not negate the need to be strong in the other. Management is focused on getting the work done; leadership is about providing vision and direction as well as developing, mentoring and supporting the team that gets that work done. Both are essential functions. Sometimes, we can get caught up in the what, and forget about the who and how.
Some quick thoughts on how to prioritize the time needed for your team:
- Schedule monthly (at least) 1:1 check-ins with each team member. Do not lightly cancel, move, or be late for these meetings in lieu of other priorities – it can send a very clear message to your team about how much of a priority they are, or are not. Ensure you spend as much, or more time listening as you do talking.
- Prepare well for any coaching conversations you are going to have with team members. Do not “wing” it. Give these conversations the time and attention they deserve. Prepare and communicate a clear and concise meeting plan so that both of you know what you are talking about & why. And by the end of the conversation have a clear recap of what you agreed to for the course of action, expected outcomes, and follow up.
- Do not ignore behavioral coaching needs. These can be harder, and feel less comfortable than speaking about operational/job related issues, but they are even more important. You owe it to your team members to address any unacceptable behaviors. Patrick Lencioni said, “behavioral accountability always precedes results”. You are setting team members up to fail if you allow unacceptable behaviors to continue without coaching and accountability. Additionally, your top performers will not remain on a team where toxic behaviors are allowed.
Be intentional in your focus and planning for individual and team development. Highly engaged teams perform at high levels, the work gets done, it gets done well, and expectations are exceeded. Even more importantly, you are impacting people in ways you may never know, but they will, and they will never forget it, for better or worse. Be the leader that people think of when asked the question “who was the best leader you ever had?”