Have you noticed how little attention continuous leadership skill development is getting? Especially when we talk about multi-locational or remote ways of working.
I have had close to 20 performance evaluation discussions with my team this fall. In the middle of the performance evaluation run, on Sunday evening, I had a conversation with my dear friend Laura Kokkarinen, and something hit me.
I’m leading a unit filled with excellent personalities and exceptional professionals from different nationalities all over Finland. My worst-case scenario would be to get feedback, “You’re ok as a person, but you don’t know anything about how to lead modern IT work or professionals.” What could I do to avoid the comment? How could I ensure my team members a fair possibility to set expectations for how they will be led?
How to equalize performance evaluation process?
The traditional performance discussion is always from the boss to a team member. Don’t get me wrong, I ask and get feedback, but there’s no formal way for my team members to set expectations for me. And I think there should be a way! I’m expecting my team members to take care of their knowledge level and to be able to match the requirements, visions, and of course, their passions. Of course, they should be given the equal opportunity to do the same with their leader.
Leadership skills are not supposed to be something you learned in the 90s and have continued to use since. It’s a continuously renewing set of skills that you, as a leader, need to update. But when was the last time you passed a new certificate stating you have learned some new leadership skills? Or renewed it? When did you place yourself in a position where you are forced to learn new ways of doing your job? My team members do it at least once a year, so why would the expectation level differ for me as a leader?
The lord, with his heard
When I started at my first real job, I was one of the first summer interns in years. After a few months, the boss learned our names, but we had no communication with him unless something was wrong. There are still representatives of this leadership style from different organizations. For me, the characteristics of these leaders are that they’d love to see their kingdom, how it’s growing, and do it from a close range. With that setup, you can lead masses and don’t necessarily need to concentrate that much on individuals. Or be like a lord with his herd of animals, like one of my team members summarised it not so delicately the other day.
Master of the enablement
I know most leaders know leading a unit with specialists and individual contributors is not leading a group of people. It’s getting to know your team members individually and making an effort to adjust your way of leading to their needs, not the other way around. We have most likely experienced that the traditional organizational hierarchy won’t work with a specialist. As a leader, there’s no way you can know and handle all the little details and areas your specialist does, so don’t even think about overwriting them with knowledge. Your job is to be the coach, the communicator, and the master of individual enablement.
What if today’s limitations and control is just a sign of unsuitable leadership?
Within the last three years, we have experienced probably one of the fastest changes in the ways of working. The change had an impact also in IT, where multi-locational setup and remote work were widely used before the pandemic. It doesn’t mean all in IT used the possibilities or leaders were ready for the situation where everyone would work remotely. For example, I can still recall discussions where someone couldn’t take the team leader position due to the location, and I silently wishing we’d be over that already.
What if the limitations the companies are setting up are nothing more than the change resistance from leaders who haven’t kept their leadership skills up to date? From the fear of being unable to see their kingdom and needing to know the people personally to build high-functioning teams and get the job done? Fear of being seen as a bad leader?
I felt so bad about realizing how unequally I had behaved. Instead of challenging the situation, I had taken the performance evaluation set up as given. So I signed up for an interesting leadership course, which was recommended already a while ago, and started to think about how to facilitate performance evaluation by my team members.