Key Insights from “Unleashed”

Leadership is about empowering people

One of the key goals for any leader should be unleashing the potential of each team member and making sure that the impact continues in their absence. The first step to empowering people is being sincerely curious about what team members are thinking, feeling, and doing. Understanding what motivates people, what drives them, and what causes concerns helps to develop an individual approach to team members. This will grow their strengths and help them excel and enjoy what they do. Leaders need to analyze how team members’ performances changed after they showed up. Were they stable, growing, or declining? Obviously, the latter is not a good sign. Still, even with a growing performance, leaders must continuously ask themselves: What could I do, big or small, to improve the team’s performance?

Leaders need to teach not what to think but how to think

Empowering team members is not about leading them to desired results through micromanagement. Instead of pushing specific decisions on challenges, leaders need to focus on building an environment where team members come up with solutions themselves. Among other things, this might include recommending which factors need to be taken into account when choosing one strategy or the other to address the problem, how the problem and the potential solution marry with the bigger picture, and so forth. The earlier leaders start focusing on helping team members build the right mindset versus providing direct assistance in problem-solving, the faster the pace of their growth.

Leaders shift their focus

As individual contributors, we aspire to deepen our expertise in the subject matter to deliver better results over time. One of the key changes that leaders can expect is a shift of focus from elevating themselves to developing, protecting, and enabling the people around them. One might believe that they would be able to continue full-scale self-development while helping team members to grow. However, the authors stress that usually, it’s difficult to do both at the same time. Since the person has made a conscious decision to follow the leadership path, the team’s growth and development needs to be prioritized.

Believe in someone else’s unrealized potential

Believing in your team members is not about adding a fancy phrase to the company’s mission statement. It’s about giving them space to stumble. Leadership may communicate in all-hands meetings that it supports mistakes. However, when team members who actually make mistakes are met with little understanding, it sends a clear signal to employees: Mistakes won’t be tolerated. The pattern of behavior switches from innovative to risk-averse. To avoid this, leaders need to promote new approaches and tactics and accept that mistakes are going to happen along the way.

Empowerment begins with trust

It’s critical for leaders to be authentic. People tend to trust you when they think they’re interacting with the real you. Those who are not authentic will quickly see an invisible wall growing between them and the people around them. Retaining your authenticity may be harder when you’re a leader since you have a spotlight on you. People will continuously watch how you behave in different situations and make decisions. If what you do and what you say are not aligned, you’re going to lose your team’s trust. The good thing about authenticity is that it is infectious. When employees see that you’re sincere, it’s much easier for them to share opinions openly, helping to grow an atmosphere of trust in the team and the whole organization.

Be willing to update your point of view based on new information

Many people are not comfortable publicly changing their opinion, fearing that others will not take them seriously. However, our opinions are usually based on the information we have at a specific moment. When new data emerges, it may become clear that the former status quo needs to be updated. Being open to changing your point of view is not a sign of inconsistency — it’s a sign that you acknowledge the current business situation is not written in stone and it’s necessary to show flexibility.

Lead with justice

Many of those just beginning their journey as a leader are confused about where to start. Some choose to concentrate on achieving results by pushing through their approach regardless of the cost. This could potentially lead to pushback from team members and burnout for some. The opposite is being overly empathetic. You end up focusing 100% of your effort on hearing team members’ concerns and working through them. While empathy is most definitely something that every successful leader needs to demonstrate, in extreme cases, work may not get done at all. That said, leading with justice is about achieving a balance of strength and empathy. There’s no single correct proportion here — leaders need to take the time to discover the appropriate amount for their team.

Set the bar high and have your team’s back

As long as leaders have their team’s back, it’s fair to set ambitious goals. When the leaders’ expectations are high and clear, team members tend to stretch to reach them. Here at Wrike, we work by OKRs (objectives and key results). It’s well known that the “classic” definition of the OKR implies that the objectives need to be high, so a 70% completion rate is considered a great result. But getting to 70% involves a lot of hard work and (usually) extra miles. To ensure success, it’s critical for team members to know that should any problems emerge, the leader will be on their side to provide guidance and support.

Catch someone in the act of behaving how you want them to behave

There’s a common opinion that leadership should spot the mistakes the team members make and provide recommendations on what could’ve been done differently and how. However, team members often take the right action themselves without any support or direction. Leaders must spot such behavior and use sincere and specific praise to describe what exactly has been done well so the team member can replicate that behavior.

Be a Santa Claus of feedback

The authors point out that, unfortunately, many people today don’t know how to give feedback. Common mistakes include providing only negative or vague feedback. For the feedback to work well, it needs to be laid on top of a foundation of trust. As long as this condition is met, team members will be open to receiving both praise and critical feedback.

Strategy is a direct extension of who you are as a leader

At its most basic, strategy describes how an organization wins. It shows team members how to deploy resources they control — including time, focus, capital, etc. Leaders need to continuously re-evaluate the company strategy. A good starting point would be to understand how the strategy was created originally and how it has evolved.

Culture establishes rules of engagement after leadership leaves the room

In a nutshell, company culture establishes “how things work around here.” Often, the conversation about culture only occurs when people realize something that needs to change. If you want to make a maximum impact as a leader, you need to be a culture warrior. You’re not always going to be there for your team members in the room. A well-established culture gives you the confidence to exit it. Culture needs to be aligned with the current challenges and opportunities the company is facing. Make sure that as a leader, you’re open to different ideas that can come from anywhere in the company, regardless of seniority and position.

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Artem Gurnov

Artem Gurnov

Head of Global Customer Engagement @Wrike