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Learning leadership

Leaders must adopt many styles to get the best from their staff

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
July 24, 2012
July 24, 2012
Catherine Morris

Fall Winter 2012-2013As any business owner knows, pushing your employees to deliver their best is critical to a company’s success. But what makes a good manager? According to experts, it is a complex question, with an equally complex answer. In financial services, as in all business, great leaders have to display a number of characteristics and use many different leadership styles to get the most from their teams.

Leadership styles
Charmaine Bourbon, owner and founder of Nuru Management, who runs one-day training seminars on leadership skills for the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC), says the best leaders draw from many different models of management. She identifies the most common of these as being: “democratic,” where managers seek the advice of all participants in a project; “commander,” where managers are more independent; and “affiliate,” in which managers use staff according to their particular skill set.

“You cannot use one approach for every situation or every person,” explains Bourbon. “The democratic leader can be dangerous when there is a decision to be made quickly. The commander is good in a crisis, but changes out the top people quickly. There are many different leadership styles and you have to know them all and assess which ones to use.”

In her work as founder and president of human resources (HR) consulting and training firm Organization Soul, Yvette Bethel sees a lot of “transactional” management, where managers are so focused on the company’s overall performance that they neglect their staff’s individual needs.

“Transactional managers are focused on getting the work done,” she explains. “When managers have insufficient staff and insufficient resources, they are forced to take this approach, because they are constantly operating in survival mode.”

Bethel has more than 20 years of experience in HR and now lectures on leadership skills for the Bahamas Institute of Financial Services (BIFS). In her work, she has noted a recent shift in leadership styles and says that as a general trend the transactional approach is falling out of favour. “Organizations are seeing the need to shift from transactional management, which focuses on duties and execution of those duties, to one that is more strategic.

“I have seen leadership evolve from a more authoritative style to a more participatory or situational style.” Participation and collaboration are key if a manager wants to develop his team. The leader must be aware of his own limitations and address these. “You have to know what you don’t know,” says Bourbon. “You need to identify those gaps in your organization and make sure your team is well-rounded and has what it needs.”

Managing your emotions
For a leader, their life outside the office can be just as important as their professional life. A team leader should be a well-balanced individual, with a variety of interests. “Good leaders have a good sense of humour and do something other than work. You can’t be all work and no play. There needs to be a balance for you and your team,” says Bourbon.

This helps to develop a certain level of “emotional intelligence.” Bethel defines the concept as: “Developing the skills you need to manage your emotions, so that you can respond in an objective way to the circumstances causing the emotion.”

According to Bourbon, this is particularly vital when things go wrong. “You can’t be easily overwhelmed. If you cannot be the shock absorber, your organization is going to feel every bump.”

If this aspect of leadership does not come easily to senior staff, it can be worked on and improved, says Bethel. “Unlike your intelligence quotient, emotional intelligence can be improved. Being emotionally intelligent is about being self-aware and self-regulated. Emotional intelligence helps you to listen and not let your emotions create barriers to effective communication.”

Focus on employees
At the heart of any good management strategy is concern for the welfare of employees–developing their skills, mentoring and motivating, says Rachel Rolle, president of the Bahamas Human Resources and Development Agency (BHRDA).

“A good manager is one that focuses on the needs of their employees,” she says. “That helps to create a positive corporate culture; your employees are happy and they do a better job of taking care of the clients. It is better for the organization as a whole.”

Sometimes being a good manager means giving employees the freedom to lead themselves, even if that means they fail. “A good leader needs to develop and coach their people. You should give people an opportunity to own their projects. Know your team and give them the opportunity to fail,” advises Bourbon. “A lot of managers do not know how to fail. They think there is a stigma attached, but having people stretch themselves is how they grow.”

Key to taking care of your team is being able to communicate with them. “It sounds like a cliche, but communication is the most important thing,” continues Bourbon, noting that the challenges of communication are becoming more complex in the modern age. “With technology we have [become] globalized. Cultural communication is going to be paramount. Managers need to know how to effectively articulate strategies.”

The flip side of communicating effectively is listening effectively. Projecting ideas is a must, but managers also have to be prepared to hear feedback and address staff concerns.

“You have to be a good listener,” says Rolle. “A manager needs to be able to listen and allow employees an opportunity to influence company decisions. Involving them in strategizing makes them take on ownership [of the company]. It’s about engaging your employees.”

Common pitfalls
Even the most conscientious leaders sometimes make mistakes and, according to Bourbon, these occur most frequently in the probationary period, when a manager has just assumed their role and is still finding their feet.

“New managers get promoted and do not get formal training. Those first 90 days are critical. It is the time that really sets the pace,” she explains. “You get promoted because you are a star employee, so a lot of people end up doing the same thing faster and better, but the organization is looking for something different and the transition can be difficult.”

A new manager can be tempted to put their own stamp on a company, but that can backfire, warns Bourbon. “New leaders believe they have to come in and immediately make changes; that is one of the worst things you can do. It can distance people.

Improving managerial skills
For a manager in The Bahamas who wants to hone their skills there are plenty of opportunities. In Bourbon’s BCCEC seminars she gives presentations, discusses performance management and even role plays with the participants. “I tell people how to say the tough things. I had a woman once who had just been promoted to lead a team of men who were her peers. I told her: ‘you have to give yourself permission to own this new role.’

“She needed support from senior management, because if [the team] thought they could go around her, they would and you have to nip that in the bud.”

The BIFS’s Leadership Essentials Programme run by Bethel is a seven-week course covering modules, such as emotional intelligence, conflict management strategies, how to build a high performing team and performance coaching. “They talk about coaching, but some organizations don’t have the tools,” says Bethel. “There is a big need for it. Coaching helps managers to focus on how they can help employees meet their goals. It has such positive effects on the organization.”

Whether stepping into a senior role for the first time or a seasoned professional, it is important that managers develop and maintain their skills. Communicating with employees, nurturing their skills and being an approachable, inspiring leader will reap dividends for a company and help ensure a profitable future. As Bethel explains: “Building strong leadership is critical for setting a business up for long-term survival.”

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