5 Best Practices That Make You A Greater Leader

Photo: Pixabay/StockSnap

What are five practices you should have as a great manager?

The differences between being a great manager and being a great leader may not seem vast at first glance. There is, however, a delicate balance at play between the two, and in order to become greater at both you have to understand their individual responsibilities. So how can you begin to see leadership and management differently, in order to master them more fully?

René Boer has more than 30 years of experience in the restaurant industry, helping leadership teams succeed at well-known brands such as Pizza Hut and Jamba Juice. He's the best-selling co-author of How To Be A Great Boss. I recently interview René for the LEADx Podcast, where we discussed the 5 best ways to becoming a great boss. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)

Kevin Kruse: How do you view leaders versus managers?

René Boer: Yes, so there's always that raging debate about what's more important, right? Being a great leader or being a great manager? When you think about it, to be a great boss, you really have to be good at both leadership and management. You know, let me just tell you just a quick definition of both leadership and management. What makes them different, but at the same time, what makes them equally important. When you think about leadership, it's really about working on the business. It's important that leaders do that. It's about providing a really clear direction for your organization. It's about creating an opening. You know, the old saying is “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Then, finally, leadership is about thinking. You know, in a nutshell, that's leadership. The equally important other half is management, so being a great leader doesn't make you a great manager and vice versa. In management, that's about working in the business. It's about creating crystal clear expectations, being a really good communicator. Management is all about doing, so you can see how being a great leader and being a great manager helps a boss create this environment of accountability.

Kruse: You have five management practices. Can you walk us through them?

Boer: Sure. With management, it starts with always keeping expectations crystal clear. When you think about it, all accountabilities starts by keeping expectations clear. What I mean by that, it's really a two-way street. It's your expectations of your direct reports and their expectations of you. When you think about your expectations of them in terms of behaviors and core values and the role that they play in the organization, the numbers that they're accountable for, the metrics and the key priorities that they set for themselves. It's always important to keep those expectations clear. When you do that, you'll find that you rarely have to fire anybody. If they do leave, they're leaving because they just can't beat your expectations. That's the first management practice. Does that make sense?

Kruse: I learned the hard way that if you don't clarify your expectations people might get the job done, but in ways that could come back to hurt you.

Boer: Absolutely, yes. That's the first management practice. The second one is all about communicating effectively. When you think about communication, that's also a two-way street. What I found is often times, we’ll—and this is a human condition by the way—we’ll make assumptions. When you think about a lot of the conversations that you hear around the water cooler, most of them are around assumptions that people are making. As a boss, it's really, really important to never go down that road of just making assumptions. You’ve got to be willing to do a heck of a lot more asking and better listening versus just telling people and talking. Communication is really watching that question to statement ratio, and you're going to learn a lot more when you ask questions and you let your direct reports talk, versus just telling them all the time.

Kruse: Are you listening more than you're pontificating?

Boer: Not exactly. Just a tip is I like echoing when communicating. The way that that works is when you explain something to someone, just ask them, “Could you repeat back what I just said?” or you say something like, “What I heard you say was,” When you do that, oftentimes, you're going to find out that you really weren't clear on what the person was trying to say or they weren't clear on what they were hearing. That just helps improve communication. Be a better listener.

The third one is all about having a great meeting pulse with each of your direct reports. The whole idea here is to just keep circles connected. Sometimes, we have a relationship with direct reports where the circles aren't connected. We rarely talk, so we're just making assumptions that everything is going just swimmingly well. Well, that's a train wreck waiting to happen. Then, other times, it's just a smothering relationship where we're just all over them. That doesn't work either. It's really understanding that one size doesn't fit all. You might have some people that are fairly new that need more of your time. You have some people that are really veterans that might need a little less of your time, but you really have to figure that out. It's having a really good meeting pulse. Does that make sense?

Kruse: Do you think there are some best practices here?

Boer: Yes, it depends on the situation. Within EOS, the Entrepreneurial Operating System, the meeting cadence that we teach is for the boss and his direct reports. If it's a department or if it's the owner of a company with his leadership team is to have a weekly meeting with the team for 90 minutes just going through solving issues, getting things done and increasing team health. That 90-minute meeting agenda that we teach people, sometimes, is about all that folks really need, but the daily huddles work too. I mean I spent 30 years in the restaurant industry. I can tell you that in a restaurant, you're not going to get everybody together for 90 minutes. You've got to figure out a way to have the right meeting pulse. We did a lot of what I just said. We get people together before a shift for five or ten minutes and just let everybody know what's going on. We're giving them an opportunity to ask some questions. It's just a pulse that the boss really has to figure out with his or her team.

The fourth management practice is what we call the quarterly conversation. When you think about this, this is an opportunity for the boss and the direct report to really improve their relationship. Another opportunity to keep the circles connected. It's an opportunity to let them talk because if you think about the quarterly conversation, it's the direct reports meeting with the boss, not the other way around. It should be informal, off-site, away from the office where there's not going to be any interruptions or distractions. No documentation is necessary. This usually freaks out the HR folks because it's just a conversation. It's around two questions: What's working, and what's not working? Boy, when you get started with that, you know, “Think about what's working and what's not working,” and doing this with each direct report because some people just need to get that feedback. They need to have that opportunity to have that conversation with the boss because lots of times, it's a little too late when someone leaves the organization.

This is an opportunity to make sure that people stay in the organization and that we're having conversations around, “What does the future look like to you? What are your expectations?” This is just a really invaluable practice. It just keeps everybody on the same page. We recommend that people do this four times a year. Really, the fourth time, is the “annual conversation,” if you will. It's a bit of an annual review all around the same things. What's working and what's not working in terms of core values, roles, metrics and so on and so forth.

Kruse: People would probably leave you before you would fire them because you're going to be having these conversations all the time.

Boer: Right, and there's something magical about 90 days because what I've learned is that's about as far as we as human beings can go before our relationship gets a little frayed. It is invaluable to get people together one-on-one every 90 days. What's working? What's not working? You're going to avoid more misunderstandings, more train wrecks doing this than if you don't. There's a lot of excuses and reasons for why people don't do this. My favorite is when someone says, “Hey, I talk to my people all the time,” right? “Oh, yes. We talk all the time,” but what are you talking about? What they're talking about is usually a lot of the day-to-day stuff that has to happen, but this quarterly conversation is at a much higher level.

Kruse: I think most leaders tend to focus on whatever's going on in that day.

Boer: Right, so I could spend an hour talking about the quarterly conversation, but let's move on to the fifth management practice. This is about being really good at rewarding and recognizing people. Lots of times, when you think about rewarding and recognizing, people are thinking about pizza parties and stuff like that. That's really not what we're talking about. Recognizing people for positive performance is as simple as just saying “Thank you.” It's the little things that matter a lot. Napoleon Bonaparte was so right when he said, “A soldier will fight long and hard for a strip of yellow ribbon.”

Then, recognizing bad behavior, poor performance when it happens and not waiting until an annual performance review to gunny sack someone with a whole bunch of things that they could have been doing differently. When you see something that isn't quite right, just call it out.

Kruse: Employees want to be told how they could be doing better. You really only disengage people when you ignore them.

Boer: Exactly. In fact, when you ask people, “Given three choices; positive feedback, negative feedback and no feedback,” they'd rather have positive feedback first. Negative feedback secondly. A lot of people think, “No feedback means good news.” That's just not true.

Kruse: I always want to challenge our listeners to try something new. What do you want us to do today so that we can start being a great boss? 

Boer: Here's what I would do. I would get my calendar with each direct report and say, “You know what? We're going to try something different. We're going to get together every quarter for 30 to 45 minutes. It's going to be your opportunity to have a conversation with me. We're going to do this off-site. It's not a performance review. Get your calendar out. Let's set some dates.” Boy, would that send a positive message that first of all, you view them as being important. You got to give them some time to really think about what you want to get accomplished in that conversation. The first one is always clumsy, but boy, once you get the rhythm going, this could be a really, really cool thing to do.

Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.

CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at https://leadx.org/preview.