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Managing Direct Reports

Last week we began a series of blogs based on the observations of leadership and business guru Patrick Lencioni. In an address to the annual Global Leadership Summit, Patrick Lencioni said, “I think a lot fewer people in the world should become leaders”, and he listed the five situations that “reward-centered” leaders avoid, and as a result, people suffer. The first one Lencioni mentions is avoiding difficult conversations. A leader’s ability to successfully conduct difficult conversations can make the difference between success and failure – both for the leader and the organization. We looked at that last week.The second is managing your direct reports. Lencioni says, “Most of the people that complain about micromanaging are people that don’t want to be micromanaged themselves or are people who don’t want to do their job. If people aren’t managed, they lose motivation, there’s politics, confusion; and when you abdicate management as a leader, real people suffer.”After you have been working with a team for awhile, it is likely you will find yourself in charge of other persons on you team, or your “direct reports.” This is significant, because great and productive work cannot be accomplished without team work. The challenge of a great leader with direct reports is to:

  • Produce the maximum output from their talents.

  • Increase their value over time

  • Create and foster an environment that is collaborative, exciting, and fun.

When this happens everybody wins. Our teams are not intended to be simply transactional—they do the work, they get a paycheck. Great workers who become great leaders want to increase the skill set, become better leaders, have a greater impact on the organization, and see their personal situation improve. The direct report system is where all these things can best happen! It happens when the managers or leaders don’t just punch the clock, but actually invest in their direct reports. You may shy away from his because you have an inefficient employee or two, but you like them. Don’t ignore the situation. They will never become what even they want to be if you do. You don’t have the time or the energy to let under[performance linger, so put on your big boy/big girl pants and improve your dealings head-on with your direct reports. If they have it in them to succeed, they will thank you.


Here’s a crash course on managing your direct reports for multiple wins. Consistently meet. The best way to let your direct reports know their value is to make an effort to brief them regularly one-on-one and update them. If you just contact through email when you need them to do something, this sends the message that you don’t really care about them as a worker. Lack of communications sends the message that they are simply a means to an end. Communicating frequently teaches them to do it, too.


Analyze and create a plan. Be genuinely curious about what their needs and desires are. Hold one-on-one meetings, and ask them questions, not only about what they need to do, the task currently in front of them, but also about what they want out of their career. When you help guide them towards being as fulfilled as possible, they will do the best work they can for you.


Let them vent. We all need to get things off our chests. You will inevitably tell them things you think and feel; you have a responsibility to listen and attempt to make things as fulfilling as possible for them as well. Just listening goes a long way.. You don’t have to have all the answers, and most reasonable people aren’t expecting you to. Sometimes, just a friendly ear is enough to restore morale and get someone excited again.


Give them feedback. This seems to be a no-brainer, but it’s missed so often. Employees assume no news is good news, so typically ineffective behavior won’t improve without feedback.All employees need to hear how good of a job they’re doing. Constructive criticism, not labeling or jabbing, will truly help. Respectfully point out what’s not working so that your report can correct themselves. If your report is working with others as well, make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what everyone else is doing.


Clarify the direction and tasks. We all complete our tasks much more efficiently when we have a clear idea of what is expected of us. A direct report needs guidelines to be efficient at his or her job. Explain what, how, and why. What do you want to accomplish this week? What do you expect to see from them by the next one-on-one meeting? Be clear and not vague; lay down a template for regular completion of tasks that your report can ]follow. No one can read your mind. Be clear about what you want so your report can succeed.


Reinforce and reward consistently. Be certain to acknowledge their contributions and results. Positive reinforcement is a vital leadership tool.


Keep them in the loop. Make sure you provide a continual stream of information about the things that could possibly affect them, whether or not it is directly connected to their project. Give clear and concise snapshots of what is going on, and make sure they are kept abreast of any vital developments. The last thing you want is for your report to hear some important news from someone other than you.


Be clear on the priorities. It’s a mistake to assume they see things the way you do. They need to know how the money and time needs to be spent before they spend it instead of being corrected afterwards. Don’t fear being a micro-manager so much that they don’t get the needed guidance on the company priorities. Educate them on costs.


Do routine performance check-ups. Meet and ask questions in a non-threatening way, and do it long before any action needs to be taken to end an arrangement. Foster regular, relaxed dialogue: Set meetings to occur bi-weekly at minimum. Use the first part of a meeting to discuss the performance plan objectives and results with your report. The second half of the meeting should be used for you and your manager to catch up, casually, on you are doing in general and your long-term career goals. This is most important. Questions may include:

  • How are you doing?

  • How have the past few weeks treated you?

  • How was your weekend/What’s going on this weekend?

  • How is your significant other/family?

  • Have any big trips planned?

  • Is there anything I can do to alleviate stress?

  • Are there are any passion projects which you would like to work on?

There should never be any surprises in a performance review, significant corrective action, or even letting an employee go. Connectivity and great leadership will keep evertone on the same page.Being “the boss” can be an incredibly rewarding experience or the opportunity for great frustration and failure. Remember that respect and trust flow both ways – you and your report need to have a mutual understanding and high opinion of one another to produce the best work you can. You can do this. You really can.

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