Got your attention?  OK let’s first acknowledge that being the best leader your direct reports ever had may not be too difficult.  In practice, the bar on leadership could be set higher, so following the pearls of wisdom imparted below may put you way on the top of the list.  Even if you have some of the rare folks who had a really phenomenal prior leader, following the points below will get you at least a silver medal.   So here it is:

  1. Ensure you and your team can articulate your team’s shared work goals in a clear and concise manner – Teams cannot function effectively without having shared goals.  Can you articulate the team’s goals?  Ask three of your people the same question and see how they respond.  Many leaders I know have planning meetings in January and they come up with goals that are rarely referenced afterwards.  Don’t get me wrong, goals can change but at any given point in time everyone should know them.  It is hard to lead a group to the same place if they don’t know where they are going and it is easy enough to make sure common goals are understood.
  2. Allocate at least 5% of your time per week to developing your people – Some people respond to this by saying, “Avi, developing my people is my top priority, I need to spend 120% of my time on it.”  Good luck on that.  Let’s do the math.  A normal work week for many is 50 hours, 5% of which is 2.5 hours, a substantial amount of time.  This could be broken into five individual 30 minute slots.  Keep in mind that this is 2.5 hours of dedicated time to development rather than going to a meeting with your direct report or your group staff meeting.  This 5% regular allocation to their development, as opposed to the 95% of time focused on tasks, demonstrates commitment to your direct reports while also being a manageable amount of dedicated time.  It ensures you and your direct reports will be putting enough time into their development to make progress.  What do you do during this dedicated time?  Read on for suggestions on how to use the time and the outcomes you should be aiming for.
  3. Be able to articulate your direct reports’ individual work goals to them – In other words, you should know their individual goals well enough to repeat them and confirm you got it right.  Can you do that right now?  Try it.  So, what if your direct report hasn’t set any goals?  What if they don’t know what they want to do? Well, since humans are goal directed, you should be working with them to come up with some goals.  Everyone should have development goals regarding the job they are doing now even if they are unsure of career goals.   What does this accomplish?  First, it demonstrates commitment.  Second, it helps keep development efforts, theirs and yours, on track. 
  4. Be able to articulate your direct reports’ strengths and development needs – Here is the thing.  Many leaders think they can do this but they often speak in terms of conclusions i.e. she can be really “confrontational.”  That is about as useful as a track coach saying one of her team members is “slow.”  You cannot help someone change a conclusion directly.  Coaching and development needs to focus on the behaviors and activities that the individual engages in, such as “they interrupt others” or “they return to disagreements after others have moved on”, rather than conclusions.  People can directly change behavior.  They can do more or less of an activity.  You need to understand strengths and development needs at this more elemental level in order to be an effective leader.
  5. Listen, observe and ask more questions when interacting with your direct reports – You have to listen and observe to understand their goals and to get insight into their strengths and development needs.  You cannot do that if you are speaking.   I recently observed an executive at his staff meeting do 83% of the talking (exact number is because I used the stop watch on my phone).  He objected that he needed to keep his people informed and provide direction.  That may be the case but that doesn’t really take a lot of time.  People love speaking, especially about their most interesting topic – themselves.  That is exactly why listening to our people not only provides us with information it also engenders good will.  Good leaders realize it is about the work and their people not about themselves.  So speak less and do more listening, observing and asking questions.  That’s how the informed leaders become informed.  Besides, it works both ways, so you can always vent and talk a lot to your leader (pass them this post so they know not to ignore you).

Ok, five seems to be a good place to stop.  Please note that all of the above five are measurable.  You can self-assess against them.  If you are not hitting the standard, no worries, just do what you need to do in order to meet it.  All of these areas can be accomplished with focused attention.  Success here is more about putting the time in rather than specialized skills.  You can be the best leader your direct reports ever had (or at least the second best).  

Got some feedback? Want to discuss some ideas? You can reach me at:


Avi Shatzkes Ph.D.

ADS Talent Consulting LLC

[email protected]