In this blog, Matthias Frye, our Regional VP at Questback Central Europe, shares ten practical leadership ‘hacks’ based on personal experience during his time at Questback.
Leadership Hack #1: Make meetings fruitful
Sometimes we could give more thought as to how the environment can stimulate a good meeting. My team had run into a serious issue, and I wanted to find an innovative solution to address that issue in our regular team meeting. How could I move the team out of their routine into creative and inspiring thinking?
I brought fresh fruit (and some chocolate) to the meeting and put inspirational pictures on the screens in the room. Instead of using PowerPoint, everyone received a paper sheet with a few open-minded questions. I then asked everyone to take 10 min for personal reflection before we kicked off a meaningful and fruitful discussion.
Serving healthy food showed the team that I cared and made them feel appreciated. In combination with the other changes, it enabled their creative thinking. The positive energy of the meeting lasted much longer, and everyone was highly bought in on the ideas we generated for the weeks to come.
Leadership Hack #2: Try new things when under pressure
When we encounter difficulties in our jobs, our instinct is often to revert to what has worked in the past. However, watch out, since they might have led to the problem. For example, maybe your role or your environment has significantly changed, and you need to find a new solution for a new challenge?
Like most software companies, we do many business transactions and contract renewals during year end. In the past, I used to roll up my sleeves and get pro-actively involved in many customer interactions to help the salespeople be successful.
However, we’ve since switched things up. It is our sales managers pride and responsibility to support the salespeople. This has resulted in a more hands-off approach for me, and now I focus my time on helping the sales managers in the best way I can and for example, providing them with advice, freeing up their schedules from less critical tasks and, most importantly, showing faith and trust into their abilities. The sales managers and salespeople paid back in great success during that year-end – it was great to be part of the success in a different way.
Leadership Hack #3: Simply absorb and appreciate feedback
When people give me feedback, I tend to quickly react with a plan for how I can address what I’m being told or focus on the areas I think need to improve. But, is that the best way to handle the personal feedback that you receive? Are knee-jerk reactions effective and sustainable?
So, now, when people offer feedback, I respond differently. I politely acknowledge what I’m being told and ask for clarification, so that I understand the proper context.
Rather than feeling compelled to take action right away, I now take a bit of time to digest the feedback and to work out the best way to use it for my own good. I also try to go back to the person to tell them how I used their input. I find that this way, people are much more willing to provide feedback because they feel that it is taken seriously. How do you work with feedback?
Leadership Hack #4: Clearly address the unacceptable
Modern leadership gives employees a lot of responsibility and freedom. I firmly believe that communication and feedback are crucial for a team’s success as well as its culture and should be encouraged. However, if someone is acting outside acceptable norms, you must take a very clear position.
We had a team member who talked badly about other team members. Sometimes these were critical remarks in front of them, but the person more often criticized people behind their backs. The criticism lacked respect and wasn’t constructive. We had to step in and make it very clear to the individual that this needed to stop.
Not only did we talk to the person who did this, but also to the entire team. It was important to understand why the person was behaving this way. However, it was also essential to make clear that we would not tolerate such behavior so that the people knew they were protected, and the behavior wouldn’t become part of the accepted culture.
Leadership Hack #5: Kill all “Management by …” schemes
I recently listened to a podcast that covered different management approaches: ‘management by objectives,’ ‘management by delegation,’ ‘management by exception’ and so on. The podcast did not propagate a ‘one size fits all’ approach but instead put people into personality buckets.
This seems logical, but while listening to the episode, I started to challenge and question the ideas presented in it. My insides churned at the overarching concept that ‘all people of type X are best managed by approach Y’. I thought a lot about this and I came up with two main reasons why I didn’t like it.
Firstly, I believe that people and situations are not always the same. On one day it might be most suitable to approach a person this way, in another situation, it works better to use a different style. And, secondly, using any of the ’management by …’ principles felt somewhat manipulative and not very authentic or personal.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not at all against setting smart goals or delegation of responsibility. I just believe that deeper values such as trust, respect, and fairness are a much stronger foundation for great relationships and good leadership than schematic management principles.
Instead of taking a black and white approach to leading others, I would encourage others to rely on their intuition and emotional intelligence as well as consider other modern leadership philosophies such as situational leadership.
Leadership Hack #6: Choose the right language for your audience
We recently had a site meeting with senior executives flying in from abroad to discuss with the entire staff our vision, strategy, and future. Our CEO asked me to present how the strategy and plans would work in our local market. Naturally, the senior executives would use English and rather high-level business terms in their speeches. How could I hit home with my speech and make things feel relevant for our local staff?
I decided to address the team in German and to use simple language. I tried to minimize the use of abstract business terms, technology buzzwords, and any other jargon that many people find hard to connect to.
So, I put myself in their shoes and explained my thoughts most practically. It had the desired effect with several people – some whom I have very few daily interactions – giving positive feedback like “really great summary of the entire afternoon” and “very clear and motivating.”
Leadership Hack #7: Lead your boss
Most of us spend much energy and focus on becoming a better leader and colleague. We try to be inspirational, empathetic, and supportive. However, we often make one exception: our own boss. We expect a strong leader to provide excellent coaching, vision, and guidance but do we help them to achieve this? Bosses are human beings too. They have bad days or go through times like us all. So how can we coach those more senior than us?
One of my former bosses from a former lifetime had to implement a problematic change in his organization, which also impacted my team. It was a tough and drawn out task during which they needed to overcome several setbacks and resistance.
Although it was clear that they were focused on the change, it was at the expense of their support and inspiration and, consequently, I grew frustrated about the leadership.
However, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t thinking enough about his challenge. So I started considering how I could coach him, in particular, how I could help him see the situation through the eyes of people affected by the change. It not only helped my former boss but made me more patient. Stepping out of my subordinate role turned a stressed situation into a positive experience that strengthened our relationship and his leadership skills.
Leadership Hack #8: Move your body to move your brain
We all know it too well: most of us spend much time sitting at the desk or in meetings. It’s unhealthy (and we all have our resolutions to exercise more). Arguably, modern collaboration tools make us sit even more as there’s no need to get up and talk to a colleague when you have email and instant messaging at your fingertips!
However, it’s not just your fitness and energy levels that suffer. Research shows that your brain slows down when you spend too much time at the same place. What are some practical ways to overcome this?
I often use small exercises to develop new thoughts. A quick walk around the building helps me to generate fresh ideas. Alternatively, when I bike to work, I often think through new ways to approach a task or spend time thinking through harder issues.
There are always opportunities to be more active during the day. For example, switch the elevator for stairs or stepping out for fresh air at lunch can make a massive difference to our minds and how we lead those around us.
Leadership Hack #9: Ask for help
Great leaders often have a perfect sense of their strengths and weaknesses. They do an excellent job in creating a team around themselves that complements their profile. I would describe myself as calm, structured, and analytical, and I can work well with many personalities.
Yet, some time ago, I met a new business partner who was very impulsive, provocative, and emotional. In our interactions, I felt challenged and was unable to communicate well.
So, I asked one of my colleagues, Volker, to help me out. By playing a different role, he was able to deal with the person in a way it would not have been possible for me and got the partnership off on the right tip. It wasn’t just the company that benefitted in the long run or me. Volker himself felt empowered and what could have been perceived as one of my weaknesses by others in the team was seen as a strength.
Leadership Hack #10: Watch out for the silent team member
If someone in your team grows silent, it often indicates an issue. It’s much harder to detect than when someone who is voicing frustration or another issue loud and clear.
We had a colleague who became very quiet. The team member continued to communicate and coordinate with all people involved in the day to day tasks. However, the person became very quiet in voicing critique or bringing up new ideas for the team. I noticed that and asked a close colleague to check whether there was an issue.
It turned out that our colleague had lost someone close to him. At work, the colleague focused on surviving and getting the job done, which totally explained the behavior. It was important for us to be able to provide support to our employees during a tough time.