As a member of an organization going through a change as drastic as transitioning to self-management, it can be confusing and stressful. We wanted to provide you with some tips on how you can work in this new system and get the most value out of it.
What Does Leadership Look Like?
Short answer - Not a lot should change. Whatever the good leaders in your company are doing, they should keep doing. What you DON'T want to happen is for a good leader to suddenly change up what they are doing because they are worried about what it means to be a leader in a self-managed environment.
There is no cookie-cutter answer for what the right type of leadership is. Being a leader in a teal organization doesn't mean being completely hands off, nor does it mean micromanaging all the time. While it should ideally be somewhere in the middle most of the time, this too should be flexible depending on the person and the situation.
If you're ever in doubt, know this: Leaders should lead based on what the individual members of their team most prefer and benefit from.
Different Styles Of Leadership
There are infinite styles of leadership, but they all fall somewhere on the leadership spectrum.
1. Completely hands off
These leaders are the ones who their team can never find. This leader is exceptionally trusting of their team and gives their team virtually limitless autonomy. They will say, "I trust you", then leave for half the day because they know their team will get it taken care of.
While this is great for those who like to feel like they don't need to be managed, it it absolutely detrimental for those who need a bit of leadership to thrive. If I have questions, am uncertain of what I should be doing, or don't have the skills needed to do my job, yet my leader is never around, it causes a lot of problems. I will feel bad for not being as productive as my peers, doubt myself because I should know better, be worried if my job is at stake, and so on. At the same time, the team as a whole isn't getting as much work done as it could because a team member is falling behind.
If you are going to be hands off, make sure every member of your team is comfortable with that and is set up for success. Otherwise, at least give them a reliable way to contact you at any moment if questions arise. As their leader, they trust you to guide them when they are lost.
While typically associated with something painfully negative, these leaders usually have good intentions. They are experienced and know what is at stake, so they may come up with an idea of the end result beforehand and seek to delegate out all the tasks needed to make that happen. There is far less individual autonomy under this leadership, which can cause people to feel stifled and undervalued.
However, some people prefer this type of leadership. These leaders can be great at managing time-sensitive projects, delegating tasks at a moment's notice, managing the many complexities of work being done, and is always aware of who is doing what and the status of the team's efforts.
If you are going to micromanage, only do so if it's absolutely necessary for a vital, last-minute project. Even in that case, make sure your team understands what is at stake. A surprising portion of people are fans of this style of leadership in times of chaos, as the leader acts as a facilitator to keep the project moving along in time. It's rarely the type of leadership that is warranted on an ongoing basis.
3. Middle Ground
Often the "ideal" type of leader, this person is somewhere in the middle. They trust their team and give them ownership and autonomy over their work, but do regular check-ins to see how everyone is doing and makes sure the work is moving along as planned. They are likely in the ditches with their team, perhaps doing the work with them.
Most people prefer this type of leadership, where there is freedom but also accountability. There is feedback without distrust. There's not a lot of negative to be said about this, but again, it's the ideal state. Nobody is perfect and everyone has room to improve, so these people tend to sway a little too far to one side or the other.
Different Styles Of Being Led
Most people generally fall into one of three buckets in how they like to work, each with their own pros and cons.
Completely hands off
People who like to be led by a hands off leader are the types to say, "Tell me what you need accomplished, then don't talk about it again. I will get it done. If you question the status of the project or what I'm doing, I'm going to assume it's because I am doing something wrong and I'll doubt myself and do worse."
These people benefit from the type of leader who says, "Would you take care of X for me, please?", then leaves that person alone knowing it will get done. There are rarely any checkups or questions unless absolutely necessary. While you may worry about the lack of communication, it's important to remember if someone says they will get it done, they are taking the responsibility on themselves. If it isn't done, they know the consequences for themselves and the team (and if they don't, that context needs to be included when you initially let them know what is needed of them).
2. Constant feedback
These are people who will openly say, "I want constant feedback. Give me constructive criticism the second I make a mistake and give me praise whenever I do something good. Meet with me as often as possible to go over my progress, what I can improve on, things I should be aware of, etc."
These people are constantly questioning things, so proactively addressing their concerns will curb their anxieties and uncertainties before it negatively affects their work. If they know they are doing good, they will continue reliably producing good results, and if they make a mistake, they are open and eager to hear it and get feedback so they won't make the mistake again. They just want to always know how they're performing and what needs done next.
3. Needs clear direction
These are people who will say, "I am not an entrepreneur. I don't want to have to figure out what I need to do each day. Tell me exactly what I need to do and I'll do a great job at that thing."
These people are often ostracized in the world of self-management for not being "self-starters", but they are some of the hardest working employees you'll ever meet. The truth is, some people thrive when working under someone else or even enjoy and prefer that work dynamic. They are wonderful at following orders and accomplishing whatever task they are given, but they don't want to waste time and energy contemplating on the idea of work. They want to be productive and do work. Give them clear direction and they'll excel.
The important reminder
While everyone has a preference for how they like to be led and leaders should strive to lead how each of their team members prefer, it won't always be this way. If someone on my team wants me to be hands-off, but they are not getting the work done, their personal preference is no longer the most important thing. I may need to adjust expectations and micromanage slightly more than I prefer for a short while until that team member managers to start meeting their expectations again. Once the job is getting done, I can be more hands off again.
Just remember this:
As long as an individual is meeting their expectations, lead how they like to be led.
Only when they are not meeting expectations, lead how they need to be led.
Benjamin Zander, conductor and musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, gives an incredibly inspirational talk about how and why every student in his class is guaranteed a grade of "A".