Do you still remember your first day at work? Every employee, when faced with the fear, tension, and excitement that go along with a new job, needs a boss who understands these concerns and knows how to respond with encouragement. Over the course of my career working with different kinds of bosses in varied environments, I realized that every leader has an individual technique. There are no fixed standards of leadership, which is why as a manager myself I created my own leadership standards based on both the positive and negative experiences I’d had.

Screen candidates through interviews. I begin an interview by presenting myself and the organization so that each candidate has a chance to appreciate the team dynamic and what the job entails. Only then do I make space for candidates to convince me that their solutions match the organizational need. These solutions reflect their expertise as well as their presentation and communication skills.

Every team member is unique. A workplace thrives when a team brings together their diverse skills. So it’s up to smart leaders to discover each team member’s unique abilities and explore how they can be invested for the benefit of the whole team. For example, if two employees have the same technical skills but one has better communication skills, the strong communicator is a good candidate for a more cross-functional role.

Make room for mistakes. As the saying goes, everyone makes mistakes. An effective leader recognizes this and fosters an atmosphere in which employees can communicate candidly, unafraid of criticism or attacks. This approach keeps all members engaged and willing to innovate and explore new ideas. Penalizing staff inappropriately may diminish morale or even cost the business profitable new solutions that never get voiced.

Innovation is mandatory. Innovation has nothing to do with education or expertise. It’s a mind-set that’s improved by time; leaders’ best investment is in innovative team members; leaders don’t know everything, and new ideas can often come from unexpected places.

Productivity matters more than long hours. Productivity is the aim, the target, and the performance indicator; productivity, not the hours worked, is what we look for from our teams. It’s better to see a task done efficiently in two hours than to see it done in 12. I remember working with managers who equated long working hours with hard work; this way of thinking pushes employees from a focus on efficiency and quality to an inclination to finish the job late to impress their managers.

Cool it down. Tension between team members is a normal occurrence, but a negative attitude in the room can quickly spread to the rest of the team and diminish productivity in any number of ways. A strong leader keeps a finger on the pulse of the team and addresses problems early, before they can cause disruption.

Use evaluation tools. Though each Human Re­sources department will have its own requirements for performance evaluations, if possible have staff complete their self-evaluation before you evaluate them. That way, your evaluation can encourage employees with low self-confidence or provide necessary feedback for poor performers who mistakenly believe they have hit the stars with outstanding performance.

Absorb negativity. Negativity is a contagious deadly weapon and can easily hurt the rest of the team. A strong manager can absorb negativity from the team and turn it into positive energy.

Kill your ego. When I first joined Pinnacle Construction Projects as a financial controller, I sat down with my team and asked them, “What are you going to teach me today?” They had more experience at the company and in the industry than I did. It’s key to remember: A manager is part of a team; any critical decision within your department benefits from group feedback. In fact, team buy-in can even help facilitate the implementation of complex projects.

Show gratitude. A manager is only as good as the group. It’s like a football team: The coach may be the one developing players and running games, but, in the end, the coach sees no glory without motivated players. The team needs encouragement, instruction, and development in order to keep spirit and motivation up on the field.

Bad experience is a good opportunity. Years ago, I worked with a manager who gave me a hard time at work; whenever I complained, he would always say that he had suffered in his early years, too. This particular leader made his choice, deciding to carry his bad experiences forward; the alternative response is to take these negative experiences, learn from them, and transform them into something good.

Penalties are always an option. We have discussed different techniques that can be used to improve productivity and efficiency within a team in a healthy and positive atmosphere. If nothing progresses under these influences, that’s when warnings and penalties may be considered as an option.

Be a role model. If your team members want to emulate your practices, you have reached peak leadership! Employees are most inspired when they see future possibilities in their leaders, not just technical skills but the way you deal with everything within your organization—the way you plan, the way you interact, and especially the way you respond to the toughest situations. Even today, I am still in contact with my favorite manager to touch base and compare notes.

In his book What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School, Mark H. McCormack teaches three hard-to-say phrases: I don’t know, I need help, and I was wrong. An empowered leader isn’t afraid to use these phrases in a career context, and this creates a trustworthy model for all team members to follow.


The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through WebEx to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at

About the Authors