Communication skills turning managers into leaders

The Cards: They Are A’Changin’

A manager isn’t always a team leader. Think about how a Manager Card is different than the Team Leader Card when managing your staff – or even if they’re managing you!

I just read an article by Adam Bryant in Strategy+Business in which he makes the provocative argument that the “manager” title needs to be retired.

Bryant makes a compelling case that the traditional role of managers has changed from directing people’s time to leading a team of self-motivated individuals anxious to charge ahead with new ideas.

In the article Bryant quotes a company president who revealed that her philosophy of working with direct reports is: “Either you manage me or I manage you. Which would you prefer?”

This idea of asking employees to manage their boss presents some interesting Card Talk challenges.

If we swap out the Manager Card for the Team Leader Card, then we are also swapping out the Employee Card for the Team Member Card.  Remember, talk cards are reciprocal.  When I play my Boss Card, I am expecting you to play your Employee Card.  With that in mind, what does that mean for the organization?

First, it means that companies may need to re-think hiring people who want to rely heavily on their Manager Card.  Some people want to play the Manager Card by controlling their subordinates’ time by not giving them the freedom to explore new ideas.

Instead, perhaps we should look for people who like to play the Team Leader Card.  Are potential leadership hires comfortable having and nurturing direct reports that have their own ideas?  Do they know how to help individuals refine their ideas and present them to the team?  Do they have a history of working in a high-energy team culture that supports creative, big-picture thinking?

Second, companies not only need to re-think how to look for team leaders, they must also hire individuals who want to be team members and not simply employees, and train them accordingly.

Right from the start, potential hires should be told what a Team Member Card looks like in your corporate culture, to make sure they are comfortable playing this card.

Not everyone likes to stick his or her neck out and present new ideas to their team.  Employees must understand that they are expected to manage their boss in the contemporary workplace, not the other way around.

Creative thinking and energized interaction are not optional.  Of course, training should develop and reinforce these values continuously.

Third, playing a Team Leader Card goes nowhere if the leader does not constantly reinforce a team culture as opposed to a manager-employee culture.

So, what does a team culture look like?  Teams have a vision of the future and a clear understanding of what needs to get done and why.  An employee culture does not.  Employees do what they’re told with little understanding of the big picture that challenges their creativity.

Teams help each other and respond to one another’s ideas.  They have fun.  They fool around and learn together.  On the other hand, employees sit in their cubicles and crank out what they’re told to crank out and lament the drudgery of their jobs.

Finally, the Team Leader Card manages up and not down.  The team leader pushes his or her leaders with ideas and resource requests that support the team.

I have played the Team Leader Card on many occasions with many teams.  My goal was to push my boss for more resources to create academic courses and research programs that disrupt old thinking.

I teach my courses not by playing the Professor Card, but playing the Team Leader Card.  We work together in teams to generate great ideas and exciting deliverables that address real-world problems.

When you ask and equip people to play the Team Member Card, learning and growth are wonderfully accelerated.  And isn’t that your job as the leader?

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