I’m in my first job as a department head. I manage staff the way I like to be managed: I tell them what I want and stay out of their way unless they ask for help. The HR director says my staff is asking for a stronger sense that I am leading them. What should I do?
You’re on the right track in terms of setting goals and encouraging staff to work independently, but that’s not enough. Add these activities to help establish yourself as their leader:
Articulate your vision for the department. Be clear about the goals their work is meant to achieve.
Be prompt and consistent in making decisions. Then stick to them unless you have good reason to change course. Decisiveness is a good indicator of leadership, and staff will want a degree of predictability.
Facilitate meetings as an exchange of ideas. Don’t dominate the agenda; solicit input from all present. If you have a lot to say, break it up by inviting questions that lead others to join in. Encourage productive disagreement.
Set the example with regard to deadlines. Meet yours; respect others’. As soon as you anticipate a delay, tell your staff and adjust the workflow with them.
Look for everyday opportunities to educate and develop your staff. Always be alert for ways to demonstrate your investment in them.
Balance the workload so you and your staff are pulling equally toward shared goals. Cross-training will help, but be ready to guide, encourage, pitch in.
Listen. Keep thinking about what you would need if the roles were reversed.
Published in Associations Now, February 2007