How leaders can help their team members become better

A few weeks back, I was watching a YouTube tutorial on growing Bonsai trees when the tutor in the video said– “There are only four things a Bonsai needs to grow and thrive–moisture, good earth, light, and optimum temperature. You don’t grow a Bonsai, you nurture it with dedication, sincere love, affection, and right knowledge.”

It dawned on me that it’s true for every relationship- with your plants, animals, your family or leader. I have a very fulfilling relationship with my family but there is something oddly satisfying about my career that I wanted to share with you.

How leaders can help their team members become better

When I started working in 2014, I had never imagined that someone (read: boss/leader) could be responsible for my professional growth. My notion of office was– a place where I work for a boss who is responsible for making sure I deliver outcomes, and do my work diligently. He would have a say in my salary/promotions and that’s where the Lakhsma-Rekha (a sacred boundary) would be drawn.

Then Quovantis happened.

I joined as a writer in 2016 and it led the gears in motion for the evolution of my perspective. Today, I report into a leader who in the four short years has helped me become a better writer, a better leader, and most importantly, a better team player.

I’m sharing my story here — at the expense of embarrassing him — so that you can find some nuggets of wisdom to contribute to your team member’s growth.

Your role could be different from mine — so treat my suggestions merely as idea magnets, and mould them into your own.

Work with your teammate as a collaborator


It’s easy to point out mistakes but it’s arduous when you have to get your hands dirty to close a skill-gap in your team. As a leader, you might already be guiding your team members to become better by sharing timely feedback, courses, books, etc. But you need to take a step further and work with them as a collaborator, rather than a manager.

For example: he sits with me to help me in the editorial process. He reads my shitty drafts and adds suggestions to make them clear, concise and meaningful.

There are times when I am embarrassed to see my mistakes. The burn-my-eyes kinda mistakes. The I-want-to-disapparate kind of mistakes. But he makes me believe that it’s okay to commit mistakes as long as I learn from them.

Working as a collaborator comes with its own benefits. Your teammates begin to see how you approach a problem and how you come up with solutions. It helps you influence and inspire your team members by showing them better tools for working effectively.

Create psychological safety in your team


Psychological safety is when everyone in the team feels comfortable speaking their mind without any fear of being judged or ridiculed. Without psychological safety, team members wouldn’t be able to share their ideas, questions, or experiment with newer ways of doing things.

For instance, he has created a safe environment in the team where all ideas are welcomed and brainstormed. He listens to our out-of-the-box ideas with as much enthusiasm as he would listen to a drab idea. We are encouraged to speak our mind when an important team decision is made or when we are planning a crucial milestone. Whether it’s criticism or appreciation, we share everything transparently.

Give people time and freedom to experiment


There are times when I can’t write for days at a stretch. Such days, like dry spells, agonize me beyond any measure. I start doubting my skills and my worth as a writer. In those days, my leader motivates me not just by words, but also by data.

With words, he persuades me to keep going and pour my heart out. He motivates me to write on a topic that inspires me, or an issue that I greatly care about. With data, he presents the stats of the blogs written by me and shows me how my previous blogs have garnered good views and praise from readers.

He puts his heart and soul into convincing me that it’s okay to be caught in writer’s block as long as you’re determined to come out of it.

My leader also gives me the freedom to experiment with different marketing tactics. As a result, I feel more excited and motivated because now I can channel my energy into doing something where I control the outcome. And this feeling of empowerment when my outcomes aren’t controlled and micro-managed allows me to manage my work better and be accountable.

Provide access to good resources

Great leaders have one thing that separates them from everyone else– they have years of experience and knowledge. So, pass on this knowledge to your teammates. Help them in discovering courses, books, webinars, blogs, so that they can prioritize their learning and plan their growth.

I am an avid reader. I breathe air and books to survive. But my choice of books has changed a lot since the past few years. I always knew that the best way to learn to write well is to write. But you know what’s the second best way? Read about the craft from master storytellers of writing.

The best part about my leader’s book recommendations is that they are not listicles posted on Inc42 or Forbes. He recommends books that he has read and loved himself. Some of the best books recommended by him are Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and On Writing by Stephen King. These books have helped me immensely in overcoming the challenges I faced as a writer– for example: moving past my inertia to write only when I feel inspired.

He also recommends books that help me improve my process of writing. I have learned from him that crafting a good article requires a tremendous amount of deliberate practice.

Review your team member’s progress periodically

Giving feedback closes the loop on the desired outcomes v/s achieved outcomes. At the onset, both you and your teammate might take big hairy audacious goals. A feedback conversation around how well your teammate managed to accomplish them or what were the challenges that they faced that slowed down their progress, will help you define next steps.

By reviewing your team member’s progress you can also offer constructive suggestions to align team member’s aspirations with the vision of the organization. For instance, my leader aligns my aspirations of becoming a prolific writer with the goal of our marketing team.

Therefore, it’s critical for leaders to set up regular 1:1s so that the teammate knows there will be periodic conversations about the progress they’re making.

We are often told that in order to become a great leader, one must invest time in their team member’s growth. However, leaders often forget that caring is about actions, not just words.

I really hope you get down to action and this post gives you insights on the ‘how’ part of caring for your team members.

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