In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series on leadership in the MSP environment, I talked about some characteristics that define a strong leader, the components of a team effort and how a leader puts those building blocks together to move the whole team toward success. In Parts 3 and 4, we’re going to drill down into specific leadership skills and techniques that you can use to keep your MSP team on track.
The leadership skill set
A good leader utilizes many of the same skills developed on the way to a leadership position. Logically, most of the most important can be broadly classified as “people skills” – but in the leadership role, you not only have to master the art of getting along with others, but also the ability to help others get along with one another and get team members – who may come from diverse backgrounds and have vastly different ideas, priorities and ways of doing things – to work together toward the company’s common goals and objectives. Here are some of the most important skills for a good leader to have:
- Listening skills: A good leader cares about what other team members think, and doesn’t just allow but actively solicits their input. Leaders listen to suggestions and even criticisms without emotional reaction. They don’t cut people off or casually dismiss others’ concerns. They encourage team members to “think outside the box” and offer ideas that might be unconventional. They make it a point to foster creativity and innovation and they give genuine consideration to others’ ideas and incorporate parts of them into the overall plan.
- Questioning skills: Good leaders ask good questions. They don’t interrogate; they question in such a way as to get people thinking and draw out their thought processes as well as their conclusions. They use open-ended questions (rather than yes/no interrogatories) to discover not just what team members think, but why they think it.
- Dependability: Good leaders create a “safe” environment, and can be depended upon to respond reasonably and promptly to team members’ concerns and suggestions. Team members don’t have to walk on egghells around them, wondering whether today is a “good day” to approach the leader. Leaders can be depended upon to follow through; they do what they say they’re going to do and they get back to you when they say they will; they don’t leave team members hanging. Which leads into to:
- Decisiveness: Good leaders aren’t afraid to make decisions. They don’t hide behind the excuse that they “don’t have the authority” or blame those above them for their lack of action. They’re open to hearing new information and changing their minds if they make a wrong decision, but they don’t go back and forth, saying yes and then no and then yes again, leaving team members uncertain and unable to confidently proceed because they’re afraid today’s course of action will be reversed tomorrow. Good leaders are confident in their own abilities and inspire confidence from others.
- Trust: Good leaders also have and express confidence in the abilities of their team members. If members are lacking in skills or knowledge, they help them to get to where they need to be to do the job. They don’t belittle others with sarcasm or criticize others in front of the rest of the team. They don’t micromanage; when they give others tasks to do, they trust them to complete those tasks unless/until that trust is proven to be misplaced. They assume the best, not the worst, about others’ motives and actions. Most people tend to live up to (or down to) your opinions of them. They don’t, however, allow any team member to sabotage the team effort. The rest of the team can trust them to address “problem children” head-on (in private) and not tolerate bullying, dishonesty or unfair tactics that interfere with the smooth operation of the team.
- Humanity: Good leaders exercise their authority when necessary, but they don’t lord it over others. They treat others as equally valuable members of the team. They don’t pretend to be perfect; they’re willing to let others see their human side. They laugh (or cry) with the team when it’s appropriate; they have a sense of humor and can laugh at themselves (but never make fun of others).
In Part 4, we’ll continue this discussion with a look at the top techniques that used by effective leaders, which grow out of these skills.