Every leader working today grew up in an office.
How we think, the habits we picked up, the tips and advice from mentors along the way — all developed with the backdrop of four walls, cubicles, the odd motivational poster, a water cooler in the corner, and the hum of a printer in the background.
Today’s office is different.
For some, it’s not there. For others, it’s a spot we go to once a week, or once a month. Teams are distributed around the country, around the clock, and around the globe. Leading teams just got a whole lot harder, and no-one grew up leading this way.
Two things however, have remained the same. Firstly, regardless of whether present in the office, or remote elsewhere, your team needs and values your leadership. And the second thing that remains the same is that the way each person likes to be led is different…
“I like a dynamic work environment in which coworkers work together as a team…”
“I like working closely with my managers and knowing what my Tasks are in advance…”
“I enjoy having a lot of creative freedom on projects and being able to individualize my deliverables.”¹
If these three voices sound familiar, it’s because they should. Sue is a team player, Tom likes to have clear direction, and Abbey wants autonomy to get the job done. So why not give them what they need?
At its core, a leadership conversation is about moving people toward a common goal.
Your job is to articulate a vision, establish a direction, and move your team toward a desired outcome. You need to frame how they see the world and then move to action. Conversations matter, underpinned with the relationships you have with individual members on your team. Some depend on a high level of interaction with you, others want to be told what to do and there are those that just want the freedom to do it.
“..it is the quality of the relationship people feel they have with their immediate leader… that is the primary driver of feelings of engagement. So, relationships really matter. They are a fundamental enabler of you and your organization’s ability to attract, keep and get the very best out of your people.”²
Moving people towards a common goal really depends on the relationship we have with them.
Recently promoted managers rely heavily on what made them successful. It’s fair to say, “what worked for me should work for you.” So why doesn’t it?
Let’s say you're a person who is highly sociable. You love interacting with others. It energizes you. Now apply that logic to a person who doesn’t enjoy those team building activities that you love so much. Or let’s say your success was driven by the work itself. You tend to go about your business without a lot of interaction with others. Will the person who is highly sociable feel alienated? This is where it gets complicated because relationships are complex.
Understanding how your people prefer to be led is filled with nuance.
Let’s go back and take a look at how Sue, Tom and Abbey are doing.
Sue is performing well. She’s happy that she has access to you and she’s even told you how much she appreciates your ongoing encouragement. Tom is also doing well because you provided a roadmap and timeline for his deliverables. Abbey is flourishing because you periodically acknowledge her accomplishments, and then, just as importantly, let her do her own thing.
Their success is attributed to you. Why? It’s because you’ve found the right balance between your relationship and the amount of direction they need.
Having that balance right is what enables your team to be productive. It’s made up of two elements: Touch, and Task.
Touch and Task might only sound like little words, but they describe two vital aspects of effective leadership, whether in person or remote.
It’s a tool we use often in our coaching and leadership practice.
Touch is the connection aspect of leadership — when you have an awareness of how your people prefer to be led.
It is the sense of shared purpose that builds relationships. In a face-to-face world, Touch is easy. It happens when people drop into your office, or chat in the break-room. It’s the conversations we have that are not about work, but rather on a personal level. It can be as simple as asking someone, “how are you doing?”
Touch is the vital social glue that creates collaboration and gives us a sense of community.
Task meanwhile, is the work itself — it’s why we’re at work in the first place.
It’s the initiatives and projects, and the sales calls and goals that drive the business forward. Task is providing direction with clear specific guidelines and deadlines. It’s also knowing when and to whom to delegate responsibility for getting work done.
Touch and Task are both important. You need both of them to lead well.
Each individual on your team will have their own preference for how much (or how little) Touch they want. You as their leader, depending on their skill level and performance, determine their need for more or less Task direction.
This brings four essential combinations of how Touch and Task are deployed:
Over-doing any of these scenarios leads to negative consequences.
Too much high Touch, high Task creates learned helplessness. Conversely too little Touch, leads to an ‘out of sight out of mind’ condition which ends in the employee feeling underappreciated.
Leaders can also inadvertently overload team members who are high Touch, and have an inbuilt tendency to always say ‘yes’. Finally, most difficult for a leader is the team member with a performance issue. These individuals require less Touch, and more Task. At the same time, the leaders needs to remember that less Touch, doesn’t mean no Touch.
Regardless of whether present in the office, or remote, your team needs and values your leadership.
The more rapidly and unpredictably the world around us changes, the more we mono-focus on what needs to get done! We focus on purely the task. This is survival. For long-term survival though, and for a relationship to thrive, Task is only one of the levers available.
The social cohesion, relationship building lever of Touch, is just as important.
¹ Heidi Cope HOW TO ANSWER “HOW DO YOU LIKE TO BE MANAGED?” Zippia The Career Expert
² Nick Cowley and Nigel Purse “Why Leadership is About Relationships” The Oxford Group