This month’s question for Soraya came from the managing editor of a regional newspaper.

Q:Managing a start-up with a small team puts a lot of demands on all of those involved. How do you keep up morale? How do you empower people to make their own decisions – even make mistakes – and feel autonomous in their roles, but at the same time tell them when things aren’t good enough?

Soraya answers: “Interesting question – thank you – and a relevant question not just start-ups, but for many other companies too. The key place to start is to ask yourself how you are leading them and being a role model? Motivation, morale, energy, and the values and culture of a company come from the top and cascade down. So one of the first places to start is to ask yourself how you are being perceived as a leader and what type of leader do you want to be?

Have you set the vision and objectives of the future of the newspaper clearly? Does your team buy into them? Are they clear on the direction they are heading in, and therefore what their priorities are?

Empowering people to make decisions even if they make mistakes can only come from the culture and values you set, and therefore the behaviours that mirror these in the whole team. Too often managers and leaders will pay lip service to giving their team more autonomy only to have created an environment where people feel that they will be criticised if they do make a mistake, hence people staying within their comfort zones and what they know.

So, what can you do to encourage them to make decisions? This varies from person to person depending on their personalities; after all, we are all different, based on our experiences. It may be that you need to vary your approach depending on their experience and skill set. Check in with each person on what they see their role as being, and if they are clear on what this means in terms of actions. Be up front with them regarding what support they would like from you, what they enjoy doing, and what perhaps concerns them in their role. This should give you both an opportunity to learn more about each other, hence what motivates them, drives them, where their strengths lie, and if there are any performance gaps that need addressing.

How good are you at giving feedback? Is it a one off thing or done on a regular basis? Do you give feedback when you are seeing them doing well or only if they make a mistake? A key motivator for all of us is knowing when we have done something well, but all too often feedback will be given on what didn’t work, as opposed to what did and how they could build on and improve on that. If things haven’t gone so well, encourage them to think of what they could have done differently and what they have learnt.

All of us have in the back of our minds the fear of our school report and this worry for many can trigger the fear response, so how do you mitigate for this? I have seen many people become stressed when their yearly appraisal comes up, because this is the only feedback many people get all year, and thanks to human nature we will all re-live what we didn’t think went well, as opposed to remembering what did, which drains us of motivation and limits our performance.”

Soraya is the founder & director of Springboard Coaching, which specialises in management and leadership development. If you have a business or work-related stress related problem you can’t find the answer to, she’ll be happy to answer on this blog – just comment below or contact us here with your question.

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