Ask Our Boss: What Attribute Do You Most Value in Your Direct Reports?
This is a super timely one for me to answer as I've just completed a team restructure for growth. I came into 2017 knowing I wasn't able to give each member of my team the time, development, and direction they needed and deserved. I also knew in order to grow our business, I had to get focused on our long-term strategy vs. running the day and getting caught in the weeds.
Beyond the business reasons, it also meant I could offer career progression by promoting internally—a long-term goal of mine—taking my directs from 15 to four. A smaller, more senior team I could spend more time with, who could, in turn, better develop our people.
I've been working hard on my own development as a manager for the past five years, so I was really excited at the prospect of sharing my knowledge and helping shape new leaders. With that said, I am a firm believer you don't need the title to be a leader. Just like you should dress for the job you want not the job you have, the same goes for how you conduct yourself on the floor each day. It's only through seeing your potential to lead that your manager can visualise and then help you realise that goal.
Anyway, I'm getting off track. It's been a really rewarding journey so far. I get a lot of strength (and more sleep) having a senior team beside me, and I've learnt a lot about what they need from me and what I need from them. So, I'll get straight to the point.
The one attribute I get the most value from is anticipation. Direct reports who can carry out their role thoroughly, accurately, and for the most part autonomously (outside of regular catch-ups and development sessions) all while anticipating—become indispensable. This means giving recommendations early on what they can see or sense the team needs, where we need to pivot on strategy, and also anticipating what I need (quelle horreur) to get effective at a top-line level.
What I will say is this attribute usually comes naturally to service-based people (I've written about these gems before), but it also takes supreme organisation and hawk-eye attention to detail to juggle the in-the-moment tasks while also looking up, down, in, around, and ahead. Not easy. And not for everyone.
The good news is it starts to become intuitive and actually extremely rewarding. It's like the good feeling you get when you offer to help before you've been asked. It is volunteering to go out of your way to make someone's life easier. And yes, you make them look good in the process.
It is for this very reason it takes a confident person to operate in a place of anticipation each day, because quite often it means taking yourself out of the equation and putting everyone else first. You'll find yourself spending more time reading the room and the energy of others than you will thinking about yourself or when someone might say "thanks".
Being an expert anticipator is about getting to know your team and your manager beyond the good morning and how was your weekend. You need to observe and listen, learn their reactions, understand what they value, how they prefer to work, know their opinions, and quite literally—figure out what makes them tick. It's about knowing and delivering what they need before they even realise they need it.
Back when our business was smaller and I worked more closely with my own boss, it was the single best part of my day—the slam dunk. Try it.
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Start jotting down easy ways you can become an expert anticipator with this sleek diary.