So, 2019 has dawned – and with any luck, managers have consumed enough Christmas leftovers to fuel themselves for a dynamic start to the year. But what are the key viewpoints and habits they will need to focus on to build leadership skills and ensure that their teams will withstand whatever the next 12 months throws at them?
First-hand insights into effective team-management practices emerged from a recent opinion piece at Fast Company, penned by Marcus Wermuth: an engineer at tech firm Buffer who, two years ago, found himself in the position of becoming a manager.  With the benefit of hindsight, Wermuth reflects upon what he has learned about management in the time since that “huge change”, which he’d never expected.
In his view, becoming a manager “is not a promotion, it is a career change”, and it is essential for managers to let go of ‘maker’ – or creative – tasks so they can focus wholly on their teams. “In my case,” he writes, “I realised that, after a while, coding became a distraction for me. At the beginning of this [career] shift, I was still shipping features and bug fixes while also doing one-to-ones with the team on a weekly basis.”
He notes: “I couldn’t fully concentrate on one or the other, and that resulted in me doing a bad job in both areas. Both areas are important, but you have to choose one. In my case, I chose the team, and not the code.”
Wermuth points out: “As a manager you need to put the company first, your team second, and your team members last.” He explains: “Now, this may sound harsh, but in practice, it leads to the best outcomes for everyone involved. For example, let’s say you mixed up the order of these priorities: You put team members first and the company last. You could easily find yourself with an amazing team, building something that doesn’t move the needle in any way for the company. Or worse, you could end up with a group of empowered individuals, each going off on their own way and not producing much valuable work.”
Which other techniques and perspectives must managers apply to ensure their teams are fighting fit for the year ahead?
Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “There may actually be some approaches that Wermuth has left out of his piece. I have written before about the anxiety that ‘not knowing’ provokes in so many people, and Wermuth’s column seems like a good example of someone who doesn’t like not knowing. As such, he thinks, by giving himself a clear set of priorities he will always know which decision is the correct one. However, in a world of increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (aka ‘VUCA’) environments, that sort of linear thinking may not be enough to tackle every eventuality.”
Cooper explains: “Under VUCA conditions, it may not be entirely helpful to set ‘either/or’ priorities. Indeed, we may have to apply a ‘both/and’ mindset, which will help us to acknowledge that contradictory scenarios can exist at the same time. It’s a much more difficult and demanding thought process.”
She notes: “That’s why John Adair’s model of action-centred leadership  is so compelling. Adair’s breakthrough was to understand that the achievement of a goal or task, the group of people performing it and the individuals within each group could be expressed as three circles with a prominent overlap – because all of those factors influence each other.
“That, I think, is a much more accurate representation of the reality of trying to manage people. It’s an often complex and untidy endeavour – and the quest to make it simple and neat could potentially lead us to miss some vitally important signals or cues.”
For further thoughts and insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s teamworking resources