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4 Words Really Smart Leaders Use to Manage a Team (Curiously, They All Start With the Same Letter)

Planning, Preparation, Process and Personnel. Are you managing all four?

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BY John Brandon - 06 Oct 2018

4 Words Really Smart Leaders Use to Manage a Team (Curiously, They All Start With the Same Letter)

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There used to be an old adage that managers in business are paid more for the sleepless nights. I don't think that's true anymore. Management has become more about analytics and it's more relationship-driven. Leadership is now a serving role, not a commanding role--those who command will be stressed. It's not supposed to be about constant conflict, and in fact can be rewarding--if you know how to follow the best principles.

In my 30 years of leading teams, I've noticed there are four major steps to follow. Curiously enough, all four start with the same letter. As you lead a team, try focusing on these four pillars of management on any project, with any team, and at any company.

Planning

Planning and strategy are so important when it comes to management. You can't manage a team effectively unless you plan everything out, with as much detail as possible, and get buy-in from those involved (especially the people who will carry out those plans). I'm not gifted as a planner myself, so I try to work with people who do know how to keep everything in check. I am good at strategy, so it's a symbiotic relationship. People who love to plan need folks who also have the vision and strategy necessary to even make the plans, so it works out nicely. The important point: Start with planning and not the other steps.

Preparation

Once you have a plan, it's time to start preparing your team to do the work. It doesn't matter which project you're working on, with whom, why you are doing the project, or even if you are an entry-level supervisor or the vice president. Preparation and training for any new endeavor--the steps required to carry out the plans you will do as a team--make a huge difference. Smart leaders know that a training plan is the step you want to take before you ever assign anyone to role and also before you develop any process (the steps of action). Why is that? Because fully trained people do better work. It's like linking the horse to the cart. Don't ever send the horse off to do the work until you plan and prepare.

Process

I've always felt that process comes a bit later in terms of completing projects and running any team. Planning and strategy come first, then preparation/training, and then going through the process you need to complete those tasks in a way that's fully spelled out. Plus, if you focus too much on process, you can start chasing your tail. Process reveals itself only after you have a good idea what you will do (planning) and how you will do it (preparation). The act of doing is the process. And, sometimes in the act of doing you need to tweak and adjust as you go along. Some managers I know get this wrong. They think process drives strategy and plans. Nope. That's too rigid, and doesn't really work. Keep strategy as the higher standard and make process the action.

Personnel

Who completes the tasks should come last. Why is that? Well, you might say smart leaders save the best for last, and only after everything is lined up for them. That's a form of empathy. Your employees have to carry out the plans and process you establish, but make sure you know what you want them to do (and include them in the planning) so they are not confused. Good management breaks down pretty quickly along any step (the first three words that start with a P) but where things can really fall apart is with the people doing those tasks. I've heard of many managers who hire first them establish plans or process, and it doesn't really work. The people doing the work are the final step in management when it comes to doing the tasks. (They should also be an integral part of everything you do as a leader.) They're the ones who do the work, and a smart leader knows how to direct a project to completion only after the steps are clear.

I'm curious if you agree with my word choices, and the order for those words. Have you developed a different way to manage? Do you follow a different rule book? Drop me a note so we can discuss the method you use (and if they all start with the same letter).

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