One of the biggest mistakes I see female leaders making when it comes to their careers and particularly their leadership, is falling into mothering energy with their teams.

For nurturing, empathetic leaders, this can happen without them even realising it. Things start out innocently enough. Perhaps you take on extra tasks because you don’t want your team thinking you’re taking advantage of them. Or maybe you give into that smidge of guilt you feel when it comes to delegation and hold onto certain tasks yourself. And before you know it you’re doing the workplace equivalent of planning out their daily activities, cooking dinner and picking up dirty laundry – all while using a slightly nagging, somewhat exasperated tone of voice. And then you start to wonder why nothing seems to happen unless you’re the one driving things forward. It’s super frustrating for women who find themselves here, usually because 

And it’s not great for your team either. The fact is that you rarely hear of anyone who wants to be ‘mothered’ after they turn about 15, especially by someone in the workplace. It’s easy to see how this can become a tricky leadership problem to solve once you find yourself in this mothering situation. 

But the good news is that you can empower your team to deliver great results, without slipping into mothering energy. These tips will help you grow your team members as you walk beside them, leading them shoulder to shoulder. And by supporting them to perform at a higher level, you’ll be much more likely to meet the organisational objectives for your team.

Find out more about by-passing mothering energy on the Self.Styled.Life podcast

I shared about how we can step back from Mama Bear mode on the Self.Styled.Life podcast. You can listen to the episode here, or on your favourite podcast player. Or, keep reading to learn more.

Tip One: See your team as the best they can be

I call this seeing them in their highest. And I give my team members opportunities as if they are already operating at that level. It’s amazing what happens for team members when they’re stretched in a supportive way. As much as I preach the fact that we shouldn’t look for external validation, there’s no denying that sometimes validation from a leader really helps a colleague take the next step. They can borrow your belief and trust while they build their own.

The other benefit of seeing your team at their very best is that you’re likely to get a snowball effect when you focus on and acknowledge their best attributes, activities and outcomes. What we focus on, we get more of, so it makes sense to empower your team by focusing on the good things they do.

Tip Two: Know the difference between being nice and being kind when you’re coaching your team

Being nice means you never say anything to hurt their feelings. Being kind sometimes means pointing out really hard stuff to help them grow. The truth is, not everyone will like what you have to say in the workplace. And that’s ok, because you don’t need to be liked to be a good leader. I recommend you aim to be respected and that you work to develop a reputation for being honest and transparent. It’s honesty and transparency that lead to trust. Most staff members know when they’re not doing a great job. And they also know when you’re being insincere or glossing over the truth. So find a way to say the words in a way that feels like you. Say them in a way you’d like to hear them yourself. 

Tip Three: Empower your team by leading by example

Remember that you set the standard. Every. Single. Day.

It’s good to keep the line from the leadership speech delivered by Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant-General David Morrison in mind.

“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”.

So hold your standards. Set clear expectations. Help your team understand what you want and what good looks like. I always say that I don’t have a crystal ball, and that I’m a shocking guesser. And the thing is, I’m not alone in that. Most of us appreciate being given clear direction and boundaries, and also the support and freedom to deliver. And this is where this tip relates back to the first tip about seeing your team members at their very best. While you should set the standards, it’s important to let your team determine the best way to deliver on your expectations.

Spoiler alert – that way may not be your way.

But one of the very best leadership lessons I learned from a previous sponsor of mine is that outcomes are what matter – delivery methods are less important. This leader was excellent at giving clarity around outcomes, but he rarely paid any attention to how we got there. Emails and reports were the best example. He rarely ever changed a word in a report so long as we conveyed the message. As long as we landed the message, he didn’t feel the need to rewrite things. And so you can be with your teams. You can set a standard and expect that your clever humans will hit that standard.

Another piece of advice in this space is to share your vulnerabilities and be prepared to apologise if you stuff up. And because we’re all human there are always times when things don’t go as we intend them to. But by putting your hand up when things go sideways and by talking through your intentions and things you might do differently next time, you empower your team to call out when things aren’t going to plan. As a leader, you can’t fix what you don’t know about. So your own vulnerability can build an eco-system where your team is happy to bring problems to the table.

Tip Four: In leadership, one size does not fit all

Every single one of the humans on your team is unique. They think differently, they learn differently, they take information in differently. And therefore it pays to tailor your leadership to the humans you’re working with.  If I think of my own team, some of the humans need me to be far more directive than others, some need more space to bounce things around, and others have a very independent approach. I spend a lot of time thinking about how my team takes on information, so that they can perform at their best and reach that high point I always see in them.

One word of warning on this tip though. The one place though to treat them all the same is with regard to respect, flexibility and empathy toward their very important worlds outside work. Knowing that you have a consistent approach to things like leave, time off in lieu, office days, carer’s duties and the like builds trust from your team and demonstrates that you don’t play favourites. 

Ok, fabulous humans – that’s a wrap for today. I really hope these tips support you to empower your team.  I’ll be back soon with more career, life and leadership tips for you.

But until then, stay fabulous xx

Image credit: Haute Stock

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