Ananda Ray
Guest Article

20 years; 100 leadership tips

Over the two decades that I have spent in advertising, I have had the opportunity and privilege to helm several teams of eager, excited, talented - and, to be honest, sometimes struggling - junior colleagues. I have had the good fortune to have some great seniors to report to as well.

I have learnt a lot from all of them and, to this day, my teams remain my greatest portfolio. I am certain I have failed many, too - my apologies to them always. In my entire career, I have had to let go of just three people - one, undeserving, but required by management. Being unable to protect this person is something I consider my biggest failing, although this happened about a decade ago.

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Ananda Ray
Ananda Ray

So, what have I learnt in all these years? A hundred tips follow on what I consider to be good leadership. Some I have learned from others and some are of my own making. Some may not work for you and some may – some may even have approaches contrary to these, which they use effectively – and I respect those as well. Lastly, of course, there are exceptions to every rule and none of these are carved in stone in any case. Here goes:

01. You work for them; not the other way round.

02. They are responsible for every success; you, for the failures.

03. Expressing disappointment is more effective than expressing anger.

04. Remind them a fail does not a failure make.

05. Display urgency when necessary, but never panic or anxiety; always exude calm and control.

06. Provide the destination, fuel the car - and then hand the keys to your team; if it stalls, push; don't drive.

07. Different people respond to different motivations – adapt accordingly.

08. Eagerly seek suggestions that are more effective than yours.

09. You're their exhaust fan; they're not your ashtray.

10. Work towards them not needing you when you're not there, but let them know you are always available.

11. Be their back up resource when they're overloaded.

12. Grant leaves without question.

13. Don't be afraid to say you don't know but will figure it out.

14. Have their back at all times.

15. Give constructive criticism (keyword: constructive) privately; praise, publicly.

16. When an outside party complains about your team, neither agree nor disagree - only say that you'll investigate.

17. Be a bean bag. Adjust in order to best support them and make them comfortable. But never beyond a point.

18. Don't mince words - positive or negative.

19. Do not let the size of a success or a failure change the size of your reaction.

20. Completely ignore inadvertent / genuine / human errors.

21. Empathise; don't sympathise.

22. Make room for inexperience; take up the slack quietly.

23. Give every person the responsibility of their next role.

24. Be firm and clear with instructions - make them repeat them back to you.

25. Generally give them enough leeway for them to respect the few times you don't.

26. Plan their work so they can leave work on time and they'll gladly stay late when they need to.

27. Stop benchmarking your previous roles, jobs, offices, teams, processes aloud – it suggests your current roles, jobs, offices, teams, processes will never be enough and that you live in the past.

28. Respect their coffee breaks, lunches, personal space and refrain from contacting them after work or on holidays. This includes commenting / liking on social media (unless they’re actively seeking support on a cause you support as well). In other words, allow them to disassociate. You can always express your appreciation when you meet them.

29. Don't make them do your 'dirty/trivial/personal' work.

30. Don't hold them to any standard you don't hold yourself to.

31. Never criticise a client / partner / colleague (senior, junior or parallel) - everyone has to respect every designation - senior, equal or junior.

32. Respect a 'no', but only after they've earned it.

33. Don't let your personal opinions / biases on their personalities or their demeanour impact your behaviour and decisions; different personalities bring different skill sets.

34. Never hold up a member as an example - positive or negative.

35. Address concerns immediately; dismiss whining just as quickly.

36. When someone seems genuinely stuck, be proactive in asking if they need help; refuse point-blank if they come to you without applying themselves first.

37. Frequent ‘teach them a lesson’ team meetings serve to waste time, at the very least. At the most, they feel like a public humiliation show and that overshadows the possibility of any actual learnings – eventually, teams end up treating them with indifference. They more sparingly used, the more effective.

38. Your team is made of people; respect their moods / fears / human flaws - read the room; every day, they are different people.

39. No task should be too small / menial for you to do wholeheartedly - and they'll believe the same.

40. Be as relaxed when faced with a big challenge as with a small task - and nothing will seem unsurmountable.

41. Nobody should hesitate or be afraid to approach you, especially when things have gone wrong.

42. Give deadlines factoring in not just how long a task should take, but also the learning curve - which also means letting mistakes you have foreseen happen; they may surprise you with a wonderful new result or by demonstrating course correction skills that you didn't know existed, but are reassuring to have within the the very least, they learn.

43. They don't have to like you; but if they dislike you (on a day-to-day basis), you may need to relook your approach

.44. If they fail at a task, trust them with it again, without caveats.

45. You don't have a portfolio - they are your portfolio.

46. You don't have to be a control freak to have control; sometimes, giving space and being excited to hear them eagerly - and, even, voluntarily - gives you progress reports that can achieve the same - and often better - results.

47. Outlaw e-mail wars.

48. Your demeanour impacts their behaviour.

49. Find a way to make them feel every day was a productive one; petty issues will dissipate and having productive days will give them joy - and become their goal.

50. You should never ask them to knock on your door or mind if they don't; but they should always feel that they ought to.

51. Give one team member less work one day every week. Rotate this. Prevents burn-out and also leaves you room to tackle unforeseen emergencies without stress.

52. In a large meeting with many seniors, ask the 'stupid' and obvious questions, even if you look stupid. It tackles later uncertainties and prevents wastage of time. These are the questions your team would have wanted to ask - because of their inexperience - if they weren't overwhelmed by the scale of the meeting. It also makes them not hesitate to ask stupid questions, which sometimes prove to be super important.

53. Let them never feel they don't have a right to ask a question or voice an opinion, no matter whose company they are in; let them also develop the good sense to know when not to speak.

54. Keep flowers in your hand, a knife strapped to your belt - and when you unsheathe it, use it; when you use it, do it without drama – it’s scarier.

55. They are not your juniors, regardless of terminology; they are your less experienced colleagues.

56. Every 'junior' in your office is your junior too and you are unofficially responsible for them as well - be available to them as well.

57. Don't ever pull rank. If you're having to, it means you've not managed to establish authority.

58. The work is always more important than anything else; except, on rare occasions, you have the right to decide the team is more important.

59. Ignore the occasional outburst.

60. To have control, give control.

61. Listen to the quiet ones.

62. You are your team's safe place.

63. Don't approve; appreciate.

64. Your solutions are Plan B; try and ensure they remain secret and are not required.

65. Don't highlight failings; suggest areas of improvements.

66. Some interventions need to be immediate and unhesitatingly ruthless. However, most are more effective when implemented much later, when there's more distance from the situation and less pressure. Also, this converts the conversation to a lasting ‘skill improvement’ dialogue instead of a short-term ‘task improvement’ dialogue - and it doesn't feel like blame.

67. The more you are required and the less effective the team is - the less effective a leader you are.

68. Nudge, don't push.

69. Sarcasm and condescension are the weapons of privilege; they can’t return in kind. Fight fair.

70. Don't judge them by what they don't know.

71. They are the interface and software; you are the update.

72. If your bosses don't know and appreciate your team members individually for their specific skills, you're hogging the glory.

73. In public situations, don't be the powerful director; be the appreciative audience.

74. Share your tricks of the trade - without showing off about them.

75. False humility is equally revolting.

76. If a team member is trying to ‘manage’ you, let them. Be alert, side-step, but allow them their comfort zone and little victories - they will soon notice that their ploy is not as effective as they thought it was. Forced change is no change.

77. If you have 10 urgent things on your job list, and a team member requests your time, that automatically becomes Item 01 on the list.

78. If urgent, no team member should feel the need to hesitate interrupting whatever it is you're doing - politely.

79. Don't hold up the train by demanding approvals and updates at every step.

80. Tip your hat to even failed attempts at original thinking / solutions.

81. Equality and hierarchy can live together amicably.

82. Motivation is less about words and more about the responsibilities you give.

83. Each member of the team should feel equally important, even if for different – but real - reasons.

84. Never remove a job midway from one team member and hand it to another - creates long-term disruption and imbalance. If someone is struggling, increase your involvement.

85. Make the team feel that you want them to be the team other teams aspire to be.

86. Don't dictate / command, except when they’re looking for it or is absolutely necessary. Suggest and invite suggestions.

87. Tell them you don't care how and when they do the work as long as it's done well and on time - and stand by it. But always ask them to share their plan in advance – then, hold them to it.

88. Always be alert to whether they're doing ok from a work-stress point of view.

89. Always give them slightly more than they can handle. Once they get used to it and take it in their stride regularly, up the ante again. If they've reached the ceiling, ease off and give them breathing space.

90. When a tough assignment or deadline comes up, force them to skip the 'why are we in this situation' conversation by initiating the 'how do we solve this?' discussion.

91. They are never to say no when someone within or without the team asks for help; but they get to ask for help from the same person later on - builds unity, prevents disguised labour.

92. "But that mistake on the job I was involved in was made by someone else" is not allowed.

93. The wheel wouldn't turn without the smallest cog in it.

94. No one is 'too junior' for your unhurried, undivided attention.

95. If you can't be available, don't tell them to come later; tell them you'll seek them out when free - and do so – respond to texts and emails instantly (even if with: “I’ll get back to you’)

96. As much as excellence, reward dependability.

97. They need to know that liking each other is a bonus, working together and supporting each other is a must.

98. Encourage them to have a minimum of two possible solutions ready every time they come to you with a problem.

99. Intent is everything, no matter how they may come across (polish hides ill-intent; lack of polish hides good intent)

100. Never forget 01 and 02.

101. (essential bonus): Do not hesitate to, at most, remove anyone instantly when they take advantage of any of the above; at least, ever again grant a request they previously took advantage of.

(Ananda Ray is the creative head of Rediffusion and has nearly two decades of experience in the field of advertising. He is based out of Mumbai.)