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by Isabel Sperry | May 31, 2017


If you’re a manager, it can be challenging to know how best to lead your team to success. Below, Helena Cawley, CEO of activewear startup SweatStyle, provides specific strategies she uses to motivate her team. From advice on how to connect with employees individually to how to create a strong team culture, Cawley’s tips will help any manager become an effective team leader.

1. Show that “we’re all in this together”

I like to make sure my team knows that we're all in the trenches together. I want them to see me doing the "unglamorous" things, so they know I’m just as deep into the minutiae and just as involved as they are. I think this helps them to feel like we're all in this together. It also shows that there’s nothing I’m "above"; I never want my team to feel that they can’t approach me about something.

2. Hold one-on-one meetings

I think it's important to have one-on-one meetings with each person on your team on a regular basis. A lot of issues, questions, and concerns might come up when we're alone that an employee might not voice in an all-team meeting. Of course, individual meetings become more and more difficult as your team grows, but if you can make time once a week or a couple times a month to sit down with each person, it really makes a difference. It also helps me to know everything that’s going on day-to-day. Nothing frustrates me more than when there’s an issue that arises that no one informed me about until it’s too late, or that has become much worse than necessary. Staying closely informed about what’s going on with my team really helps avoid this kind of issue.

3. Emphasize quality of work, not quantity of hours worked

I really believe in working smarter, not harder. I was a corporate lawyer in a past life, and the emphasis on "billable hours" and "face time" was a motivation and morale killer. Luckily, I had a boss who felt the same way and always encouraged us to get the job done and done well, but not to worry about putting in the hours for the sake of appearances. There’s a common belief that the best employee is the one who stays the latest and works the longest hours, but frankly that's just not true. I'd much rather have people focus during the workday and then go home to do something for themselves, than have them work all night and put out a mediocre product.

4. Befriend your employees outside the office

Get to know your employees outside the office and encourage them to get to know each other, too. It gives me great joy to see my employees become friends with each other outside the office. I think it makes them feel more devoted to the team and excited about coming into the office, and it gives them someone to confide in at work, which we all need. That being said, I also think that there needs to be a bit of a line between myself and my employees. I don’t think you can gain the respect and loyalty from your team that you need in order to be an effective leader if you’ve ever acted drunk or out of control in front of them. Go out, socialize, forget about work for a while together—but make sure not to confuse that time with making a new BFF. That's not what your employees are for, and it will confuse things back in the office and ultimately backfire. While it’s an important aspect of culture-building to spend time with your team in a social setting, it’s essential to keep things professional—especially as a manager, because others will follow your example.