Stepstones and pitfalls of successful leadership - part 2

Giving feedback, solving conflicts and increasing motivation

There are situations which can cause a lot of sleepless nights if you are new to a leading position e.g.: giving and receiving feedback, solving conflicts within the team, and dealing with an increasing lack of motivation. All these problems are so draining because they cannot be solved by the leader alone, they involve colleagues as well. This requires soft skills and a good knowledge of dealing with the team members. When starting a job, there might be a lack of both. I talked to Mika Kupila, the Head of Service at Auntie, to share some insights on how he deals with these issues. There are also some tips on the way, which some of my clients have already successfully tested.

Corrective feedback or criticism?

When open communication includes corrective feedback, it often bears the risk of being misunderstood as criticism, which can create anxiety and reduce motivation to engage. Each team member has a preference on the way of receiving performance feedback e.g.: regular one-on-one sessions, specific and constructive or more balanced feedback. The company culture influences the way the feedback is given. Auntie uses a concept that has been benefiting Mika’s team so far.

Mika Kupila CPO Auntie

“The weekly 1on1's are Auntie's way of working, and it's great. It’s a set time for you and your manager. Our culture is open-minded, and we encourage discussion and collaboration.”
Image: Mika Kupila, Head of Service at Auntie


As a leader can adjust towards the needs of your team members forming an own team culture. Investing time and energy to get the feedback right, will help any leader to get the message across including e.g.: goals and strategy. In the long run, this will help the team to enfold their potential, commit to the plan of action, reduce, and solve conflict situations. This also requires good listening skills. There are various ways to improve the listening skills e.g.: active or mindful listening. Mika experienced that listening and caring helps the team members to adapt and adjust to each other.

“When forming a new team, or coming in as a new manager, I think it's important to listen and show that you listen and care. It can be scary for the manager, but it's equally scary for the team as they now have a new person leading, and creating trust, in the beginning, comes from listening and then acting accordingly.”

Misunderstandings cause conflicts

Working closely together under a lot of pressure can cause misunderstandings. When they cannot be resolved conflicts arise which might impact the atmosphere and the productivity of the team. This fear causes some people to try avoiding conflicts at all costs. When misunderstandings are pending and conflicts remain unresolved, the acts of avoidance will grow bigger until working together might not be possible anymore. 

When handled correctly, conflicts can be beneficial. They can be seen as a chance to openly discuss different perspectives, to welcome contradicting ideas and to invite team members to pick their brains on pros and cons of a problem. Then they can help employees to feel engaged, heard and accepted. Making the time to confront difficult issues openly and right away while holding each other accountable for what was agreed on, can create tranquility, fairness and equality within the team. However, not every employee is able to embrace direct feedback. In this case it is good to ask for help from colleagues or another neutral entity to step in and help resolving the issues. 

Maintaining motivation

Frustration arises when people feel that their own needs are not met e.g.: recognition, payment, career. This is a natural process and balanced by focusing on ways to satisfy personal needs. In a position which requires teamwork, this might create a problem for the team. One of the biggest problems is the high fluctuation of team members. This requires resources for onboarding and redistribution of tasks while disturbing the workflow and irritating the team stability. 

Rewards - individual or collective?

One option to increase motivation is to focus on rewards for reaching set goals. Many leaders have a clear laid out reward plan while team members often feel frustrated by the lack of information or missing rewards. Rewarding single members might seem complicated because it is hard to keep track of e.g.: who spent how much time on a ticket. Rewarding collective progress might in some cases be easier and gives a little extra push by improving the exchange and the teamwork. During the past year, many team members felt singled out and alone. As a result, refocusing on the collective effort to succeed and being rewarded can benefit the cause in more than one way. 

However, recognition on the way towards the goal might be one of the biggest and cheapest extrinsic motivators. Telling your team that you see them doing a great job and cheering them up during a difficult phase, costs effort but is otherwise free and can be a total game changer. Easy tools can be e.g.: a thank you note, a shout out, a slack message. Mika noticed how these skills used in private life can also help to become a better leader and motivator.

“Besides work, I have a long background in sports being the captain and coach of many teams. I would like to think there's something in there that comes naturally when huddling a team together and working toward a shared goal.”

Creating value is in the core of motivation

Many leaders have experience leading in other parts of their life. Taking responsibility and caring for others requires a shift in mindset, which leads from “me” to “us”. Some of my clients say that creating value, following up on the progress and helping others to grow is one of their core motivations. Mika feels that his values and the values of Auntie align well. Being satisfied and feeling connected helps him to feel motivated and motivate others as well.

“Auntie is one of those companies, where you feel you are having a positive impact on the world. We help people feel better, and that's amazing. This also means that the people who lean toward working with us share a sense of empathy toward other people and this positively drives the culture. I try to ask how everyone is doing because I genuinely do care. Especially when being remote, the small feat of just asking can sometimes have a great impact on how the other person is feeling.”

Being curious about the world that surrounds us, including other people and being interested in personal development Mika and many other leaders are never done learning. Leaders often feel a strong intrinsic motivation or hunger for improving themselves and create a positive and inspirational atmosphere around them. They care about testing new strategies and inspire the growth mindset in their team culture.

“I'm also an avid reader and (podcast/audiobook) listener and try to always be learning new things. I combine ideas, thoughts and views from multiple different categories and try to understand why they work in the context they do, and if they could be adapted to something we would benefit from.”

Thank you, Mika, for your time and all the valuable insights. Being a leader requires skills, which need to be learned, trained and from time to time refreshed. Auntie has designed different leadership packages: Born to Lead, Dream Team in Process, and Leader in Rough Waters. These meet the needs of the leadership roles and its requirements by supporting reflection on existing skills, building new skills, and finding the right routines to become a more successful leader.

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