VENTEUR spoke with Sukhi Jutla, an award-winning entrepreneur and author based in London, about team leadership. Jutla is the co-founder and chief operating officer of MarketOrders, an online platform for the gold and diamond jewelry industry. She has won numerous awards, including Asian Women of Achievement and Female Entrepreneur of The Year, and was named Top 100 European Digital Pioneer by The Financial Times and Google. Jutla holds board positions with the Mayor of London’s Digital Skills Partnership and the Department of International Trade in the UK. She is an Industry Associate at University College London Centre for Blockchain Technologies (UCL CBT).
What are three non-negotiable things a team leader must do for their team, and why?
1. Trust Your Team
When you show your team they are trusted, they will be more empowered to do a great job.
How do you demonstrate trust?
You do this by clearly explaining to your team what needs to be done and then giving them the space to accomplish it in the way they think is best. Remember, you hired your team members because they are experts in that field or know more about that topic than you do.
So trust them to get on with the job at hand.
When your team members feel they are trusted to do a job, you will see they will have higher productivity levels and, in most cases, deliver.
2. Communicate Often, With Honesty and Integrity
Being a leader means your team will look to you for guidance and direction. This needs to be delivered in a clear and straightforward manner.
As a leader, you need to develop and communicate in a style that is direct, fair, and kind. Don't beat around the bush if you have bad news to share with the team.
A leader's job is to ensure a coherent and functioning team works together, and the glue that binds a well-functioning team is honesty. When team members don’t know what is going on, this can lead to confusion, frustration, and a lack of motivation.
Your job as a leader is to communicate often and in simple terms. For example, don’t send 500-word long emails when you can deliver the message in a short paragraph.
And be kind.
If you have to deliver a tough message, be honest and share with your team that this is also hard for you. This helps your team to see the human behind the leader.
3. Create and Foster an Environment of Safety
As a team leader, one of your key jobs is to ensure the team works together as a strong unit. One of the best ways to do this is to foster an environment of inclusion that leads to safety.
People need to feel they are being heard, won’t be punished for speaking up, and that their contributions are valued.
Being more human and treating everyone with respect and courtesy goes a long way and will also help to promote productivity.
Happier people tend to be more productive and creative; this is precisely what you need for your business to succeed and thrive.
How important is it for a team leader to provide feedback, how detailed and frequently should feedback be delivered, and why?
Feedback is a critical component of being a successful leader, and this needs to be delivered often.
As a leader, ideally, you should be checking in with team members often. This can be done by setting aside 15 minutes on your calendar to catch up with your team member.
Keep these catch-ups specifically focused on feedback, and this feedback should be focused on key areas.
For example, your team may have just delivered an important project. The following week, you can set aside time to speak to the team to give them feedback on how the project went, how it was delivered, and share any feedback from the client. The feedback should focus on two to three key areas and should cover both what went well, what didn’t, and review what could have been done better.
It’s important not to point any fingers or blame anyone.
I also believe feedback needs to work both ways.
You should also set aside time to allow your team to share feedback with you, the leader. Invite them to share their feedback. Listen to what they say about where they struggled, where they needed extra help, or perhaps, what extra support they needed that they didn’t get.
Feedback should work both ways to be truly effective. Informal methods of feedback can also be used such as sharing feedback over a coffee, but, in my experience, it tends to work best with some formal structure around it that has been documented.
How do you determine what things to delegate and the team members to delegate things to, and how has this changed over time?
At the start of my business journey, I did everything myself. As the business started to grow, I knew I needed help with the marketing and technology build, which meant hiring and working with other people.
The first time I had to delegate the marketing side of my business, I struggled! I didn't realize how much of a control freak I was! I didn’t think anyone could do the job in the way I wanted them to.
But having too much on my plate often leads to burnout and I knew I had to delegate. The issue I had was how I would do this.
So, I made a list of all the marketing tasks I did and identified which ones could be outsourced with relative ease. These were the tasks that were simple and admin related, and I felt I could outsource these with no impact on the quality of marketing I wanted. For example, one of these tasks was automating social media posts' scheduling.
Once my team was able to take on these tasks and perform them well, it increased my confidence in both them to do the job and in myself, I then knew that I could explain clearly what needed to be done and when, and, more crucially, step back and give them space to do the job. Over time, this has led me to be more open to delegating. I know I can identify which tasks can be delegated and can hand off tasks with clear instructions on what needs to be done.
How important is it for a team leader to communicate with their team, and how detailed should such communications be?
Communication is the key to top-level leadership.
As a leader, you need to show you are present, in charge, and provide clear direction and guidance. This is primarily done by communicating with your team often.
You can do this using both online and offline channels.
Send regular updates on progress and critical announcements. You can have a monthly newsletter sent via email or you could hold a weekly team lunch or coffee mornings.
In my experience, more problems tend to arise with a lack of communication, which results in more confusion, less focus, and a lack of alignment on team goals.
Your job as a leader is to bring unity and cohesion to the team. Try out a few variations above and see what works best for you and your team.
What are three communications mistakes you’ve made with teams in your charge, and how could those mistakes have been avoided?
1. Not Following Up
In the early days, I used to give my teammates what I thought was clear guidance on what needed to be done, and by when. Then I stepped back and left them to it.
When the day of delivery arrived, I would inevitably contact my teammate and ask if their tasks had been delivered and almost all of the time the answer was ‘no.’
They had either ‘forgotten’ to do the tasks, forgotten about the deadline, or they needed more guidance or direction from me because they had been confused about the task.
This taught me that it’s super important to follow up at regular intervals before the deadline is due.
This constant dialogue reminds your teammate of the task at hand and when it’s due, and gives them the opportunity to clarify any uncertainty instead of things being left to the end.
Checking in shows that you, as the leader, care about the success of your team.
2. Not Providing Clear Instructions on What Needs To Be Done and Assigning Clear Ownership
In the past, I used to talk through the tasks with my team and expected them to automatically know who was going to do what.
Now, I clearly explain what needs to be done, how it will be done, and assign it to a named person. I then ask this person to confirm if they are comfortable with this. After the meeting, I will write everything out and send notifications to the people working on the project.
3. Tell Them ‘Ask for Help if You Need It – I’m Available’
This is probably one of the key phrases every leader needs to tell their team often!
Most times, as leaders, we can forget that those under our charge may have less experience than us and we tend to assume they have everything they need to get the job done, which may be the case.
But I have found that the junior staff tend not to ask for help when they are stuck for fear of wasting your time as a leader.
You need to make it clear to your team that you are available to help when they need further guidance or assistance and make it feel comfortable for them to approach you.
I remember in my first graduate job when I asked my new boss for some help, and she replied, ‘You've just graduated from a top university, you should know the answer to that.’ I never asked her for help again and shortly moved on from her team as I didn’t feel safe asking for help or feel I could grow under her leadership.
That's why I make it very clear to my team members to ask for help if they need more guidance from me or if I can help them in any way.
How do you approach building relationships within your team, where is the line drawn that shouldn’t be crossed, and why?
Relationships are built by communicating with your team in a way that is courteous, clear, and kind. And this needs to be done with consistency at all times.
For example, if you are holding a team meeting at the office discussing a particular project, you would be professional and respectful in your communications.
Suppose you are now having team celebration drinks at a bar. In that case, you should keep your communication style respectable and professional even though the setting has changed. This helps to foster and build genuine connections of trust and kindness.
Remain polite and respectful to each other and be aware that some people may not want to share or talk about their personal life or discuss specific topics.
These are the lines that should not be crossed, instead choosing to remain respectful of your colleagues and communicate in a way that is fair and nonjudgemental.
What are some unique team leadership mistakes you see entrepreneurs make, and how can these mistakes be avoided?
1. Expecting Everyone To Think and Act Like You
No one is usually more obsessed, passionate, or focused on the business than the founder.
It might be normal for you to work 15-hour days and answer emails and phone calls on the weekends. At times, I have unintentionally expected my team members to be just as obsessed as I am with my business.
It took me a while to understand that, as a founder, I have more vested in the business and that this is primarily my dream and vision. They too have their own passions and other commitments that they need to focus on.
As a leader, I have to respect that and set clear expectations and boundaries for them and for myself.
That means respecting their time when they are not officially ‘on the job’ and not contacting them at those times.
Your team has been hired to do a certain job; respect that, and don’t expect them to become like you.
2. Micromanaging Your Team
At the start of your business journey, you will usually find you are a one-man (or woman) band. You are the sales, customer care, legal, and accounting department all rolled into one.
After some time, you will need to work with others and hire this talent or outsource it. That means letting go of these responsibilities and trusting your new hires to do the job.
The worst thing you can do as a leader is micro-manage your delegated tasks. Micro-managing shows a lack of trust, which can foster environments of tension and culture of toxicity.
Instead, give your staff the space they need to do the job in the way they think is best. Of course, you can offer guidance and step in when things go wrong, but you need to lead and not manage.
Give your staff the space needed to do the job, and this will create a much more productive work environment for all while improving morale.