We all know that being good at your job doesn’t guarantee that you're going to be a good manager. Many of us have learned this from personal experience – while most of us have had a horrible boss at some point, how many of us have been fortunate enough to work under a truly inspiring leader who knows how to motivate and get the best out of their team? And more importantly, how do you become such a leader?
Different management styles will suit different contexts depending on the company culture, the size of the team or organisation, the nature of the work or industry and the particular personalities involved. There are some universals, however.
Effective management is an art – but luckily, it is one that can be learned if you follow some basic principles. Here are some tips on becoming a better manager, starting right now:
It all starts with getting the best possible team in place – together, the whole can become greater than the sum of its parts. You need to select the right people for the right jobs, build a complementary team, and align your people with your organisational goals and culture.
As Wallace Lee, a project manager with Westpac, puts it, ‘Recruit right. Make sure that each person not only has the right skills but, more importantly, fits the culture.’
Knowing how various roles will help to achieve your organisation’s goals can help define the requirements against which you will interview and assess candidates, according to Iain Crossing, an organisational consultant with Inspirational Workplaces.
‘The development of key people may be the single greatest determinant of an organisation’s ability to deal with uncertainty and succeed. Central to its development is a leader’s ability to engage people and align the needs of individuals with those of the organisation to deliver a united and cohesive front,’ states Grant Sexton, managing director of Leadership Management Australasia.
Empathy is the ability to listen to people, relate to their emotional experience and let them know that you are doing so. Managers with high emotional intelligence can build rapport with and between people, leading to greater trust and transparency in the team.
As a manager, openness and empathy should be a key part of your personal brand. According to Iain Crossing, this is the most important core competency for managers and leaders.
‘Developing the ability to understand people and connect with them in a genuine, meaningful way is a key determining factor in how effective you can be at influencing them, setting them objectives that motivate them, and rewarding them in a way they each actually find motivating,’ says Crossing.
In fact, multiple studies have shown that high performing managers have higher 'emotional competence'. Here's how to improve your emotional intelligence at work.
Communication is the key to fostering transparency and building relationships built on openness, trust and honesty with your team. The first step in effective communication, according to Crossing, is to create the time and space for people to talk and to ask questions.
Both Crossing and Lee emphasise the importance of clearly communicating your goals and expectations, and defining people’s roles and responsibilities in line with these. After all, you can’t motivate people if they don’t know what you want. Crossing advises managers to set clear objectives for both the organisation and its people to discuss and negotiate, let people know what support and resources they have access to, and to clearly link rewards to objectives.
Non-verbal behaviour is just as important as what people say, so effective managers need to be keen observers to gauge how people are responding to a work situation at an emotional level. Lee says that managers need to be intuitive, since staff members may not always tell you when they’re struggling.
Communication needs to flow in all directions, from managers to their staff, from staff to managers, and between team members. An effective leader is a good listener and fosters an environment where people can get to know each other and understand each others’ strengths, weaknesses and communication styles. Good managers are open to input from their staff, and learn from their feedback.
Iain Crossing has observed that people will pick up on the verbal and non-verbal expressions of their boss’s state of mind, so leaders need to take responsibility for the atmosphere they create and shape it with their own behaviour. This can be as simple as your posture and demeanour when you arrive at the office in the morning, or more systemic like outlining values and protocols for working with each other.
It’s also important to practise what you preach. You can’t expect your staff to work harder than you’re willing to. Once in a while, roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. As Lee says, ‘Respect doesn’t come from your position – you have to earn it.’
As a manager, it’s important that you recognise that there are only so many hours in the day, and only so much that you can do by yourself. While you may find that it’s faster to get things done on your own in the short term (particularly if you have a new or inexperienced team), in the long term you will save a lot of time by delegating meaningful projects to your team members. By doing this, you will also build their skills and help them reach their potential. However delegation doesn’t mean micromanaging. Wallace Lee also warns against micromanaging: ‘Don't interfere – know when your staff can run with things.’
It’s important to let your staff take ownership of their work and find their own ways of doing things. Articulate the outcome you would like to see – and then leave them to their devices, checking in every once in a while to see if they need your support. As Crossing advises, ‘Delegate responsibility rather than tasks,’ for maximum impact.
Providing timely and meaningful feedback to your staff is crucial, as is determining how best to give them this feedback. Crossing recommends tailoring your approach to each individual, with some people requiring regular assurance and support, and others preferring more autonomy. Lee adds that it’s important to let your staff know what they’re doing right as well as what areas they need to work on.
It’s better to tell people what you want them to do rather than telling them what you don’t want them to do, according to Crossing. If you have to comment on poor performance, use actual observations to demonstrate the issue and talk about behaviours (which people can change) rather than criticise personalities or make value judgments.
This area is often neglected but can’t be overstated – it takes very little effort to thank someone, but it can make all the difference to how people feel on the job. After all, your team members are people, not robots!
When it comes to rewards, Iain Crossing says that it’s important to provide rewards that people will actually find gratifying. For example, some people love to be taken out for lunch, while others might prefer time in lieu or more autonomy and responsibility. Many managers reward people in the way they themselves like to be rewarded, which is not always effective.
A manager is only as good as their team. Lee emphasises the importance of focusing on your staff’s development, saying, ‘Help your employees to succeed – their success is your success. Be patient. Coach them and coach them and coach them ... they'll remember one day.’
The best way to coach your people is to help them focus on process rather than content, according to Crossing. As a manager you will have people coming to you with issues and problems, but instead of getting bogged down in the detail, coach people. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a framework.
Ask the person to:
This turns the problem orientation into a solution orientation, as well as being a great learning opportunity and empowering the person to solve the problem themselves.
It’s important for leaders to think outside the square and know when to take risks. As Wallace Lee advises, ‘Take risks with your employees – often they bring pleasant surprises.’
By giving people the freedom to work through problems and solutions themselves, you will encourage innovation, creativity and resourcefulness. Lee advises, ‘Let your team think for themselves; don't strangle their creativity. Encourage innovation – for instance, Google allows one day a week for every employee to innovate.’
(Google does indeed allow its employees to use up to 20 per cent of their time to pursue their own independent projects. Apparently this independent work time leads to 2.5 times greater productivity and generates the ideas for 50 per cent of all new product releases!)
Good managers have a flexible approach and are able to adapt to individual employees, allowing them to work according to their own individual style.
In addition, flexible workplace practices have emerged as an increasingly important priority for employees. A survey by Leadership Management Australasia lists flexible work arrangements/hours as the fifth most important influence on employee performance, and fourth most important reason for employees to stay with an organisation. In other words, flexibility pays off, so take the time to hear out what your team needs.