We’ve all had a bad boss or manager at some point in our lives, but how many of us have worked under truly inspiring leaders who know how to motivate and get the best out of their team?
Unfortunately, being good at your job doesn’t guarantee that you will be a good leader or manager. Effective management is an art – but luckily, it is one that can be learned if you follow some basic principles.
Different management styles will suit different contexts depending on 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. Here are some tips on becoming a better manager:
It all starts with getting the right team in place – together, the whole can be 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 the 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 will 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 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. According to Iain Crossing, it 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 rewarding,’ says Crossing.
Communication is the key to fostering empathy and building relationships of 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.
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.
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 don’t 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 get to know each other and understand each others’ strengths, weaknesses and styles. Good managers are open to the input of 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. As Lee says, ‘Respect doesn’t come from your position – you have to earn it.’
It’s important to let your staff take ownership of their work and find their own ways of doing things. As Crossing advises, ‘Delegate responsibility rather than tasks.’
Wallace Lee also warns against micromanaging: ‘Don't interfere – know when your staff can run with things.’
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.
When it comes to rewards, Iain Crossing says that it’s important to provide rewards that people will actually find rewarding. For example, some people love to be taken out for lunch, while others might prefer time in lieu or more autonomy or responsibility. Many managers reward people in the way they themselves like to be rewarded, which is not always effective. Homer buying Marge a bowling ball for her birthday springs to mind.
Lee emphasises the importance of focusing on your staff’s development and says, ‘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 by asking them to outline the problem, describe the impact the problem is having, describe what they've tried already, define an ideal outcome, explore the resources they might use to get there, consider possible next steps, have them try it and come back with the results. This turns the problem into a great learning opportunity and empowers 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 latitude 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 – Google allows one day a week for every employee for innovation.’
Google does indeed allow its employees to use 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 adapt their style to individual employees, allowing them to work to their own style.
Flexible workplace practices have also emerged as an increasingly important priority for many employees. A recent 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.