In some cases that means recognizing where you lack skill or experience, and taking steps to make up for it. In others, it’s a matter of organizing your workspace more efficiently, taking your team’s feedback into account and “seeing the forest for the trees.” If you want to become a good – nay, a great – manager, here are 10 strategies to consider adding to your toolkit today.
#1 Target Your Improvement Areas
You know that blowhard boss, the one who considers himself compassionate and “people-first”? Yeah, you know the one. How much does that guy actually motivate you to work harder and give the company your all? Probably not much, because nobody likes a person who can’t see their own faults.
Don’t be that manager. Instead, take a careful accounting of what you’re good at … and what you’re not. If you need to, solicit help from your employers beyond your semi-annual review, or ask your friends and family what they think your greatest strengths and weaknesses are. Then pay careful attention to improvement. Even if you don’t manage to lick your bad habits entirely, your team will notice the effort and greatly appreciate it.
#2 Get Organized
Poor organization and management do not a good match make. If you want to lead people effectively, then everyone needs to be clear on their roles and responsibilities. That means getting organized in a serious way. Start with your desk and your files, then tackle your email and your online management apps (think Asana or Evernote).
After that, it’s time to bring people in on your organizational system. If you have an administrative assistant, they should be fully conversant with your methods. Members of your team should use the systems you assign to them, and train their own underlings in their use. Everyone should know how everyone else functions, and you should create channels of cross-communication between different teams. Do so, and you’ll see the success and productivity of your team members rise appreciatively.
#3 Take the View from Above
This is a very difficult thing to do, and most people aren’t very good at it. Many managers flounder because they get lost in petty details, get sucked into their inboxes, or mistake team meetings for actual productivity or progress. To be an effective manager, you need to break these habits and be sure to give your attention to each project and each team member every day. Luckily, if you do manage to get organized successfully, you’ll have a much easier time keeping track of all the cogs in your machine, so start there.
#4 Stock Your Library
While seminars and trainings are all well and good, you probably can’t fit as many into your schedule as you’d like. It’s better to have a well-stocked library on hand so you can reference different ideas and skills at any time. Some management books are about how to talk to people, while others refer specifically to organizational skills. Others have to do with responding to both team needs and expectations from above at the same time. Wherever you struggle, have a book on hand to help you out in times of need.
#5 Talk to Your Team(s)
Good managers talk to and care about their teams. If you’re not making regular contact with your team, asking how they feel, discussing what they need to get projects done and generally treating them as though they have great value, your projects will not be successful. Take a very intentional approach to this, creating open hours and designing a system for one-on-one time with each team member. If you manage more than one team, this is even more important, because you may need to take different approaches and allocate different resources to each team.
#6 Invite Feedback
During this time, either as a whole group or individually, invite feedback from your team members. You can bring this up at a meeting informally, or put a suggestion box out for people to add their thoughts to as they come up. At least twice a year, though, you need to spend time with each person individually, letting them know that this is their time to contribute their ideas and air their complaints.
Keep in mind that people quickly become very gun-shy if you don’t actually take that feedback to heart. There’s no quicker way to alienate the people working underneath you than to listen halfheartedly and then blow them off.
#7 Zip Your Lips
In the process of taking feedback, you will likely encounter some discomfort. While managers and underlings frequently have warm and responsive relationships, not everything you do is going to go over well. Employees will have resentments about any number of things, including perceived favoritism, inadequate facilities, promotions that haven’t been offered, and so on.
While they’re conveying this to you, your job is to sit back and listen. If you constantly jump in with the “yes, buts” and the “well, you sees … ” your employees will quickly disengage. That’s bad for them, and it’s bad for you. If your manager sees you losing team buy-in – and even losing good employees to other companies – you’ll be the one to answer for it.
#8 Prioritize Transparency
Transparency is huge. We all like to feel like we know what’s going on, and nothing creates so much uncertainty or unhappiness as unpredictability. It must be very clear to people why advancement occurs, what the rules are for resolving disputes and who is responsible for what tasks. Moreover, you should post clear guidelines about the use of email, technology or common areas. Nothing upsets people more than getting dinged on rules they didn’t know existed.
When disputes do take place, the resolutions should be explained to all parties. Those who were not involved, on the other hand, have no business knowing what happened except insofar as it results in a policy change.
#9 Set Up Your Carrots
Rewards systems are key, and without them, you’re unlikely to earn the buy-in of your team. While you should put disciplinary measures in place, and “sticks” are sometimes necessary, your “carrots” are a far better place to focus your energy.
Unlike Kindergarten, you can’t simply hand out stickers for good behavior. Instead, you have to find what really motivates your employees. In some cases, a Starbucks card and some recognition at the weekly meeting will cut it, but you need deeper incentives in place as well. Make clear the requirements for advancement, and stick to your word. Praise those who are doing well, and make case studies of them. Be reliable, treating all your employees the same way.
#10 Get a Mentor
The greatest businesspeople, entrepreneurs and inventors in the world have mentors, and for good reason. Someone older and more experienced than you has the ability to take that view from above, reflect on your choices and ideas, and give feedback in a kind, insightful and directly applicable way.
Your mentor might be a boss at your company or an older peer. It might mean a professor from school or a thought leader in another industry, with whom you’ve made contact in the Twittersphere. It doesn’t really matter where the connection comes from, but it does matter how you approach the relationship. Never ask someone, “Will you be my mentor?” Instead, ask for small pieces of advice, and put it to use before coming back for more. That way, your target mentor will see that you’re a valuable mentee, and hopefully take you under their wing.
Managing a team is hard, and not everyone is cut out for the job. However, like anything else, being a good manager is often simply the result of intentional practice over time. The “tricks” to earning your people’s respect, getting things done and attracting the attention of your superiors aren’t really tricks at all. Rather, they are important strategies that every manager needs to put in their toolkit. Do so, and don’t waste any more time becoming the leader you’ve always known you could be.