Being a good manager is a difficult balancing act. There’s often a real tension between leading the team (and dealing with the all the people-related issues that come with that) and getting your own day-to-day work done, as well as giving the right impression to senior management.
Managers often find it hard to know what management style to adopt – particularly if they have been promoted into a position where they now have authority over people who used to be colleagues. Should they take an autocratic stance and make it clear who’s in charge? Or should their role be one of coach and/or mentor?
Organisational culture plays a huge part in this. When managers are new, either to the business or to their role, they tend to follow the status quo that has been set by others in senior positions. The problem with this, however, is that many organisations are still hanging on to very out-dated, hierarchical styles of management.
Often, when I go into organisations, I observe that micro-management is alive and well, and that managers are often more concerned with ‘policing’ their people than developing their teams and helping employees be the best they can possibly be.
This isn’t an effective approach, particularly with the younger generations of employees, who have a very different perspective on the world of work and want their manager to be a ‘coach’, rather than someone who is constantly looking over their shoulder. Everything in their lives has indeed built such expectations, from the child centric approach to education and the way they have been brought up by their parents, to the way they have been taught at school, which has made them into the workers they are today. The key to success for a manager is to find a balance between what feels right for the team - and what works for the organisation. But whatever style and tone is adopted, there are three things every manager needs to do to be successful:
Good management starts with listening. In order to lead people successfully, you need to understand what they expect from work and what makes them tick. What are their aspirations? What is it that makes them happy to get out of bed and come to work on a Monday morning? Developing a real insight into the challenges your people face on a daily basis is also key to unlocking good performance. What road blocks are getting in the way of people meeting their targets? Are they struggling because of insufficient resources, outdated systems or lack of training? Armed with this information, you will be much better equipped to support your team in overcoming any hurdles they may be facing. This open dialogue needs to happen on an ongoing basis. People come and go and in a fast-moving business world, situations change rapidly. Listening to your team and keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s really going on for them will allow you to support them in the best and most appropriate way. Managers are often resistant to adopting a more consultative approach, perceiving it as a threat that people may have different opinions that need to be answered. The role of the manager however, is to bring the best out of people and to elicit their best ideas and energy for the good of both the individuals and the organisation as a whole. Ideas should be evaluated on their own merits and personalities should be taken out of the equation so that the best decision can be made for the benefits of all.
Support your people, but don’t suffocate them. If someone has been recruited to do a job, they should be able to complete tasks without their manager having to check in every five minutes. Use a coaching approach to help people find their own solutions to challenges and problems. This will help them grow and develop and become more creative and resourceful along the way. It’s also important to take a very individual approach to the way you support people. One team member, for example, may lack confidence and will be happier if they can show you drafts of their work or check in on progress as they go along. Others may prefer to be given the space to just get on with it, and will only check in with you if they need specific advice. The key is to find what works for each individual rather than adopting one style fits all. Celebrating when the team does something well, as well as helping them to learn from their mistakes, is important too. The team need to know that you will make sure they get credit within the business for initiatives that have gone well. But they also need to know that you and the team will have their back when things don’t go according to plan and will help them focus on what can be learnt from the experience. Every mistake can be seen as an opportunity to learn.
If a team is to perform well, it needs a strong steer from its manager. People need to understand the bigger picture and to be clear about how the work they do feeds into wider organisational objectives. Some of the key reasons for under-performance are that often bits of the jigsaw are missing and people are not clear about exactly what they should be doing in terms of priorities or why they are doing a particular task and how it will be used by the “internal customer”. As a manager, one of your key tasks should be to provide focus and keep the team’s eye on the overall goal. Make sure people know what’s important and why, understand why it’s a priority and can see a future direction. A give and take approach to leading people is also key, especially at those times when you need everyone to pull the stops out to hit an important deadline or target. Put the emphasis on contribution and results rather than hours spent glued to the computer. If you can show a little flexibility and let your people leave early for sports day or work from home for example when they need to, they will be much more likely to put in the extra effort rather than telling you that they have already completed their hours for the week.
If you are struggling to set the right management tone, think about the best managers you have had in your career. How would they have tackled a particular situation? How did they make you feel? List what you can learn from the way you have been managed in the past and go back to your list regularly.
New managers can always focus on opening a dialogue with their team rather than worrying about their lack of experience in management – most people like to be treated like adults and showing care and understanding goes a long way in getting people to work well for you.
Header image by Nicholas Swanson