Did you just get promoted? Did you just land a new job? Or have you been managing a team for a while now and think things just aren’t going as well as you'd hoped?
There are many different paths to the question of how to be a good manager. And there are many paths that go around the question altogether—some managers just never take the time to stop and think whether they are a good manager.
But if you’re here reading this, you probably don’t fall into that category. Well done!
Now let’s get down to business.
We could answer the question of what makes a good manager pretty easily. A good manager is confident, assertive, understanding, approachable, adaptable, etc., etc.
But these words lack meaning outside of the real-world contexts of corporate workplaces. So instead of listing attributes, let’s talk about some pragmatic strategies.
If your idea of improving your management style has led you to ask Google ‘how to be a successful CEO’, you might end up managing quite a grumpy team. You can’t become Richard Branson or Susan Wojcicki overnight. Nor should you want to.
Your managerial style needs to suit the kind of work your organisation does and the workplace environment in which it does it. For example, being a leader in a hotdesking environment is quite different to managing a remote workforce—and both of these are quite different to holding an executive meeting for a multi-billion dollar company.
There are, of course, a number of different leadership styles that can serve as a useful guide. Some of the key styles of management include:
● Autocratic: It’s my way or the highway.
● Democratic: Who thinks this is a good idea?
● Inspirational: I want you to be the best that you can be.
● Hands-off: Here’s where we’re going, you work out how to get there.
Of course, most managers don’t just slot into a stereotype. They have different leadership attributes, and they also change from day to day (or hour to hour).
There’s no need to choose one leadership style and stick with it. Try out different styles and see what works well in your particular work environment.
Also, make sure you keep up the self-reflection so that you can continually adapt and improve.
When we talk about how to be a good manager, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about ourselves too much. We think of how we want to be seen by other people. And that’s fine, just so long as we don’t lose sight of the people we are supposed to be managing.
We don’t want to reduce this down to a worn-out phrase like ‘everyone’s different’. But if you’re looking to make your team perform, you’re going to need to manage individual relationships according to specific personalities.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have strong personal relationships with your whole team. But you do need to respect the fact that different team members will respond (very) differently to different styles of management.
As a manager, you can be forced to do a lot of thinking on your own—making decisions, forming strategies, compiling the work of others, and so forth. One of the dangers of management, though, is going too much inside your own head and forgetting to communicate.
Your team will work best when you give them as much clarity as possible. Clarity about team objectives, clarity about expectations, clarity about your opinions, clarity about how an individual’s work fits into a larger picture…
The more clarity you communicate to your team, the more confidence and motivation they will have.
Many of us think that asking for feedback from the people we manage is a sign of weakness. Shouldn’t it be me telling them what to do?
In fact, asking for feedback can be a ‘power move’. If done in the right way, you are telling your team that you are confident enough in yourself to take on other perspectives.
More importantly, though, seeking out feedback holds the pragmatic benefit of strengthening your relationship with the people under you. Not only will you learn how they like to be treated, but you also build up a sense of mutual trust and respect.
Of course, the feedback might also just make you a better leader...
In principle, most of us understand that good leadership involves acknowledging good work and remedying bad work. But in practice, our personalities can get in the way.
Some of us forget to take the time to stop and acknowledge positive contributions. We might think that good work is just an expectation of the job, so no big thing. But positive feedback helps set standards, boost confidence, and build rapport.
On the other hand, some of us will do anything to avoid telling someone that they haven’t quite hit the mark. We might give a watered-down version of our real opinion or even pick up the slack ourselves to avoid an uncomfortable confrontation.
Don’t do this.
You’ll soon find things spiralling out of control. And when you finally do try to make an intervention, the team member is going to be very confused, and maybe even resentful.
Be upfront and honest about both the good and the bad. Your team will reward you for it.
The most important takeaway from all of this advice is that what you do as a manager has an enormous impact on your team’s morale. In fact, managers are the greatest factor (70%) determining whether employees are engaged in their work or not.
More importantly, employee engagement and morale is a critical factor in business productivity.
The list of statistics that back this up is impressive. Low morale affects everything from low immunity to high turnover rates and the amount of time your team spends on Facebook avoiding work.
In sum, it affects your business’ bottom line.
So, no, being a good manager is not a popularity contest, one that you can afford to lose. It’s part of the foundations of corporate success.