April 12, 2019

Being a better manager is easier than you think

It can feel like a manager’s work is never done. Between motivating your team, setting goals and objectives, delegating tasks, and making tough decisions, there’s very little time left for developing your own leadership skills. Consider this post a Management 101 refresher—three simple reminders that’ll help you be your best self at work.

Building trust with your direct reports comes first.

Having your team’s trust is the foundation on which your success as a manager is built. When you have a solid relationship with your direct reports, challenging conversations (like giving tough feedback) don’t feel so intimidating.

The benefits of building trust are obvious: good relationships mean happy people, which means less turnover. Only when someone’s basic need for psychological safety is met can they be productive and creative.

How do you build those relationships?

  • Just ask. Let your employees tell you what they need, and they’ll be glad you asked. (Yes, this can really be as simple as asking, “What do you need in order to be successful?”)
  • Listen effectively. Ask smart questions, then pay attention to the answers. Listening is more than just hearing: it’s being present in what’s being said to you, holding back your own input, and understanding nonverbal cues.
  • Over-communicate. Prevent unwanted surprises through regular communication—share updates and big-picture vision early and often. This builds trust, establishes mutual understanding, and levels the playing field for members of your team who may work best with different channels of communication.

Giving feedback doesn’t have to be awkward.

When you cultivate a culture of feedback, performance improves. Motivation increases and spreads throughout the team. And, people learn and grow (yourself included).

To give effective feedback:

  • Act sooner than later. When something happens, give feedback in the moment. Sometimes you may need a little time to communicate most effectively—that’s okay, but set a limit: consider anything that happened more than 48 hours ago to be off-limits for feedback. This self-imposed limit will motivate and train you to act fast.
  • Pick the right place and time. Approach your conversations thoughtfully, and think about how the experience of receiving feedback might feel for the other person.
  • Be specific and use examples. The more detailed, the better. Point to a specific behavior by the other person, in a specific situation, and attach it to a real impact.

Don’t forget to focus on yourself.

It’s normal for managers to feel like all of their energy has to go to cultivating their direct reports. The truth is that when you forget to focus on yourself, a few things start to break down: your team may become less motivated, you’ll start to feel unfulfilled in your work, and, most damaging, you’ll stop growing and learning.

Follow these tips to maintain your own growth while managing others:

  • Practice what you preach. Model the behavior you ask of your direct reports. You may find that some of that behavior is easier said than done, and that you’ll be working on your own skills by stretching yourself to lead by example.
  • Carve out time. Set aside some time each week for reflecting and goal-setting. Early mornings are a great choice. Ask yourself what you did well over the past week, and what could have gone better. And it’s not enough to ask what you could have done differently—you should also identify what you will do differently moving forward.
  • Ask for feedback. Lean on your direct reports—they can help you develop, too! Approach feedback with a growth mindset—it can be uncomfortable to hear about your own performance as a manager. You may be surprised to find out that what you thought were glaring weaknesses aren’t that big a deal, and what you thought were your greatest strengths could still improve.

Being the kind of manager whose strong leadership affects company culture for the better is something most people-managers aspire to, and it’s entirely achievable.

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