Have you ever heard the saying “Employees don’t leave their companies - they leave their managers?” You can probably even relate by thinking back to some of your previous managers who weren’t so adept at leading a team. Even before becoming a manager yourself, you knew that leaders hold the power to make or break an organization’s productivity based on how they relate to their team.
What is a great manager?
Effective managers have the ability to adapt to constant change, drive innovation, focus on employees’ growth and wellbeing. They do all this while maintaining control of their business and team. While effective managers may think this is sufficient to run a business, great managers get this done in a motivating fashion. This way, managers serve as exemplary role models for trust and communication that influence positive workplace relationships. If you’re a first-time manager, there’s no doubt that you want to be great. Managing these factors for a high performing, engaged team can seem like a daunting challenge but is extremely rewarding if done correctly.
What are the qualities of a great manager?
There are numerous qualities that differentiate a great manager from an average one. The following are the most important factors that contribute to high employee engagement and successful teams.
1. Focus on employee strengths.
It's a common tendency for managers to focus on what employees are doing sub-optimally, rather than seeking to correct that behavior. While it’s important to coach employees on mistakes, a better approach to productivity is to tailor work projects around their individual strengths and skills. Interesting research by Gallup found that building on employee’s strengths and natural talents is far more worthwhile than improving weakness. It not only makes them more engaged in their organization (beyond their own work) but increases employee retention.
When you take the time to identify how team members naturally think, feel, and behave you gain a better understanding of what is most important and motivational to them. The key is to implement ways to connect what needs to be done and what employees take pride in doing, nurturing their raw talents with practice. Making them feel valued.
2. A management style that reminds employees that you too, are human.
The Gottman Institute ascertains that emotional intelligence in the workplace is by far one of the most integral factors of leadership. It’s one thing to know how to delegate tasks or create successful business strategies, but if you don’t execute them with positivity and regard for others’ emotions - you won’t go very far.
Employees respect individuals who guide with purpose and with an awareness of self and others emotions. They want someone who shows concern for their team’s successes and personal wellbeing outside of work. This ability is a delicate balance to achieve but sets a leader far beyond others who strictly manage by the book.
3. Allow for autonomy (doesn’t micromanage)
Each person has a slightly different working style. This can depend on their skills, experiences, and even personal preferences. It may seem chaotic allowing employees to hold the reigns of project management, but time and time again it's proven to be more beneficial than micromanaging. When managers micromanage, they treat their entire workforce as a one-size-fits-all operation. For some of your top talent, it may not congruent with their methods of achieving the most productivity. Not only does it affect overall job satisfaction, but it’s also detrimental to innovative thinking that propels business forward.
Similarly to employing individual strengths, allowing employees to have the freedom to decide how their work is completed has profound benefits on their performance. Especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of teams are going remote - which often means unexpected and uncontrollable circumstances. Allowing teams the freedom to tailor their work to what best fits their needs and responsibilities improves all aspects of business.
4. Communicates candidly
It goes without saying that effective communication in leadership is a priority. Honest and concise collaboration ensures that everyone understands their role within the company - minimizing any potential misunderstandings. Although the concept of direct communication is widely known, it is rarely practiced to a high degree.
Effective communication should start with the culture created at work. Instituting an ‘open door policy’ (even if virtual) shows employees they can always come to you with issues. However, in order for people to utilize the open invitation, they need to trust that you’re honest (even blunt) when it’s needed.
Honesty and responsibility for one’s actions should be highly valued and rewarded. Particularly as a manager - honesty is essential for teams to trust your opinions. Make use of 1-on-1 meetings to discuss important topics in private. When held frequently, it allows you to monitor the progress of employees, identify any roadblocks and offer suggestions if needed.
5. Welcomes differing opinions (and learns from them)
Without diversity of thought, innovation becomes thwarted and progress becomes stagnant. When a leader actively seeks out different perspectives and ideas, they broaden the scope of creativity that they bring to the table. It’s easy to find opportunities for different views when there is a culture in which differing views are embraced.
Harvard Business Review conducted research on traits of innovative leaders and found that successful managers put their faith in a culture that magnifies upward communication. They believe that the best and most creative ideas bubbled up from underneath. Creating this type of climate compliments workplace diversity and inclusion well. It is not enough to hire diverse employees, but promoting the integration of their own perspective and experiences can help broaden everyone's horizons.
6. Communicates employee appreciation
Leaders need to show their appreciation. Recognizing and acknowledging your employees’ effort that is supportive of company goals is extremely important. While It has a lot to do with the reinforcement of desirable behaviors that produce results, appreciation is an important factor to feeling valued as a person and part of the team.
It’s often thought that appreciation should be given after a job well done. A better approach should be implemented into your organizational culture so that all projects leading up to the ‘big win’ are recognized. In addition to obvious successes, people’s soft-skills should also be given credit as well. This could be their welcoming demeanor or even their sense of humor. However they add to the team - tangible or otherwise - it’s important to tell them.
7. Prioritize feedback
Managers both new and old are familiar with the need for feedback. However, the delivery of this feedback is a different question. Feedback needs to be effective and make a team more productive, rather than being given in response to a negative event. While this method is effective, Zenger & Folkman found that leaders who have a strong preference for positive feedback are rated significantly higher on their ability to “provide honest feedback in a helpful way”. This is not to say that providing negative feedback will make you a poor leader, but there needs to be a balance.
There are many ways that managers can collect and give feedback to their team. Receiving feedback through anonymous pulse surveys is an excellent way to monitor the health of your organization. When you collect all employee’s perspectives at once, it provides an opportunity to distinguish correlations between trends and action. 1-on-1’s provide a more personal setting where you can engage in depth with employees. Here, you can utilize the reports from surveys to inform your meeting structure and talking points.
It’s important to remember that feedback is a 2-way street. Managers need to be effective at receiving feedback as well. How a leader takes into account the opinions and views of their employees is extremely indicative of how engaging that leader is. It’s essential to create a climate in which team members are encouraged to divulge any feedback, regardless if it's negative or positive.
8. Is a role model
There’s a lot that goes into being a role model for an organization, and as a manager - all eyes are on you. From employees, upper management, even clients - they’re all learning from how you handle yourself and your team. It’s a unique (and stressful) position to be in, but gives way to many opportunities to shape the structure and mindset of your employees.
Great managers behave how their peers are expected to act. Following the rules set by the organization while promoting integrity and a positive atmosphere. Particularly, when a leader of an organization shows they are able to take responsibility, it can inspire others to act with honesty as well. The best response from a team comes from when a manager leads as one of the team, not as a dictator.
9. Creates a positive and inclusive work environment
Positivity and good intentions can only go so far without a structured plan to promote diversity and respect. This type of atmosphere can be created through policies that promote acceptance while welcoming diverse opinions from many different walks of life.
Inclusivity can be encouraged by diversity training, workshops and team-building exercises. When you invest in your team’s inclusive culture, not only does it help to attract and retain the best talent, but also improves employee health, well-being, and productivity.
10. Committed to learning and development
There is a misconception among managers that talking about career growth can wrongly encourage an employee to leave their organization. Google’s leadership research suggests otherwise. Their findings suggest that when a manager takes an interest in each individual's career and personal development, it actually builds your team’s depth and durability.
As a leader, one of your main duties is to make sure your team is successful within their projects, and careers in general. This It projects a simple but valued message that you care about the person beyond their productivity at work.
With that being said, a manager is not exempt from professional development. Learning is a lifelong endeavor that is necessary for our own creativity and purpose. Great managers seek opportunities to constantly grow as a person and as a leader. They take constructive feedback to heart, and work on areas of improvement. Consistently working towards growth in their role.
“Do as I say, not as I do” is becoming obsolete from workplaces as managers are realizing that employees are looking for more than a boss. People want to work for a coach. A role model. Someone who is dignified in their craft and interacts with candor. As a first time manager (or even a long-time one) you have a fantastic opportunity to create healthy and productive team environments that produce happy teams.
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