5 ways to be a great manager

Whether you’re starting your first managerial role, or have years of management experience under your belt, leading a team is no easy task. Modern managers need to be mediators, motivators, mentors, and – at times – shoulders to cry on.

But for companies, especially those moving to new ways of working in the wake of Covid-19, great managers have never been more crucial to business success.

So taking steps to become a better manager will not only help you to achieve better results, it should also make you more valuable to your current employer – as well as any companies you consider joining in the future.

Here are five ways to improve your leadership skills and take your management style from good to great.

1. Get to know your team

To be a great leader, you need to show that you care about the people in your team. The first step towards doing this is to get to know and understand them.

“For me, leading is about enabling,” says Robin Harris, Global Organizational and Talent Development Director at Envision Pharma Group. “To do that properly, you need to do as much as you can to familiarise yourself with those you are leading, on any level you can.”

Ways to do this include setting up one-on-one sessions where possible, as well as organising team meetings and events – online if you can’t do them in person.

2. Take advantage of any training available

Most employers recognise the value of prioritising good leadership and provide training to help their managers get the best out of their teams.

“New managers often struggle with how to position themselves within their team now they are a manager and not a peer, so we offer a lot of support in that area,” says Tim Houseman, HR manager at a multinational financial organisation. 

“For more experienced managers, we also offer training in how to motivate and inspire others, as well as understanding different personality types and styles of working.”

Ways to convince your employer of the merits of providing management training include setting out the positive impacts it can have, such as improved performance, better staff retention rates, and more innovation.

3. Perfect your communication skills

Good management is all about communication – and that means listening as well as talking. Whether you’re having to resolve a dispute or help a colleague through a difficult time, a big part of a manager’s role is to support team members with honesty and emotional intelligence.

“Active listening is so important,” says Camille Perrin-Blanc, who runs a personal development business called Camille Coaching. “It’s also vital to ensure each member of the team understands his or her responsibilities and objectives.”

You also need to be prepared to stand up for your team with your superiors when necessary, for example when they require new equipment or more training.

“Ensuring your colleagues have the tools they need to do their jobs well will reflect well on you with your team and should allow you to produce better results too,” Perrin-Blanc adds.

4. Be firm but fair

Management roles involve making lots of decisions, as well as taking the flack from above when things go wrong, so managers need to ensure their instructions are followed.

Authority is not just about handing out orders and reprimanding colleagues who fail to meet expectations, though. It should come naturally when you earn your team’s respect, which is why it’s crucial to treat all members of the team fairly and with empathy.

According to researcher Gartner, managers who display high levels of empathy have three times more impact on their employees’ performance than those who display low levels of empathy.

That said, knowing where to draw the line is also a valuable skill. “Learning where boundaries need to be drawn with employees is a very important skill as a manager,” says Charlotte Kitchman, founder of virtual assistant service The Admin Crowd.

“Wanting to support someone’s wellbeing is imperative, but you also have to know when to say no.”

5. Lead by example

You can’t expect your team to put in 100% unless you do. So being a great manager means putting the hours in and approaching the job in hand with enthusiasm (even when you might not feel it).

Conversely, however, great leaders also recognise that strength sometimes comes from showing weakness, for example by opening up about former struggles with mental or physical health.

To get the most out of your colleagues, you need to be open to new ideas and ways of doing things too. “As a captain, your job is to set the direction not to micromanage,” Perrin-Blanc says.

“Delegation is an important part of leadership, and you need to trust your team to work out how to achieve the goals you set for them.”

In summary

Being a great leader is about getting the balance right. Key points to remember include:

  • Gaining the trust of your team is key to success, so get to know your colleagues and support them where you can
  • However experienced you are, management training can always be a valuable learning experience
  • The best managers are also team players, so listen to your colleagues’ ideas and be prepared to muck in when necessary

Further reading

Jessica Bown is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor.

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