Think about the most effective and well-respected manager at your workplace. If that manager is you, congratulations! You already may know the tenets of effective people management, but good managers know that there is always room for improvement.
As a corporate consultant, I have found that employees are often promoted to management positions because they have excelled at particular skills, such as writing, making widgets or developing computer software. Chances are, however, they have little understanding of how to successfully manage people.
To complicate matters, organizational life has changed drastically during the past decade. A more collaborative environment has replaced hierarchical organizational charts. People at all levels now share in the planning, implementation and control of products or services.
So how do new managers learn to manage? In my experience, they usually find out the hard way — through their mistakes. In an effort to help you avoid repeatedly skinning your knees, use this tried-and-true approach to managing staff effectively:
Delegate and empower — A good manager learns that the “I’ll-do-it-myself” approach isn’t helpful to his or her employees. Getting involved in the details will keep you from seeing the big picture, and will rob your staff of the chance to learn and grow.
Provide clear feedback and structure — Good managing is similar to good parenting. Your direct reports and your children need many of the same things from you:
a pat on the back when they get it right
constructive criticism when they get it wrong
consequences when they break the rules
consistent and fair treatment
Be decisive — Even if many decisions are made collaboratively at your workplace, others will still be your responsibility. Decisions can never be perfect, and managers cannot foresee the future. Nevertheless, supervisors must decide with the best information they have at hand. Whatever else you do, don’t think the issue to death. Consider the facts, and make a decision. Your subordinates rely on you to do so, and will lose respect for you if you don’t.
Be firm and direct, (not passive or aggressive) — If your natural tendency is to be aggressive, rethink your approach. Aggressiveness won’t work in the new workplace, where teamwork and consensus are keys to success. Always display tact and consideration when speaking your mind. However, passivity at work is never effective. You can be firm without being dictatorial, and direct without being blunt.
Make your people look good — I’ve worked with many bosses who are unwilling to give an employee credit for a job well done. You may fear that by doing so you will diminish your own importance and value, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Your employees will appreciate you for recognizing their strengths and accomplishments. Also, peers and supervisors will see this as a sign of your confidence and leadership skills.
Communicate your goals and objectives clearly and concisely — Your employees need clear direction in order to perform their jobs effectively. If your verbal or written skills aren’t up to snuff, take a refresher course. Your company may willingly pay for it, and it will save you years of frustration.
Put your relationship skills to work — If you have a natural ability to build genuine relationships, be careful. These same “people” skills can get you into trouble. Avoid becoming so deeply involved in others’ problems that you lose track of the task at hand.
There are two additional elements that are key to effective people management: a sense of humor and the ability to not take yourself too seriously! These skills will put even the worst situations into perspective, and will reassure your subordinates that you are approachable and human.