“Am I even good at managing people?!?”
A friend who owns an innovative company spoke to me yesterday about some recent managing challenges. Her business is thriving, growing, successful, yet she had questions about whether or not she is being the best manager she could be to one of her direct reports.
“How do I know if some of these issues are her–or me?” she asked, which soon (surprise, surprise) morphed into my asking if she wanted advice on best management practices based on classic leadership challenges I see with clients.
“Sure,” she said, which led to an interesting discussion that was hopefully helpful to her. Just for fun, I thought I’d share my ideas here, in case anyone else is wondering the same.
Excellent leaders must be humble, compassionate, courageous, trustworthy, visionary, and so many other things. Yet if I had to name critical rules to live and lead by that new managers often struggle with (as I did on the phone today off the top of my head), here’s my Top Five list:
1. Set clear expectations.
Oftentimes it’s obvious to us what needs to be done and we think that those who report to us know exactly what we want. Not so. Before you communicate what you need to your hire, it’s important to think about what you want from them. How much independence do you wish to give them? What tasks do you want to let them run with? Where do you see them in 2 months once they’re up to speed? How about 6 and 12 months? Do you want them to be “mini you” for when you’re not available, or someone to whom you delegate tasks that you either don’t have time for or want to do? Once you have a clear picture of what their job entails, write it out and review it with them. Get their input too!
2. Be communicative about communication.
People don’t always know how often they should check in with you. Should they wait until a project is completed before showing it to you? Should they provide frequent updates? Perhaps an outline before they get started? I have worked with very senior professionals who have been frustrated because their boss was not happy with their final work product, yet once they started checking in along the way, the process went more smoothly. Oftentimes people feel that they should do it all themselves and not ask for input/help along the way because they should “know what they’re doing already” and asking will “make them look stupid.” Why not make the preferred communication flow crystal clear for all involved? It can always be modified later.
3. Give frequent feedback.
So many of us are conflict avoidant and keep critical feedback to ourselves until we are so angry that we…explode. Or at least get really, really pissed off. And that usually does not make for very productive feedback sessions. What if we could find a way to give feedback as things happened, in real time? I know this can be uncomfortable for many, so here are some tips to make it go more smoothly. Psychology expert studies have shown that healthy professional and personal relationships have a positive to negative interaction ratio of 5:1. So as long as you are good about giving lot of positive feedback, the occasional correction, especially if given with compassion and kindness, will not kill your vibe. Having a discussion upfront about your belief that frequent feedback is a healthy way to run the office and allow growth will also set the stage for frequent feedback. Lastly, know that giving someone critical feedback does not have to be “mean” or “harsh.” Reframe it as giving them the gift of self-awareness and truly taking an interest in their development.
4. Make yourself vulnerable.
Just as you give feedback, admit to your own shortcomings, acknowledge mistakes, and communicate to your team what you are working on. If you tend to be conflict avoidant by nature and are working on giving more frequent feedback, tell your team. You can even ask for their support and feedback on how you can become a better manager. Once they know that you value their input and are receptive to your impact on them, they will be even more willing to do a good job. When leaders make themselves vulnerable and their reports see that they are “just regular people trying to learn and get things done,” they become more relatable and trustworthy, which typically increases connection, loyalty, and productivity for all.
5. Foster belonging.
Many studies have shown that all employees, no matter how few hours they work or how big or small their contribution, want to feel valued. The more managers talk about the big picture, what they are trying to accomplish, and how that particular employee’s piece fits in, the better that employee will feel about his or her job. For example, if the person is doing even a tiny part of the brand logo, talk to them about how critical this communication to the world is, what it stands for, how you came up with it, and how it will impact your business. We all want to know that we are making a difference, and the more connected to the company vision we are, the more we care.
Lastly, if you’re sitting there wondering why your own boss does not adhere to these best practices, then be a leader from behind and find a creative way to help management improve in these areas–you can always pretend they are things that you are working on :)