I have had the privilege of managing a number of different teams over the course of my career, and I can honestly say that managing people has been the most gratifying, challenging, and thought-provoking aspect of any job I’ve performed. People are inherently complex, unpredictable, and heterogeneous, so figuring them out and pinpointing what makes each person tick and how to get the best out of each interaction and relationship is perhaps the single biggest challenge a leader can undertake. High-performing managers are essential to achieve high-performing teams.
I’ve been asked many times over the years, as a manager and mentor, what people should look for in a manager. The following thoughts are what I believe managers should aim for and employees should seek when they entertain a particular job offer.
- Be passionate about managing people. I’ve often said that people shouldn’t become managers to check a box on a career checklist. They should manage because they enjoy the actual tasks of managing. Seeing their team succeed should feel like their greatest accomplishment. Unlike most other parts of a job, it’s not possible to delegate manager tasks, like having development conversations, providing feedback, and motivating an individual or team. If managers don’t take these responsibilities seriously, or they perform them in a sub-par way, their employees suffer, and by extension their whole team suffers. Star individual performers don’t always (or even often) make star managers.
- Paint a compelling team vision and motivate employees to achieve it. Part of the role of a manager is to help each employee understand what the goals of the team are and how he or she can specifically contribute to reaching those goals. When employees understand the context within which they do their job and their specific purpose for performing that job, their engagement levels soar and their output improves. Managers need to help with this area specifically and consistently, not just when the employee first onboards. In addition, the manager should look for the specific way or ways each employee is most motivated to perform the job – whether it’s granting more responsibility, higher differentiated compensation for excellent performance, visible recognition, development activities, etc. When employees know what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and that they are valued for their contribution, performance is optimized.
- Be compassionate and flexible. This seems like a no-brainer, but far too often managers can forget that employees are people with personal lives. Positive and negative events happen in these lives, and managers should give their full support to each team member, no matter what they are experiencing at home, both privately and publicly. Sometimes employees require flexible working arrangements or have temporary travel restrictions. Most of these situations can be addressed and weathered by the manager, and if handled correctly, can result in greater employee loyalty and satisfaction.
- Hire the best, even if the best individuals on the team are superior to them in their specific area. Ego should not be an issue when building a team – a manager should WANT employees to be as good or better than them at particular parts of the job. It’s the manager’s role to build, orchestrate, motivate, and guide the team, not to DO each part of the job. It is often tricky for new managers to relinquish this control and learn to delegate and seek out top performers. And some managers may never feel comfortable hiring the “A-team” if they don’t have confidence in themselves as managers. A manager is truly only as good as her team.
- Want the best for your people. Sometimes this means developing employees in a way that stretches them, or having challenging performance conversations to provide constructive criticism. Sometimes this means coaching them through a difficult interaction and knowing where to step in vs. where to let them struggle. Sometimes this means allowing greater autonomy and freedom commensurate with an employee’s growth and ability. And sometimes it means letting them go, temporarily or permanently, if that step is the right one for the employee.
If a manager or potential manager demonstrates these traits and behaviors, that’s a strong sign that she or he will prove to be an effective, successful leader of the team over the long-run.
Learn how technology can support high-quality management in How Emotionally Aware Computing Can Bring Happiness to Your Organization.