If you’re in the early stages of your management career, there are some basic ideas that we want to pass on so perhaps you won’t have to learn the hard way how to provide leadership to the people who work for you. As a manager, whether you know it or not, you’re under constant scrutiny. Subordinates watch your every behavior and make decisions on department, team, or company values based on that behavior. Intense (but balanced) focus on the work and goals, seizing opportunities to learn more, and promoting subordinates’ interaction with more senior executives or other leaders all are considered good by your subordinates. Not so good is sloppy behavior, even off the job, shifting blame, or criticizing others personally.
Subordinates also watch whom the manager hires, what skills are in demand, and what personalities are desired. They keep an eagle eye on how managers handle performance issues. Coddling those who don’t measure up can destroy the morale of colleagues; likewise, dismissing or demoting a committed employee for reasons unrelated to performance can wreck a high-performing team and damage, if not destroy, the manager’s credibility. Think about typical “boss behavior” as depicted in the cartoon strip Dilbert, which is certainly at odds with genuine people skills. “Bad” behavior takes the form of micromanaging, doing work that subordinates should do, and generally demoralizing those who should be learning by doing. Some managers bring in consultants to do work that would be an opportunity for employees to learn. Whether that’s because the employees are incapable of doing it, or the manager lacks trust in their abilities, a problem exists. “Good” behavior takes the form of providing a vision for the completion of a project, clearly delineating roles and responsibilities, and leading positive and productive team sessions around milestones and performance gaps.
The Golden Rule can’t be invoked too often in good management. If you don’t treat others as you would like to be treated, you’re likely to have some problems in the workplace. You want people to listen to you, but too often we forget that others want us to listen to them, too. You want to be able to approach people without fear of ridicule or humiliation. Your employees want to be able to approach you without fear, too. Sincerely respecting the dignity of employees means sharing performance concerns privately, showing them how to succeed, and reinforcing good results with rewards. But you also have to balance that with “tough love” when they make mistakes, confronting poor performance squarely and candidly, and making sure they aren’t frustrated by flawed processes or conflicting goals. Just as you reward high performers, you must be willing to engage in adult conversations with nonperformers. Human nature often leads us to avoid conflict, but doing so merely delays success for all involved.
Self-awareness is a critical skill for managing people. How rooted in reality is your own impression of your management abilities? Perhaps you see yourself as a manager with a blend of people skills: compassion, identification with subordinates’ professional (and personal) struggles and successes, a sincere concern for their welfare, consistently firm and decisive actions that do not coddle underperformers, and certainly a better-than-average understanding of the total business. All of us have some of those qualities. The key is to emphasize the right behaviors in the right situations. Those who can range among management styles can adapt well to the harsh and dynamic environment of business. Getting the right results the wrong way is not a recipe for longevity in your job. Screaming and threatening behavior may buy you results in the short term, but eventually, your employees will find ways to overcome such bullying, undermining you, or they will simply vote with their feet and head for greener pastures. An ideal manager is consistent, has a good command of functional skills (though others may have better), and demonstrates sincere interest in employees and their success. Just as important, the ideal manager gets the right results the right way — meeting goals regularly and innovating with positive change around process and output. Managing to the measurements — working to make sure the metrics reflect what management wants — is to flirt with disaster. The metrics are there to assess progress toward a given goal, and influencing them artificially without corresponding improvements to the underlying business takes away an important tool.
If we had to put our thoughts about managing people on a laminated card, here’s what it would say:
- Listen to your employees.
- Be approachable.
- Show sincere interest in your employees.
- Give and take feedback.
- Surround yourself with strong players.
Reprinted from Simple Solutions: Harness the Power of Passion and Simplicity to Get Results by Tom Schmitt and Arnold Perl. Copyright © 2007 by Thomas Schmitt and Arnold Perl.