What are the traits of a good manager?
Effective managers are able to adapt and change their management style. Whilst we may have a default setting, being able to choose different management styles is a crucial skill for effective management. Good managers adapt their style to fit the employee and the task or circumstances at hand.
This article on how to manage well explores the differences between those managers which do this effectively, and those which don’t. Taking an employees perspective, you’ll be asked to think about, ‘what makes a good manager?’
By the end of this article, you will understand how your ability, or inability, to move away from your default management style will determine your success as a line manager.
What does a ‘good manager’ look like? What personal experiences can you draw upon?
All managers are different. Much like teachers, we may remember those managers that we felt were able to develop us effectively. As everyone is different, an effective manager must be able to adapt their style.
Think of a manager of a sports team. A good manager will understand what motivates each member of the team, what their development needs are, what the short-term and long-term priorities are, and how to get the best from them.
Similarly, as a manager you’ll need to gain an understanding of what makes each employee tick. Where are they now? What do they need? How do they respond to feedback? How can they develop?
So, learn to understand each member of your team and adjust your style to what is required. One approach will not work for all.
How does this contrast to a ‘bad or poor manager’? In your work life, what traits have you experienced which were ineffective?
Unfortunately, we often remember the bad managers on our career journey. Maybe we were bullied. Maybe we were over-burdened with non-achievable demands. Maybe we were simply ignored and hidden.
Each part of our career journey requires a different management style. When we were fresh out of education, entering the world of work, we possibly appreciated direction, structure and hearing what we can and shouldn’t do.
As we develop our skills and ability, however, many employees are looking for space. Space away from a direct management style to an approach which allows them to take responsibility, take decisions and to problem-solve independently or collaboratively within the team.
How would you summarise the difference between the two types of manager?
A good manager is able to, and chooses to, alter their style depending on the employee and the context. This encourages improved performance, motivation development.
A poor manager relies on their default style only. This can lead to poor performance, demotivated staff and stunts their development.
What factors determine how effective an employee will be at completing a task?
We can look to the Skill / Will matrix (Max Landsberg) for the answer.
Any employee will have a level of skill for the task at hand. It may be highly-developed or fairly fresh. As a manager you’ll need to assess the current skill, capability, experience and knowledge of your employee.
Additionally, we will all have a level of motivation for what we are being asked to do. When we are highly-motivated, tasks seem easier and more enjoyable. Without this will or desire, work can lack fulfilment and satisfaction. Managing your employee’s motivation for a task or job will be equally important to the utilisation of their skills.
The Skill/Will Matrix guides us towards four different approaches a manager can use. Effective managers use all four depending on their reading of an employee’s skill and will. It’s quite a skill to have and not all managers can do it. However, you will be judged by the success of your team and their success will be highly-dependent upon your ability to manage effectively.
Along with all this flexibility, there are some management tasks which all employees should complete. These are:
- regular and timely feedback
- establishing goals and objectives
- conduct performance reviews
- praise wins
- develop employee skills
Exploring Management Styles
Let’s explore those four management styles and the Skill/Will Matrix in more detail.
Four Management Styles
How does it help us manage better?
Let’s take each of the four management approaches in turn, starting with our dream employees – highly-skilled and highly-motivated.
These employees are looking for responsibility and the opportunities to grow. Hence the need to delegate and empower. As their manager, they will be looking to you to encourage their growth and development.
Which dream employees do you have in your team? Are they getting the development they desire?
Here’s what you need to do:
- Coach them. Encourage them to seek their own solutions and to problem-solve
- Give them responsibility. What can you delegate to them? They’ll thrive on it
- Be supportive, give praise and encouragement
- Let them make decisions. Make decisions together or give them full responsibility for suitable areas of decision-making
- Demonstrate how their role is important in delivering the company vision
This last point is particular relevant for our dream employees. They want to make a difference, they are conscientious and highly-motivated.
Of course, for every dream employee we seem to have one which drains the energy from the team. It’s important that we take decisions on these demotivated, poor-performing employees.
There are few things more contagious than the belief that performance doesn’t matter. That below-par employees can ‘get away with it’. Failing to deal effectively with these employees creates a perception that performance doesn’t matter. It will permeate your better performing team members unless you take action.
So what should you do with poor performing employees?
- Take time to understand the employee perspective. Are their resolvable solutions which can improve their skills or their motivation? What’s the root cause of their poor performance? How your employee responds to such intervention will guide you to a solution. Are they responding positively and can see a solution or are they permanently not engaged? Would a different role be a better fit or are they lacking the work skills you need in your team?
- Have a plan of action. Following your intervention you should be clear on whether the situation can be improved or whether your employee needs an exit strategy. Either way, make a decision and see it through.
- Involve HR. Whether you see potential improvement or you need to manage the employee out of your team, be wise and partner with your HR function. Even a resurgent employee can fall back into the doldrums and so be guided by HR on your next steps. They will make sure you are prepared and following established policies and procedures which protect your team and the organisation. From a legal perspective, always seek professional advice and never assume.
- Day-to-day management. These employees are yet to demonstrate effective decision-making and problem-solving. Their isn’t scope to allow that freedom at this time. So conduct daily briefings specifying exactly what is required from them, when and to what standard.
Nestled between your Dream Team and your Poor Performers are Enthusiastic Employees. Nothing beats an enthusiastic employee, right? But what if that enthusiastic employee is short on skills?
You’ll want to harness all the motivation and energy these team members bring. Just add guidance and support to nudge that energy towards the most appropriate tasks. They’ll need to know that their efforts are appreciated.
These team members mean well and will achieve regardless. But a tweak to their skills development could see them joining the Dream Team if handled well.
So how should you manage Enthusiastic Amateurs?
- Assess their skills against their current role. Is there a match?
- Develop additional skills with coaching and mentoring
- Guide their motivation with clear instructions and daily expectations. They’re not dream team material quite yet and will need supervision and direction.
- Regular feedback and review. Let them know how they can be better.
- As a good manager, you’ll be keen to hear all the great ideas these enthusiasts have developed. Don’t be the manager who sees such input as the work of troublemakers or boat rockers. They’re highly engaged employees looking to do their best for the organisation, just like you. Embrace them!
Not a great title, is it? These are those team members who have been around so long that they simply don’t have the fire anymore. Highly-skilled but with low enthusiasm, they can often be a drain on the rest of your team.
So what to do?
- Check the cause. Are their wider team issues which are demotivating these team members? Maybe they’ve seen poor performance go unchecked or were overlooked for promotion? Listen to their views and look for areas which can be improved.
- Invite their input. Ask your ‘downbeats’ how they see the role developing. What ideas do they have? How can they contribute to decision-making? How else can you recapture their engagement?
- Review progress. You’ll want to rectify their buy-in and move these employees into your Dream Team. They have the skills, after all. So be clear on what you’re expecting from them and how you’ll review it.