In my career I’ve worked as a team leader and a manager, and I’ve obviously had a variety of managers over the years myself. However, as a consultant dealing with literally hundreds of companies over the years, I’ve also observed managers in practically every industry you can think of. Organisational charts typically portray management incorrectly – they show managers at the top of the diagram, with staff underneath. In reality though, the job of the manager is to support staff.
What then, makes a good manager? There’s a wealth of information out there, of course. I’ve not written a book about management, and I’ve not studied management in any formal course. So this is all anecdotal and experience based. Then again, we learn best by experience…
So here’s seven lessons I’ve learnt both from being a manager myself and by watching great managers in action.
A great manager thanks staff. Regardless of whether it’s for finishing a project, working beyond their expectations, making a large improvement, achieving a career goal or even leaving. People work for money, but they stay for the experience, and part of that experience is undoubtedly feeling valued. Even people who are leaving usually deserve thanks for their contribution.
A great manager communicates with staff. Not just when it’s formally required, but always. If the only time you communicate with your staff is to send a directive or to advise of a policy change, you’re doing it wrong. Your staff are people, too.
A great manager aims to defend staff – not from necessary decisions or situations, but from unrealistic and inappropriate ones. Staff should feel as comfortable and safe in their work environment as possible, and that means they need a champion in the work place. A great manager is that champion.
We’re told it’s a virtue, but for a manager it’s a necessity. Some of the worst decisions I ever made as a manager was when I forgot this lesson and jumped into action too early. What’s too early? In simple terms: diving in to a situation without knowing all sides of the story. Classic example – a staff member comes in with a complaint or a problem. Once that staff member has finished speaking, you know at most exactly half the story. Verify, verify, verify. Problems need to be solved in the appropriate time frame, but the only way problems are solved without knowing the full story is by dumb luck.
The best managers I’ve seen have consistently been excellent at delegating tasks. That’s not to say they don’t do anything other than delegation, but anyone who constantly takes on new work without regards to the time available to perform that work will eventually come a cropper. Delegation comes down to two other traits…
A great manager trusts staff. A task, once set, shouldn’t need to be micromanaged or constantly checked on. Obviously if there is a staff issue, that changes a little – but that should be the exception, not the rule. If you can’t trust, you can’t delegate, and if you can’t delegate, you can’t be a great manager.
As a great manager, you have to know the strengths of your team. Who is the expert at X? Who needs coaching with Y? Who wants to sink their teeth into Z? You need that information, not only for regular planning, but for delegation.
…but what about: Meta?
I’ve listed seven key items above, but there’s something big missing. Well, the ‘big’ missing thing is all about being a good manager as opposed to a great manager. All the meta functions.
Meta management functions are effectively all the other pieces the company needs from you, which typically falls into categories such as scheduling, reporting, planning and financials. That seems like a lot to lump into a single category, but the simple fact of the matter is that if you can’t do the other six activities, it doesn’t matter how good you are at the meta activities. More interestingly, the meta activities can be taught to practically anyone who has an aptitude for or interest in processes. The rest are more nebulous and so make all the difference between a good manager and a great manager.