Sometimes it seems like it’s the executives – the CEOs and founders, the presidents and VPs – who get all the credit for leading an organization to success. But in many cases, the real stars are the managers who make sure the work gets done.
In fact, an effective management team can mean the difference between a company’s failure and success. Just look at the stats. According to one recent study, employees who report to effective managers are over 15 times more likely to be high performers. They’re also more than three times more likely to stay at their job. As for bad managers, they regularly cost U.S. companies billions in lost revenue each year.
So what’s it take to become an effective manager – one that not only keeps the company afloat, but helps it grow? Let’s explore some of the ways you can ensure your management team helps lead you toward success.
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Key traits of an effective manager
Managers can make a positive impact in many different ways. They may have a hands-on style, frequently checking in with their reports and making sure they have all the resources they need. Or they may be more laid back, communicating their expectations, delegating tasks, but otherwise trusting their employees to get their work done.
Regardless of how they do it, effective managers will still often demonstrate many of the following traits.
- Strong communication skills: Ambiguity is the enemy of effective management. In order to succeed, managers instead must be able to tell their reports exactly what they need, what is expected, and explain any larger context.
- Leadership ability: This trait includes many different qualities, such as the ability to inspire and motivate employees, a high level of empathy, a talent for strategic thinking, and a talent for keeping the team focused.
- Problem-solving skills: Whether tangible or abstract, managers must be able to confront and solve problems. This means knowing how to identify the root cause, pay attention to details, and come up with both sustainable solutions and preventative measures.
- Adaptability: Project needs can change on the fly, which will require managers to make quick decisions to keep the work moving forward. That will involve a high amount of situational awareness, as well as an ability to clearly communicate.
- Empathy and emotional intelligence: Leading a team also means managing the needs and emotions of the individuals that make it up. Manages who know how to do this will build trust, strengthen cohesion, and create a healthier work environment.
- Decision-making skills: Knowing how to consistently sort through information, weigh different opinions, consider multiple different outcomes, and make good decisions is another pillar of good management. It not only prevents bottlenecks, but will also help bolster team confidence along the way.
- Delegation mastery: Assigning responsibilities and distributing work fairly and equitably, all while ensuring the work gets done, is an important skill for managers to have. The most effective will know how to break large objectives into separate tasks, as well as how to capitalize on their team members’ strengths.
- Time management: Managers will usually have to contend with multiple different projects, priorities, and deadlines. Doing this successfully means knowing how to stay organized, manage resources, and keep a close eye on time.
- Continuous learner: Regardless of what industry a manager works in, continuous education will be key to remaining a relevant and effective leader, as well as ensuring sustained growth. It will also help managers more successfully evaluate the skills and knowledge of their employees.
- Conflict resolution: Although conflicts are bound to happen, the best managers will have processes in place in order to keep them from escalating into crises. This will require a high degree of empathy, excellent communication skills, and a talent for active listening.
Related: 10 key management skills in 2023
11 proven strategies for becoming an effective manager
Knowing the traits that make a good manager is one thing, but knowing how to actively develop and adopt those traits as your own is something else entirely. While the path to becoming a better manager will look different for everyone depending on your unique set of skills, characteristics, and personality, the following are nevertheless some proven strategies you can use to improve your managerial skills.
Some self-reflection is always a great place to start. List out your greatest strengths and weaknesses, thinking about how these directly affect your work. Then consider the goals or achievements you’d like to set for yourself. Would you like to become a more empathetic listener? Or are you interested in further developing your technical knowledge? Seek out resources or mentors who might be able to help you achieve these goals and, if possible, create a plan you can use to guide your growth.
2. Continuous learning
Adopting a mindset of continuous learning and improvement is a great way to ensure you will keep improving at your job. There are many ways to put this in practice. For example, you could make a habit out of reading industry news or publications in order to stay current. Or you could make a concerted effort to learn new skills relevant to your work. Try to seek out knowledge that you can use to make more informed decisions and that will help you support your team.
3. Seeking feedback
No matter how thoroughly you assess yourself, you’re bound to have a few blind spots. That’s why it can be so useful to seek out feedback on your work. Ask your team to evaluate your skills as a manager and leader, encouraging them to offer constructive feedback where they think it is needed. If you like, you can have them submit anonymously so that they feel more free to speak their mind. Make this a regular practice, perhaps as part of normal employee evaluations, so that you can stay on top of the ways you need to improve.
4. Setting clear goals
By making the effort to set clear, actionable goals for your team, you can immediately give them something to focus on, as well as a powerful source of motivation. Try not to shy away from this. Instead, take into account larger organizational objectives alongside your team’s abilities, then be decisive and set some goals. Work with your employees to do this wherever possible, and remember to make sure that these goals are realistic. Your vision will help set your team in motion, as well as give them a reason to celebrate once they reach these goals.
5. Effective communication
Knowing how to clearly and effectively communicate is a pivotal trait of effective management, but how can you develop it? Start out by talking with each of your employees. You should be able to clearly articulate what their job roles are, including their regular responsibilities and the challenges they face day to day. This will help you better communicate your expectations later on. Try to also practice your active listening skills as you talk with them. This will help build trust between you and your employees. Finally, make it a habit to consistently meet with employees, both as a team and individually, so that you can talk about project goals, check in on work, and proactively address complaints. In general, the more available you are to your team, the better you’ll communicate.
6. Empowering employees
There are few signs of great management more obvious than confident and empowered employees. Although there is no one way to produce this, it will often begin by knowing how to strike a balance between offering ample support and providing your team with autonomy. Make sure that you set them up for success by first asking them what they need and providing them with the necessary resources. Afterwards, schedule regular check-ins and reviews to make sure everything is on track. Outside of this, show them you trust them to get the job done by staying out of their way. Resist the urge to hover over their shoulder or ask too many questions, while also remaining responsive. The result should be employees who show more initiative and independence.
7. Building relationships
Building and maintaining trust is central to the role of a manager, which makes it a good place to put your focus. And one of the best strategies for doing this is by focusing on creating strong relationships. Start out by emphasizing your transparency and inclusivity. Involve your employees in decisions and when making strategy, and be sure to encourage them to share their opinions. Try to have casual conversations with them as well in order to get to know them outside of their working selves. This will show you value them not only as employees, but as people. It’s the type of attention that can make you and your team feel more connected and cohesive – and produce long-term benefits.
8. Conflict resolution
Conflicts will be an inevitable aspect of even the best manager’s job. This is why you should learn how to defuse disputes, as well as put in place measures to prevent them from happening. You can do this by first training yourself to find and focus in on the root cause. What is the context of their argument? Could there be any external reasons for the dispute? If you’re not sure, use your active listening skills to engage both employees and encourage a more transparent dialogue. Then, put in place a systematic method for resolving the conflict, preferably one you’ve previously outlined. Through this all, maintain a composed, unbiased stance in order to promote fairness and equity.
9. Leading by example
Employees will be able to smell hypocrisy a mile away. That’s why you can’t afford not to embody the principles and practices you preach to them. If you want them to show up on time, for instance, you better show up five minutes early. And if you want them to do their best work, you’ll need to give your all as well. By virtue of your position, your employees will look up to you, so why not take advantage of that influence to build their trust. By stepping up and showing them through your actions when you want them to do, you can help shape team culture and improve their performance.
10. Celebrating successes
Remembering to show appreciation and recognize your employees is a subtle but essential aspect of good management. Doing so is a great way to increase team morale. There are many methods for doing this. During weekly meetings, you could make a point to single out someone’s work and call out their accomplishments. This kind of public recognition can help motivate others along the way. You could also celebrate your entire team by taking them out to lunch or throwing a party, both of which can be good incentives to work together and collaborate later on. Even something as simple as handwriting a note of appreciation can go a long way toward making your employees feel valued.
11. Delegating effectively
Finally, don’t forget that one of a manager’s main jobs is to keep work flowing efficiently and effectively by knowing how to dole out tasks. Work at coming up with a clear process for this. When something needs to get done, you could start out by doing a quick assessment of everyone’s capabilities to determine who can help. Using this information, go ahead and assign tasks, then emphasize that the assignees have ownership and full autonomy. This will put them in charge of getting them done, as well as free up everyone else (including yourself) to focus on their work alone. The result will be better productivity all around.
In many respects, a manager’s growth is never over. As a vital link between a company’s ambitions and its day-to-day work, managers need to be able to continually grow, adapt, and improve their skills in order to guide their employees and help their company thrive.
While this involves staying aware of current technology and other trends, it also means being able to recognize the ways you’re falling short. It means knowing when old habits need to change and remaining open to new ideas. It means always listening to your employees so that you can persistently learn how you can meet their needs and help them succeed.