By NINA TI
First of all, I have a great manager. We have had some incredibly tense moments but shared some good laughs too. Through it all, we differ considerably in our interpersonal styles but I’ve grown to respect her ways of getting people to “get things done.”
She has been the focus of my curiosity for some time now. Simply because, I’ve been trying to figure out my own style of leading, and what it takes for one to have managerial pedigree.
I have had a number of managers in my career and not all of them struck me as being competent, well-meaning or effective. But they were ahead of me and it usually boiled down to a matter of take it or leave it. I’ve experienced some bad management too, and. . . it wasn’t pretty!
Someday it will be my turn to manage others, and I would really like to know what goes into the effective manager’s playbook.
The manager’s playbook: Engaging the employee
In her current role, my deceptively mild-mannered manager presides over a team of people each with their own technical expertise and wisdom. The team embraces diversity by thinking differently and engaging in debate.
This has sometimes resulted in a quagmire of conflicting ideas and opinions. Everyone wants to develop a voice within the context of the group. Unfortunately, we sometimes immobilise ourselves by closing the borders at the first sign of conflict.
Naturally, talented managers know how to engage their employees, according to research by Gallup. Creating an engaged team is one of the most popular topics in management literature, yet many managers fail to develop this talent.
Watching my own manager sail through team adversity and create a coherence in the way we deliver our actionables, I have noticed that being effective in leading others is simple – if you know which engagement habits to practise.
Here are a number of good ones to consider:
Engagement habit no. 1: Defining outcomes
My manager has an uncanny way of getting people to be realistic about what they want and what they need to achieve through their job. By setting clear expectations for our work, she gives us a clearer picture of the team’s individual contributions, and how our little pieces fit into the bigger puzzle. Regular team briefings (held every two to three days) help resolve small issues before they get too big, keeping everyone aligned to the same values and priorities of the team.
Engagement habit no. 2: Providing access to resources
The support of the manager is imperative when making sure that there are adequate resources so employees are not “handicapped” when he/she wants to act. If there are mountains that the manager cannot climb in order to provide resources, sometimes due to budget constraints or purchasing cutbacks, there are still a number of ways to maintain morale within the team.
My manager avoids cutting into the spirit of engagement by showing a willingness to listen and consider, offers alternative (and cost-efficient) options, makes minor adjustments that would make up for the opportunity deficit, and is sensitive to the needs and frustrations of the team.
Engagement habit No. 3: Identifying your team’s strengths
There is no such thing as an all-rounded person. But there is such a thing as an all-rounded team. Therefore, one of the most demanding responsibilities for a manager is to create the right fit between individual strengths and work opportunities.
My manager goes a step further by delegating work based on a transparent distribution system whereby every member of the team can clearly see the workload of their other team members.
Sometimes the task will play directly to their strengths, sometimes it will not. When it does not, the delegation is meant as a dynamic exercise to tease out hidden talents that she feels the member has, or as a safe space to allow the team member to test his or her limits.
Engagement habit no. 4: Demonstrating care
A study done by Gallup reported: “A disproportionate number of workers who view their employer as unfair and uncaring” will cheat when they think they can get away with it.
Effective managers know that forming personal connections is essential – an easy way to do this is to get in the habit of having sincere greetings and conversations that are non-work related. Although it may seem uncomfortable at times, when managers deliver the truth, it shows that they care about their team members.
Engagement habit no. 5: Recognising your team’s successes frequently
Many wonder how often people should be praised – good rule of thumb is about once a week. If this seems too often, consider why frequent praise is so important. Praise received is a positive motivator for repeat behaviour while silence from a manager is usually interpreted in a negative way.
Studies have shown that employees who do not feel adequately recognised are twice as likely to say they will leave their company in the next year. Recognition is a habit, and it’s good practice to praise and recognise good work at least once a week.
Silent treatment does not work – reinforcing the affirmations that the team is doing a good job is showing your engagement, don’t only talk to them when things go wrong.
Creating an engaged team used to be the job of human resources and the training department. However, an effective manager will bravely take ownership of this responsibility.
Having good engagement habits, and understanding how to practise them in a consistent and repeated pattern will form the foundation of an engaged team culture.
Since great managers are made and not born, there is a good chance that anyone can learn to be an effective manager.