How to develop your leadership skills and become a great team manager
We remember good managers the way we remember good teachers from school. We remember certain things they taught us, how they handled situations, and how they inspired us to work hard. We remember bad managers the way we remember bad teachers from school; people who terrified or bored us, hindered our development and made us resent Monday mornings.
But what makes a good manager, and how do you become one?
Our top tips will help you to find the balance between being assertive and getting the job done, and building genuine relationships and a positive team culture.
We’re all motivated by different things - some people look for recognition, others look for reward, and some just want to continually better themselves.
But regardless of what motivates them, very few people like being told what to do without an explanation as to why they’re doing it. Outlining the vision of the team – or wider organisation - as well as individual measurable objectives not only makes everyone feel like they’re part of something bigger, but gives them something tangible to work towards. You’ll find people are more willing to roll their sleeves up when they really feel like they’re part of a team and contributing to a shared goal that they can be proud of.
Make sure everyone on your team knows what part they’re playing to reach the overall goal, and that they have the skills and tools to get there. Explain how much is expected from them with clearly defined deadlines, and explain why it’s needed and what difference it will make.
Pushing people out of their comfort zone can be a great way to help them develop, but pushing too hard and too soon can be detrimental to their productivity and their confidence. Take small steps when delegating work that might feel alien to them, reassure them that they’ve been allocated that job because you know they’re capable of completing it, and offer continual support to keep them on the right track.
If something doesn’t go to plan, make it clear that you share the responsibility and work together to fix it. Recognise where you may be able to give additional coaching and support so you can both learn from what went wrong.
Remember to use positive language when allocating tasks. Point out why they should do it and what it will achieve, not why they shouldn’t and what consequences will follow if they don’t.
Lead by example
The ‘because I said so’ approach isn’t an effective approach to engage your team. Consider what you want and expect from your team and behave accordingly. If you’re constantly turning up late or missing deadlines, there’s no reason your team won’t do the same. If you work hard and treat every individual on the team with respect, chances are they’ll follow suit.
Show what you expect through your own actions and be willing to do the less enjoyable jobs from time to time.
Being a strong and effective communicator is arguably the most important characteristic of a good manager. But it’s important to remember that communication is a two way street; it’s one thing being clear with your directions, but it’s equally important to listen. Find out how your team members feel about what task they’ve been allocated. Are they clear and capable, and do they have enough time to do a great job?
These conversations will differ hugely from person to person, so be ready to ask questions and use your investigative skills to really find out how people relate to their work, giving them encouragement and support along the way.
Feedback, recognise and reward
At the end of a project or a period of time, have an open and honest conversation about what went well, what could’ve gone better, and what you could both do next time to improve the outcome.
Analysing and reflecting together is a really effective way of addressing why something might have not have worked, and can shine a light on any gaps in skills, motivation or clarity that might be causing the problem.
Whether it’s been a team effort or an individual task, keep an eye out for people going above and beyond to get the job done, make it clear that it’s been noticed and appreciated. But be careful not to pile the praise on just one person - however small a part someone may have played, acknowledge everyone’s effort. Feedback is a useful tool for both sides of the table. Receiving feedback is essential if you want to continually improve as a leader, so don’t be afraid to ask for it.
When you think that you don’t have someone’s trust despite the effort you’ve put it, it can be frustrating, and you may feel like acting out and proving their lack of trust is deserved. Micromanaging can often inhibit performance as team members feel they haven’t been trusted with their own workload.
The better your relationship with your team, the more willing each team member will be to work hard. But working in a trusted environment is also really important for the team’s wellbeing. It needs to be clear that your door is open and that you’re available to talk if your team is facing difficulty, but also that you trust them to get the job done.
As much as someone may love their job, personal commitments or issues can often seem the most prominent factor in a person’s life, so having a general sense of what’s going on can allow you to be flexible and work around any problems, while also offering personal support when needed. It can be difficult to strike the right balance between offering support and giving someone the space they need, but demonstrating empathy and respect for their privacy can make a workplace feel safe.
The more you know about your employee, the better you can balance their strengths with what they enjoy most, which you’ll find are often the same thing.
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