12 Ways to become a better leader or manager
Leading people is both the most complex and rewarding part of any manager’s job. Leadership is also the most misunderstood role in many organizations.
New managers, particularly if they feel insecure as the designated leader, often seek absolute compliance from their people to give them the self-confidence that they are in charge. Very soon they learn, that compliance is not the same as commitment and face frustration and failure. Without commitment, employees will not be innovative, take the initiative or go the extra mile.
The challenge for you as a new leader is to nurture a robust sense of commitment by forming strong relationships with your people. This doesn’t mean building individual friendships, it means building teams.
The 12 steps to becoming a better leader and manager are:
1. Become a leader not a boss
Those new to leadership often make the mistake of depending on authority and control to lead others. In other words, they think, “I’m the boss, I direct and you do!” This is a myth because most people don’t like being bossed around. As a new leader if you take this approach, it’s highly unlikely others will respond to you positively. When you boss people around, you stifle creativity and most likely cause resentment.
Being a boss relies almost entirely on a position of power and authority to control others to get things done. Being a “Boss” kills motivation, stifles innovation and causes negativity to infiltrate a team. If people feel like they are being bossed around, good people will leave. Those that choose to stay only do what they must and no more because they resent being “told” what to do. At best you will create a culture of ordinary performance.
When you boss people around rather than lead them, there is no buy-in. Without buy-in, your people will have no job satisfaction. With no job satisfaction, they lack commitment and won’t engage. As a manager, your job is to “lead” rather than tell people what to do and when to do it. This means empowering your team, being a coach and a mentor, not a boss.
Lead your people, manage their performance.
2. Establish credibility and respect
If you try to be “one of the guys” and use friendship to get things done, ultimately it causes resentment and increases the potential for favoritism. Trying to be a “friend” as a manager takes away any objectivity that is required when making decisions or dealing with issues. Your people will be confused wondering which hat you are wearing (boss or friend?). The danger is, you may find yourself in a position where you must choose; lose respect, lose your job or lose a friend.
It’s difficult as a new leader to establish respect and credibility, especially with your peers if you have been promoted internally. Regardless of how you became a manager, people look for leadership not friendship. They want someone who is motivating and inspiring. Someone who leads by example and expects top performance. This doesn’t mean you can’t keep people accountable. It also doesn’t mean you can’t build a positive working environment and enjoy a friendly relationship with your team at the same time.
As a leader and manager, you can be cordial and respectful with your subordinates and teammates, but you can’t be their best friend and make tough decisions at the same time.
3. Empower your people
New managers often feel the need to assert their new authority and establish themselves as the “boss.” This is because suddenly they find themselves responsible for other people’s performance and need to deliver results. Not yet being skilled in the art of management, they micromanage their teams to feel in control.
No one enjoys being micromanaged, and this is a fastest way to turn your people against you. Micromanagement delivers a message to your people that you don’t trust them or they are not good enough. This can be extremely demotivating, therefore, it’s important to master the art of delegation. Learn how to set deadlines and establish expectations then let your people get on with it.
People respond to delegation as it gives them a sense of empowerment knowing they have been given responsibility to think for themselves. This contributes to job satisfaction and in return you gain the respect of your people and productivity increases accordingly.
4. Set up your people to succeed
While you don’t want to micromanage others, leaving your people to their own devices is fraught with danger as some people will take this too far. There is a fine line between micromanaging and giving too little direction. Your people not only need to know what’s expected of them, they also need to know how success will be measured. You can’t manage what you can’t measure, therefore set your people up to succeed by communicating the standards expected of them.
The way to measure success and keep your people accountable, is to ensure they have been given a well thought through job description ensuring expectations have been clearly communicated.
In addition to a job description, an excellent method for setting performance standards is through KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators), PRD’s (Performance Results Descriptions) or KRA’s (Key Result Areas). KPI’s, PRD’s and KRA’s allow you as a manager to fairly measure performance. These measurement standards can be included in their job descriptions or written as a separate document.
5. Keep your people accountable
The opposite of asserting your new authority as a leader and coming down too hard on people is to allow them to do what they like. New leaders and managers who don’t like conflict might take this approach which is likely to back fire.
As a new leader or manager, gaining respect from your peers can be particularly challenging. It’s very important to keep your people accountable and give honest feedback, even former peers.
If performance issues are not addressed as they happen, your people will believe they can get away with anything. High performers who keep themselves accountable will resent you if you are not consistent in keeping all your people accountable.
KPI’s, PRD’s and KRA’s are the tools you need to open the dialogue and discuss where your people need to go and how to get there. They also help define the outcomes and keep your people accountable along the way. If these standards are clearly communicated, it gives your people a sense of fairness.
6. Be clear in your communications
New managers often assume people know what to do, even if they’ve been in their job for a while. Having worked alongside others doesn’t necessarily mean that you know them very well. Your job as a leader is to get to know them at a different level so that you can learn to manage them effectively. Learn what makes them excited, how to motivate them and what they fear or worry about.
But wait! Some people take the above advice a little too far. Not admitting that you don’t know something. Just because you are the manager doesn’t mean that you are suddenly expected to know everything. If you don’t know something, say so. If you don’t, admit it and make it your job to find out. Take advice. You will grow in credibility if you are the type of leader who admits what they don’t know and is willing to listen and learn from anyone.
7. Learn to allocate and delegate
Some new leaders find it hard to move away from being purely operational side of a business and continue to do everything themselves. They underestimate the amount of time it takes to manage people.
Several years ago, I had an employee take on a temporary role as a new manager filling in for his manager who went on long service leave. On the first day, he came to me and asked “What do I need to study to become a manager?” My response, “people and delegation skills.”
A manager’s day is often filled with meetings, e-mails, phone calls and office drop-ins from other people leaving much less time for operational tasks. Taking on too much sends a message to others that you don’t trust them to do the work. Learning to balance the demands of leadership takes time. It’s important to learn how to allocate and delegate tasks to free up your time to manage people.
Not delegating properly is just as problematic as not delegating at all. Learning to delegate is a core competency for new leaders and one that must be mastered. Delegating without providing the person with the necessary authority to complete the assignment is either allocation or abdication. It’s important to find the balance between letting your team know what you want without telling them what to do, and delegating specific work instructions.
To help empower and grow your people, have them share their delegation plan with you so you can give them your input instead of the other way around.
The flip side of not delegating is to delegate too much without maintaining control. Although maintaining your authority is vital – it’s equally important that you trust your people to do the right thing by empowering them to make small decisions on their own and only come to you when they need your input.
8. Change slowly
New leaders and managers often want to make all sorts of changes straight away which can lead to chaos. If you are new to leadership and management, you shouldn’t rush into making a ton of changes in the first instance. Take your time to adjust to your new role and establish relationships before marching forward with big changes. It pays to involve your people in your planned changes and seek their input, that way you will get their buy-in.
No one likes changes forced upon them.
9. Keep your promises
The quickest way to lose respect from your team is to fail to keep your promises. Before you accept a commitment, make sure you can fulfill it. As a new manager, it is tempting to say yes to everything. Your team and your boss will not thank you if you fail to keep your promises.
NO is a powerful word if used correctly. When you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself.
10. Focusing on people not the task
Before you became a manager, your main job was to complete tasks assigned to you. That is what’s known as being a technician. It’s what you are trained to do. Becoming a manager means you need to let go of some the operational side of the business and concentrate on managing and leading people instead. When you rise in the ranks to a supervisory, management or leadership position, your main job is to help others complete the tasks you assign to them so that your team performs well.
It can be difficult to make the transition from managing a task to managing a team. If you can show each member of your team that you care about them as individuals and help them to achieve their goals, they will appreciate you and work hard for you.
11. Appreciate your team
You probably have worked with your team for years but that doesn’t mean to say you know them as individuals. Make them feel valued. Give them your attention and time and show sincere and honest appreciation.
From time to time members of your team will come under pressure from people outside your team. Other people may try to blame them for perceived shortcomings. Your job as their manager, is to stand up for them, and make sure they’re treated fairly. If you do, they will repay you with their loyalty.
12. Share the credit and take the blame
Being in a leadership position means sharing the credit and taking the blame.
It’s natural to want to point the finger at others when something goes wrong, but part of a manager’s job is to be responsible for your employees. Clearly, there are times when an employee goes rogue and hides something from you. If this happens the employee needs to be held accountable for their actions when they make mistakes. You should however protect employees when innocent mistakes are made.
You need to step up and accept part of the blame for not giving enough direction, giving the wrong advice, or not checking in with them. On the flip side, when your team does something right, make sure to credit the team members rather than hogging the glory.
You should also know when to make sacrifices for your team. Give workers the opportunity to work on plum projects. If the team must work extra hours, set the example and work extra hours too. Consider giving employees the first pick for time off at the holidays or other times of the year instead of claiming the best dates for yourself. Your people will appreciate you for it. Above all be fair, firm and appreciative.
Even though you are the boss, you are still human. You can still laugh, share jokes and make mistakes. Remember to be professional though. Being too close to part of your team can show favoritism which will alienate others.
On a final note
Your primary goal as a new leader and manager is to empower others and help your people succeed. When you help others succeed, you too will succeed.
In a Nutshell
- Become a leader not a boss
- Establish credibility and respect
- Empower your people
- Set up your people up to succeed
- Keep your people accountable
- Be clear in your communications
- Learn to delegate
- Change slowly
- Keep your promises
- Focus on people not the tasks
- Appreciate your team
- Share the credit and take the blame