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Characteristics of a good manager

Characteristics of a good manager: what can and can’t be taught

You’ve heard the expression “born leader” before. Is there such a thing? And if being a good manager is due to inborn traits, is there value in all the leadership training programs currently available? The truth, as you probably suspected, is a combination of both. Here’s a look at some of the inherent qualities that contribute to effective leadership, together with an exploration of the ones that can be taught:

Inherent leadership qualities

According to Psychology Today, about one third of leadership ability springs from a person’s innate tendencies. These include the following:

  • Extraversion: A good leader often has to deal with other people all day long, so it’s better to be energized rather than drained by the experience.
  • Social intelligence: Managers don’t necessarily need the kind of intelligence that allows people to solve calculus problems, but they need a quick understanding of the structure of social interactions.
  • Assertiveness: Obviously a leader must be willing to put their message out in clear terms.
  • Willingness to take risks: Leaders must be capable of taking calculated risks without being timid or foolhardy.
  • Empathy: Good leaders have the capacity to see the world through the eyes of those whom they direct.

Leadership qualities that are teachable

In one study, managers who took a leadership course saw improvement in many of the characteristics of a good manager as long as they started with one key quality: employee motivation. University of Notre Dame, which offers leadership training, identifies business course topics that contribute to the development of skilled leaders. These topics include:

  • Good communication skills: A person’s extroversion is only beneficial if it is backed up by skillful speaking and writing abilities.
  • Team building ability: Leading depends on building effective working groups and bringing stakeholders together. This is the learned skill that extends social intelligence into measurable progress.
  • Recognition of the need for change: Taking bold steps to enact change when it’s necessary can feel risky, but a good manager is ready to step outside their safety zone and try something completely different.
  • Vision and goal setting: A persuasive manager develops visions and goals interactively through an empathetic understanding of subordinates’ needs.

Tips on training your managers

Leadership author Erika Anderson points out that the central leadership quality of self-awareness can be developed by inviting feedback from direct reports and encouraging managers to listen carefully. Instituting organizational channels for two-way communication between managers and their teams is good way to nurture self-awareness.

Rudy Giuliani is quoted as having said, “Leadership does not simply happen. It can be taught, learned, developed.” With training opportunities available to develop their innate abilities, your managers can prove his point.

Team Morale

How to maintain morale when you let employees go

When employees are laid off or fired, it can damage the morale of the team members who remain. The dismissal of a colleague can also erode the trust and loyalty that your employees feel toward you, even if you had excellent reasons for making your decision. Here are three tips for helping your department maintain high team morale in the aftermath of layoffs or firings:

Acknowledge the situation

There’s no way to have a comfortable conversation when you’re talking about workers who you’ve had to let go. Unfortunately, there is also no good way to avoid having that conversation. Simma Lieberman, a California management consultant says, “One of the worst actions management can take during this time is to not acknowledge the situation and the impact it is having on employees. This only makes the situation worse.” Being proactive in initiating a discussion of these events allows you to address employee anxiety and clear up misperceptions. Worker trust can only be rebuilt within a climate of transparency.

Present a continuity plan

Your employees will have two big questions in their minds following layoffs or firings, and a continuity plan is necessary to address both of these questions. The first question is: Is my job safe? To renew a sense of engagement within your company, you need to lay out a clear plan to show your workers why you need them and how their contribution is crucial to your mission. The second question you’ll hear is: Who’s going to cover the extra work? This should be clearly addressed with specifics and you should also be open to feedback from those employees whom you expect to shoulder the extra burden.

Head off further turnover

It might seem as though the workers who still have jobs after a round of layoffs or firings would breathe a sigh of relief. In fact, however, research published in Harvard Business Review notes that companies typically see “a substantial increase in voluntary departures after layoffs, even if the downsizing was small.” Watching a colleague lose their source of livelihood is disturbing for the whole team, and uncertainty and discouragement run rampant in the wake of that disruption. The Harvard research warns that your highest performers are the likeliest to quit after losing members of their team. As a manager, you’ll need to direct some specifically encouraging energy to these capable employees, emphasizing to them that the downsizing has opened up new doors to advancement for them.

It’s never easy to let workers go, and dealing with the aftermath can be tricky. Handled correctly, though, team morale can be maintained and productivity protected.

 

Managing Remote Teams

Managing remote teams: how to lead from a distance

Now that technology has made it easier than ever to telecommute, companies are relying more and more on teams of remote employees. However, these long-distance workers can pose unique challenges for the managers who supervise them. Without the traditional trappings of an office, coffee breaks, and face-to-face communication, managers need to find new ways to coach and connect. Here are three best-practice tips that are proving successful in managing remote teams:

  1. Focus on outcomes

Are you accustomed to judging your employees’ productivity according to whether they show up on time and look like they’re busy? If so, managing a team of people you can’t see will force you to find other evaluation methods and rely more on employee accountability. Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, points out that, “It’s much harder to fake productivity when you work remotely, as long as managers are focusing on goals and outcomes for their employees and teams.” She notes that successful managers set “granular tasks,” with weekly and possibly even daily milestones. If your employee is hitting all their productivity marks, you don’t need to worry about how many hours they’re actually at their desk, or whether they take a break to move their laundry.

  1. Encourage multi-function communication

Staying in touch with your remote workforce means using a range of communication channels. Regular phone conversations are important, as are emails and texting. Collaboration platforms allow remote team members to share projects at a distance, and teleconferencing software lets you gather your team together in one virtual location. In addition to these formal communication channels, Harvard Business Review recommends the use of technology to “create water cooler moments.” Impromptu conversations between colleagues are one of the most valuable aspects of in-person work, and setting up an open video link between offices is the best way to reproduce this casual team-building friendliness.

  1. Develop a strong onboarding process

Traditional onboarding involves setting up an employee’s workspace and showing them around, so it may seem less relevant to your remote workers. In fact, a carefully thought-out onboarding process is essential for building your remote team. The underlying purpose of onboarding isn’t merely to introduce logistical details; its real value lies in aligning new hires with company culture and helping them feel like part of the team. Eric Siu, CEO of San Francisco marketing company Single Grain, has set up an internal wiki using Hackpad for sharing logistical information, but he also reminds managers “Don’t skimp on face time.” Personal connections, especially at the beginning of employment, are vital to laying the foundation for employee loyalty.

Managing remote teams effectively doesn’t mean you have to develop an entirely new set of skills. If you rely on your professional instincts and simply adjust a few of your methods, you’ll find yourself leading a productive, engaged team.

 

Bad Bosses

Repairing the damage done by bad bosses

If you’re entering a leadership role after your team has suffered the ill effects of a bad boss, you’ve got a list of important tasks ahead of you to repair the damage. You may find your employees discouraged and unproductive in the wake of poor management, and you will need to introduce an entirely new climate for team operations. While this is a tricky task, it’s an important one, because you’ll be making the workplace a much more pleasant and productive place for everyone.

Encourage employee feedback

There are different kinds of bad bosses, from the micromanagers to the inept, to the disconnected and the downright mean. Find out what kind of damage control you need to do by asking employees to submit anonymous, written responses to a few questions. The anonymity will provide a sense of safety and encourage people to be honest, and open-ended questions such as, “What changes would you like to see in our operations?” allow the real problems to surface. Follow up this input with face-to-face meetings dedicated to creating a new team atmosphere. On an ongoing basis, make clear that feedback in your organization goes in both directions: Explain that supervisors and managers will continue to seek feedback from direct reports.

Build positive team relationships

You and your direct reports can set the tone for a productive workplace environment by using a multi-pronged approach:

  • Transparency: Share department goals and strategy openly with all members of your staff so that everyone feels that they have a share in working toward those goals.
  • Employee Wellness: Encourage workers to take their vacation days and get plenty of exercise, so they can recharge their energy.
  • Better Work-Life Balance: Introduce options for flexible scheduling and working from home, to ease pressure on employees with family caregiving responsibilities.
  • Employee Recognition: Give workers a boost by recognizing them when they put in extra effort on a project. Noticing and rewarding individuals who show dedication is an essential part of building employee loyalty.

“Chase the vision, not the money.” This quote, from Zappo’s uber-successful CEO Tony Hsieh, points out that the most important element to long-term success is building an organization where people love to work. It’s not easy to alleviate the disruption and disillusionment that bad bosses create within a team, but with focused effort, it’s very possible. The outcome is happier workers in the short term and a stronger department in the years to come.

Disengaged Employees

How to rehabilitate disengaged employees

Disengagement in the workplace is a problem that’s all too common these days, and disengaged employees have a negative impact on both their coworkers and businesses as a whole. A Gallup poll found that fewer than 31 percent of American workers felt engaged in their jobs, while 17.5 percent were “actively disengaged.” Because these workers can wreak havoc on productivity and morale, you need to be able to recognize the signs of disengagement so you can address it as it happens.

Signs of disengagement in employees

  • Withdrawal from participation: An employee who suddenly begins to miss meetings, starts leaving early, or takes extra days off may be disengaged. Likewise, a significant withdrawal from normal work conversations may also indicate a problem. As a manager, you should watch for changes that stray from an employee’s long-standing behavior or routine.
  • Undermining and gossiping: Employees who feel disconnected from their workplace can also develop grudges against coworkers or managers. They sometimes engage in gossip that undermines company goals, and they may even intentionally spread misinformation.
  • Apathy and poor follow-through: Disengagement typically results in employees who are no longer aligned with organizational goals. For this reason, you may notice that they don’t care about the quality of their work and that they substitute excuses for task completion.

How to rehabilitate a disengaged employee

Start by reaching out to a disengaged employee to see how they’re feeling. They may be facing issues or obstacles that you can help solve. Human resources and team leaders can work together on this goal, interviewing the employee to discover their concern, be it a family need that makes a current schedule unworkable or a conflict with an immediate manager. Active listening is crucial here, and so is a willingness to make changes. Team reassignments, flexible scheduling, extra training opportunities, and other types of reorganization should all be on the table when mitigating issues with employee motivation.

While individual employee concerns can be specific and situational, proactive solutions to employee disengagement require an awareness of demographic trends. An extensive report on disengagement by AON Hewitt notes that the leading aspects of job engagement for millennial workers are career opportunities, good manager performance, company reputation, pay scale, and good communication. That means that the engagement programs you’ve had in place for one generation of employees might not be as powerful for a different generation. Determine what kinds of company-wide systems you need to have in place to reduce disengagement, whether it’s more manager training, better onboarding, employee recognition and rewards, or a more meaningful company mission.

Employee Coaching

How to improve your 1:1 manager meetings

Holding regular one-on-one meetings with your employees is a major component of employee alignment, coaching, and good management. Not only are they a great way to build individual relationships with your employees, but there is often information that’s not appropriate to cover in a group setting. Handled correctly, these meetings offer abundant benefits for you, your staff, and your entire company. Here’s a quick look at how you can optimize the benefits of your individual meetings with employees:

How you benefit from 1:1 meetings with your direct reports

Meeting with your individual employee allows you to see beyond their output, giving you insight into their essential wellbeing. You will know ahead of time if the person is anticipating difficulties accomplishing their work, and you’re also likely to learn about any conflicts occurring between employees. Effective management depends on your awareness of what underlies high productivity, as well as the nature of existing and future obstacles. Furthermore, you will become a better manager as you absorb and learn from your employees’ feedback.

How your employees benefit from 1:1 meetings with you

Your direct reports rely on you to help them clear any work-related roadblocks they are experiencing. When you provide employee coaching and constructive feedback, you’re showing that you value each individual worker, enhancing your relationship and enabling them to work at their highest capability.

How your company benefits from your 1:1 meetings

Employee wellbeing has a direct effect on productivity. When you take the time to have regular one-on-one meetings, you are creating an environment in which personnel problems are solved before they become acute. Your organization saves money when employee turnover is reduced, and employee loyalty is strengthened when workers understand how their tasks align with the mission and goals of the company as a whole.

5 best-practice tips for one-on-one meetings

Follow these 5 tips to maximize the benefit of your one-on-one meetings:

  • Hold them in a private, non-distracting environment.
  • Don’t use the meeting time to deal with disciplinary issues.
  • Prepare your agenda and share it ahead of time with your employee.
  • Ask open questions and encourage your employee to initiate new topics.
  • Send a short set of “minutes” to the employee afterward to strengthen and formalize the points you discussed.

When handled correctly, individual meetings enable you and your employees to effectively navigate the sometimes complex web of managerial relationships.

Micromanager

How to reform a micromanager

Simply by position alone, managers have a major impact on employee productivity. This is good when the manager has the skills and experience to get the best work out of their direct reports. It’s not so good when managing slides into micromanaging. As anyone who has ever worked under a micromanager can tell you, it’s a surefire method of making employees feel stressed and disengaged. Here are a few tips on how you can recognize when supervisors are veering into micromanagement terrain and guide them back to supporting their staff members in a healthy way.

Identify your micromanagers

Harvard Business Review provides a handy checklist for identifying micromanaging behavior. It finds that micromanagers:

  • Are never quite satisfied with deliverables
  • Often feel frustrated because they would have gone about the task differently
  • Laser in on the details and take great pride and/or pain in making corrections
  • Constantly want to know where all their team members are and what they’re working on
  • Ask for frequent updates on where things stand and prefer to be cc’d on all emails

Productively reform your micromanager

First, it’s essential to realize that people with a tendency to micromanage are usually passionately dedicated to their work and deeply invested in good outcomes. As you assist them in taking a step back from the jungle of details they’re wading through, you can express your appreciation for their commitment to organizational goals.

Next, help your micromanagers articulate why they feel they must take responsibility for everything. Their reasons are often based in fear that too much is at stake or that the work won’t get completed correctly. Once they clearly identify their concerns, you’ll be in a position to help them logically examine these issues. In some cases, you may uncover actual personnel problems that need to be addressed, but usually you can ease their worries by presenting the benefits of stepping back a bit.

It’s also beneficial to encourage micromanagers to ask for feedback from their teams. In many instances, overly involved supervisors sincerely believe they’re being helpful by shouldering responsibilities, and they may try to change their habits if they hear from direct reports that their approach is actually counterproductive.

Strengthen productivity by improving management practices

Managing the managers is one of the trickier interpersonal challenges facing HR directors and executives, but it’s a crucial element of organizational success. Employee engagement and productivity throughout your company are nurtured when workers feel trusted to carry out tasks on their own.

Managing Millennials

3 reasons you should let Millennials manage

Are you hesitant to put Millennials in managerial roles because of their youth and lack of experience? This hesitancy is certainly understandable. As an experienced professional manager, you’re well aware that years in the industry provide insights that no newcomer can automatically acquire. However, it turns out that your company can still benefit from the unique skills younger staff members can bring to leadership roles. Here are three reasons you should look for Millennials with characteristics of a good leader and give them a chance to shine.

Millennials are big on transparency

Younger managers can command loyalty from their direct reports by creating an atmosphere of transparency throughout the work environment. This openness extends from compensation to strategy and company process. With this outlook, Millennial managers will expect productivity to rely on the shared efforts of the group. When problems arise, they can sidestep resentment of their authority, drawing on the collective mind for solutions.

Millennials seek networks, not hierarchy

Training Magazine points out that young adults grew up in a networked social media environment, where they’re related to a web of connections rather than a chain of command. Freed from a preoccupation with preserving authority, they can easily solicit and accept feedback. This willingness to put mutual goals ahead of personal aggrandizement can foster an open exchange of ideas, increasing company-wide trust and leading to valuable innovation.

Millennials give more frequent feedback

Millennials don’t measure productivity in terms of hours at a desk, and they’re not usually fans of formal, scheduled performance reviews. Instead, they’ll use their emotional intelligence to stay connected with their staff, rewarding effort and productivity with frequent, informal expressions of appreciation.

Fast Company reports that Millennials are ready and eager to lead: 82 percent of workers in this age group express an interest in managing, compared with only 57 percent of employees of other ages. Chief Executive Magazine advises that up-and-coming young leaders can be groomed by whetting their curiosity and exposing them to new ideas, then personalizing their contribution and activating their inherent desire to do good in the world.

When you give your most talented young leaders a chance to step forward, and balance their innovative style with the insights of more experienced staff, you’re taking steps toward establishing a robust basis for transitioning your company well into the coming decades.

Gallup says managers from hell are costing you billions

employee_engagementManagers from hell are the reason your top employees hate their job. Recent Gallup research shows that these managers are responsible for actively disengaging employees, costing the U.S. an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion annually. You read that right—bad managers are catastrophic for businesses.

 

Only 30 percent of Americans with full-time jobs are engaged. This means the remaining 70 percent of the working population is disengaged, with 20 percent of that group who are actively disengaged.

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March Madness: 6 lessons from NCAA coaches to lead your team to success

coachingMarch Madness comes around once a year, often leading to office pools, water cooler discussions of colleges you may not have heard of, and long and oddly timed lunch breaks. With the championship game coming up, harness some of the lessons of NCAA basketball’s unsung all-stars: the coaches.

Your team may not be made up of 20 college athletes, but the best leaders in any arena share a few common elements to achieving success.

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4 secrets to leading teams: The ultimate balancing act

There is no “I” in team – but there is certainly a leader.

Teams are a fixture in the workplace, and they exist at all levels of an organization. With respect to employee engagement, team leadership  is essential to success because the team must understand what needs to be accomplished.

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Feeling off-balance? Improve culture with recognition

Dear A Advisor,

I’m a manager of a large team and my company is thinking of introducing  a recognition program. I know that our current company culture could be better: some of my employees feel like their work gets ignored while others’ work is disproportionately appreciated and it fosters resentment amongst my team. I’m willing to put in the hard work to improve morale and change the culture of my workplace, so how do I leverage a recognition program to correct this issue?

I’m looking forward to your advice!

PeaceMaker

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A lesson from co-founder and CEO of Wayfair.com

Adam Bryant, specialist on the challenges of leading and managing, recently conducted an interview with Niraj Shah, co-founder and CEO of Wayfair.com. Shah drew upon his experiences leading the largest online retailer of home furnished in the US, to speak on the importance of recognition:

“One thing I’ve learned over time is that it’s important to take a minute and celebrate a win before you move on to the next thing you want to accomplish. One of our values at Wayfair is that we are never done. That speaks to the idea of being tenacious — there is good, but you can do it even better. But you have to celebrate wins and let everyone who worked hard on something know that they were successful and that you’re proud of the team. When I was younger, I would just skip right over that. But now I understand that recognition is very important.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/01/business/niraj-shah-of-wayfaircom-on-employee-recognition.html?scp=2&sq=rewards%20and%20recognition&st=Search

Calling all managers! Making recognition initiatives effective

Dear A Advisor,

I’m a Human Resources specialist and I’ve recently enabled a recognition program within my company. The program has been my project, but I’m looking for ways to ensure effective adoption in my company. Since I’m in the HR department I don’t get a lot of insight into how individual departments utilize the program; I’m afraid that it won’t be used to its full potential.

Thanks so much for your help!

Out of Touch

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Keep your head in the game: The best managers are coaches

Leading a team to success is no easy feat.  When you look at successful sports teams and dissect their elements of achievement, it certainly has something to do with having the right people in the right place at the right time.  But it also extends beyond talent to having a strategic and effective coaching that prepares and leads the team to win.  There are three benefits that coaches have that translate to the workplace.  Managers can utilize these coaching best practices to help in closing the loop in the Effective Management Cycle.

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With your gamification strategy, don’t roll the dice

Nintendo, Snakes & Ladders, Pinball: these words alone evoke competition, strategy, and excitement – largely because humans are fundamentally psychologically stimulated by games.  It’s no wonder that more and more employers are adopting the Gamification trend as an approach to motivating the workforce in an effort to uniquely inspire employees to drive greater business results.  Gamification in a work environment uses game-like dynamics to target the same psychological behaviors humans inherently exhibit in gaming and apply that to tasks at work.

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Not your average company, not your average meetings!

Meetings.  This business term evokes many mixed feelings.  But at Achievers, we believe that meetings are the best way to instil a culture of transparency and ensure that everyone is aligned to be successful.  We host unique and upbeat meetings on a frequent basis to bring the company together to share information, successes, and goals.

Here’s what it’s like to attend meetings at Achievers:

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People don’t leave companies, they leave managers

Managers are fundamental to strategy, but more significantly, critical to building a team that can execute on company vision.  It is the job of the manager to inspire their teams to flawlessly execute and to be held accountable for the work that is produced under their watch.  Great managers understand that inspiration trumps meddling and maximize their recognition tactics as a means of motivating and driving performance.