Becoming a better manager is a moving target, but one absolutely worth aiming at. If you want excellent leadership skills, you can get there, but you have to know what to focus on.
Here are seven harsh truths about management that will help you hone your gaze onto what truly matters:
1. It’s not about you anymore.
When you become a manager (or leader of any kind), it means it’s not about you anymore. You are no longer responsible only for what you produce. Your success, rather, derives from how well your team performs. Your job, therefore, is to support, protect, and motivate your team — as individuals and as a unit.
Leadership skills are about supporting human beings, so you should spend a lot of your time learning about team dynamics, and how to support human beings.
2. You are constantly at risk of losing your best people.
Your best employees are easy to work with. They consistently produce great results without requiring a lot of oversight (unlike, perhaps, some other team members).
This is convenient but dangerous — because it may lead you to take them for granted. Of course their latest blog knocked it out of the park. Of course the deck they delivered was flawless. Of course they rocked that client meeting. They always do.
But you’d better be sure you actively and consistently appreciate them for what they do right, or they might just walk. In 2014, a Gallup poll showed that the number-one reason people leave their jobs in the United States is because they don’t feel appreciated.
The number-one reason.
To be a better manager, actively and consistently make your people feel appreciated — especially the top performers.
3. A lot of your job is resolving problems.
Before you were a manager, you dealt with resolving only your own problems. Now you’re responsible for the problems of other people.
You can’t get frustrated every time a problem arises, as if it were there just to get in your way. Rather, you need to recognize that a big part of job now is to solve problems. Expect them to come up. That’s your job now.
4. Your company isn’t the most important thing in your employees’ life.
When you’re in a leadership role, it’s easy to think the people under you are equally invested in the startup, company, or nonprofit for which you work.
Not true. People have hopes, dreams, relationships, and family issues outside of work that often matters more than their work lives. A good manager knows his or her people beyond the workplace. A good manager is sensitive to the big things going on their lives, whether it’s a parent’s surgery date, a child’s latest sports accomplishment, or just that someone likes to play the guitar.
5. Your employees won’t tell you things … unless you ask.
When it comes to getting at difficult truths, you must be proactive about asking. Assuming your people will just tell you what’s going on is a rookie mistake, and one that can lead to problems over time.
If you want to know the real state of affairs on your team (regarding sexual harassment, diversity issues, etc.), you need to ask. Consistently. You must create safe, non-judgmental spaces (like weekly one-on-one meetings), and let your people know they will be protected and believed if they bring something up.
This can prevent huge issues if it’s done well, and you will be a better manager for it. Plus, once you’ve built up enough trust, your people will come to you before small problems get big. It’s always easier to deal with issues before they snowball.
6. You probably aren’t as good a listener as you think you are.
Most people are bad at listening. They think they’re listening, when really they’re scanning for what they agree with, and quickly disagreeing if they hear something they don’t like.
A large part of a good manager’s role is being a good listener. If someone comes to you and says they are having trouble finding new clients, your job isn’t to tell this person what they’re doing wrong right away. It’s to actually hear what they’re saying about how they feel, and what they’ve tried so far.
Your listening skills are directly correlated to how good a manager you are. It’s worth taking training on how to become a better listener.
7. Team dynamics are worth investing in.
Smart managers know that strong teams trust one another, and that trust is built over time. On a healthy team, conflicts get addressed directly, and with compassion; they aren’t swept under the rug.
Smart managers also know when it’s time to bring in an outside team-building consultant, that sometimes it’s worth working with professionals on the relationships between team members, because this is the foundation of everything else. Again, undergoing training on team dynamics, and having the team take it too, can make all the difference.
If you support your best people on a regular basis, praise your team members, and give them work that matches their skills and gets them excited, you are a good manager.
In a way, your leadership skills can be measured by how happy your people are.