Four tips to make you a better leader

People management skills, critically, enable managers to solve problems and engage employees. You can build your people management skills by making small changes in your mindset and your perspective on problems

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Lattice

Using these four tips will help you think about tweaks you can make in your own processes to be a more effective and successful manager.

People management starts with listening – and listening starts before you think it does

We think of good listening as something that happens between the beginning and end of a conversation – things like being attentive, making eye contact, taking notes, and waiting for the other person to finish before you start to talk.

Good listening is essential to the management role, and it starts before you even sit down to talk to an employee. Keys to listening well include keeping an open mind and not jumping to conclusions before or during conversations. This means you can’t assume what an employee is thinking, what their problem is, or what the solution to their problem is – you have to let go of your preconceived notions – and you need to ask them. Even if they think the cause of a problem is obvious, a great manager listens with the intent of understanding as much about the situation as possible; they don’t just barge in with a possible solution. Prep for meetings, but don’t go in thinking you know all the answers.

Learn to separate personal problems from organisational problems

Employees are going to have problems, and you are going to have to help solve them, but not all problems are created equal. The root causes of workplace problems often fall into two categories, personal and organisational. They may manifest the same way but understanding the difference will save you from a disproportionate response.

Treating an organisational problem like a personal one is like putting a plaster on a broken window. Similarly, treating a personal problem like an organisational one is like remodelling your kitchen to become a better cook. Personal work problems could relate to an employee’s:

  • individual workload;
  • problem with their process;
  • dissatisfaction with their team members or performance;
  • unhappiness with work due to a desire to change projects.

These problems can be corrected by using your people management skills and require no significant reorganisation. On the other hand, organisational problems are often entrenched and can’t be fixed by solving an individual employee’s problem. Organisational problems might include:

  • teams unable to cope with demands of workload collectively;
  • workflow problems frequently resulting in errors or delays company or team-wide;
  • in-fighting or hostility between team members because of overall poor performance;
  • many employees feeling disempowered and unable to take control of their work projects and career paths.

These issues stem from inherent problems in the organisation of the team or even the company. Managers need to use their people management skills to understand the organisational issue behind the such problems while, at the same time, still people-managing to keep employees’ heads above water until the problem is truly fixed.

Understand each employee’s purpose

To communicate well with employees, and empathise with them, you have to understand what draws them to their role and what joy they derive from their work; i.e., their purpose. Purpose is a huge part of what keeps people satisfied at work, and what drives them to succeed and push themselves professionally. Knowing why an employee feels connected to their role, and why they’re inspired to be an individual contributor to the organisation helps you, as the manager, to understand how to help them succeed in a way that also benefits the company.

People want to work on projects where they believe they can do well and, when they’re given the opportunity to do what they do best, they feel more connected to their work. Pinpointing exactly what an employee likes about their role — or why they may be striving for a promotion/to take on a new role — allows you to frame solutions in a way that helps employees see how your approach will take them towards their goal.

Balance praise and criticism wisely

Although it may seem easier to give praise than criticism, studies show that this theory doesn’t hold water when it comes to the workplace. One survey revealed that 44% of managers said giving negative feedback was stressful, but a shocking 40% of the same group never gave positive reinforcement.

Employees need a balance of both praise and criticism in order to thrive. If you only give praise for good work you will frustrate your employees because you don’t help them grow. However, if all you do is criticise your employees will be on-edge and demoralised.

Good managers step in, as needed, to keep teams running and employees motivated, but great managers are proactive and attuned to the needs of their workplace. Employees are not going to magically solve all their disputes, and find their perfect path to reach their career goals — it’s your job to help to get them there – the leader has a responsibility to be proactive about managing the people-side of business.

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