There is a difference between a manager and a leader. A manager manages, while a leader inspires and leads.
But mere managing (the workload, the emails, and the employees) seldom works. It will neither motivate you nor the team. To make team management less of an admin job and more of a pleasant and productive experience for all involved, it’s important to take a leaf out of how leaders inspire their workforces.
Here are some suggestions that you can implement right away to see happier employees and a more productive team.
1. Get to really know the team members
Nothing is more annoying for an employee than to have a manager who keeps forgetting her name, misspelling it, or keeps ignoring her. But knowing your team is more than just getting their names and birthdays right. You should also know their strengths, weaknesses, and points of struggle.
Hold regular meetings with your team. Depending on the workload you may or may not be spending enough time with them. If you sit at a distance from your team, this is especially important. The idea is to get them to open up and share the issues they may be facing.
Pay special attention to employees who appear withdrawn.
Be always available through in-office chat.
Always make time for team members when they want to talk to you.
Be generous and open in appreciation (not so in criticism, about which, more later).
Don’t play favorites.
Don’t get too friendly with the team either. You are their boss, after all, not a 4AM friend.
This is a big one. In fact, the bulk of a manager’s time is spent on communication.
People get promoted to managerial levels due to their competence and performance in a company. Their communication skills are not necessarily a criterion for the promotion.
But once they have risen through the ranks, few things will serve them better than their ability to communicate and handle emotions. It’s ok if you were not born with a great EQ, you can always work on it.
Define clear expectations and role guidelines for all the members.
Use clear and concise language in all your communication, verbal or written.
Don’t expect team members to read your mind. Spell out what you want in exact words. (Yeah, this bears repetition.)
Ask them to repeat what you just said so that you can be sure the message was passed on clearly.
Emphasize/summarize the important bits so that they are not lost in the rest of communication.
It’s ok to ask for status updates, but don’t micromanage. The last thing you want to do is irritate the team in your eagerness to be hands-on and more productive.
At the same time, don’t be anybody’s fool. Listen to your instinct. If you feel someone is slacking, that might well be the case.
But, convey any warnings or feedback/criticism in private. Always.
Be polite and approachable.
3. Be nice even when you have to be nasty
Some of the best managers I have worked with all had one thing in common. They knew how to convey tough news to their teams. And by that I don’t mean the news regarding them being fired, but about a client raising a stink or someone in the upper echelons being unhappy with the work of a team member.
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Even if it is the manager herself who has to give unflattering feedback (which is a part of her job), what separates the good ones from the bad is the way this part is handled.
Don't you like someone’s work or behavior?
You don’t have to perform a hatchet job on them. Take it as an opportunity to guide them in the desired direction.
Describe in precise terms where the member has been found lacking and what can be done to improve it
Never make this personal
Don’t let your moods or personal likes/dislikes dictate your approach
Be patient as the team member works on improving their performance (which might take time)
It’s imperative for leaders to cultivate a healthy relationship with criticism. There will be days when you do the criticizing, and there will be days when you will be the one being (heartily) criticized. You should know how to deal with the emotions that emerge in both situations.
4. Lead by example (in everything you do)
People look up to their superiors. They expect you to be professional in your manner and authoritative in your subject matter.
Natural authority is built on a number of tangible and intangible elements. People who inspire a following tend to exude confidence backed by exceptional core skills in relation to their job. Your team will not respect you if you are lacking in this regard.
It’s also important for those in leading positions to keep up with the developments and trends in their industry. This helps them maintain their advantage and improve their work, which contributes to their charisma.
A leader must be a student at heart, always eager to refine her skills. Subject matter specialization can be acquired in several ways. Webinars, e-courses, industry seminars, books, etc., are some of the options.
E-learning can help you take your expertise to a new level without eating into your professional time. You study the material at your pace, from a convenient location. Because e-learning courses are often designed by professionals, they incorporate current best practices and the latest research in any given field.
This translates into a direct competitive advantage for ambitious managers. With subject matter expertise under your belt, you will also be able to train employees in the office and virtually to further cement your position in the company.
5. Manage, inspire, and lead
Think back to the person who has inspired you the most. Chances are, they were very good at what they did. But personal competence aside, it doesn’t hurt to be people-friendly. Treat others with respect and keep your own skills in top shape. You will eventually become a natural leader.
Pratik Dholakiya is the founder of Growfusely, a content marketing agency specializing in content and data-driven SEO. He regularly speaks at various conferences about SEO, Content Marketing, and Entrepreneurship. Pratik has spoken at the 80th Annual Conference of the Florida Public Relations Association, Accounting and Finance Show, Singapore, NextBigWhat’s UnPluggd, IIT-Bombay, SMX Israel, SEMrush Meetup, MICA, IIT-Roorkee, and other major events. As a passionate SEO and content marketer, he shares his thoughts and knowledge in publications like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, The Next Web, YourStory, and Inc42, to name a few.