Being a manager can include lots of perks – a bigger office, more money, greater flexibility, more prestige and even bonuses. It is fun to focus on the benefits and easy to forget that managers carry an incredible amount of responsibility. In a 20-year study published in 2015, Gallup reported that “managers account for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement.”
So, what can managers do to improve their performance and, thereby, increase the overall success of their teams? Here are a few suggestions.
Serve First, Lead Second
In his book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek details a tradition in the United States Marines. “If you go to any Marine Corp Chow Hall anywhere in the world, you will see the Marines lined up in rank order. The most senior person is at the back of the line and the most junior person eats first.” The Marines view leadership as having responsibility for others, not as having rank and power over others. Effective managers focus more on assisting and inspiring their team and less on promoting themselves.
Develop Independent Thinkers
Christine Comaford, author of Smart Tribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together, writes, “Most … leaders have an itchy trigger finger. A team member asks how to do something, and they rattle off the answer; they advocate. What is the result of this? They develop order takers. They train people to ask instead of figuring it out on their own.” She recommends asking employees “How would you do this?” Although this can be excruciatingly slow at first, eventually team members will arrive with a plan instead of a question. This allows them to take ownership. It creates safety, belonging and teaches reports to become independent thinkers.
Managers make many decisions, and inevitably, sometimes they will be wrong. Nevertheless, it is important for them not to waffle, or worse not to make a decision at all. The best leaders consider their options, make decisions boldly, and if necessary, change direction with equal boldness.
Connect on a Personal Level
Work relationships need to be professional. However, employees are far more likely to overachieve for a boss who cares about them as a person. Managers should strive to know five (or more) details about each of their reports’ lives. Asking about their kids’ progress in school, their hunt for a new house or the health of a relative can go a long way towards establishing trust and respect.
Admit You are Only Human
Managers are not superheroes. They should be willing to acknowledge their mistakes and to ask for help. And, they must remember this is not a one-way street. At times, they will be required to extend this same leniency to their team members.