Peter Drucker’s 1954 “The Practice of Management” proposes an elegant definition of effective management – “A manager sets objectives – A manager organizes – A manager motivates and communicates – A manager, by establishing yardsticks, measures – A manager develops people”. Let’s fast-forward 64 years to 2018. How much have we progressed?
Think for a moment about the best and worst manager you’ve ever had. What was it about their managerial approach that impacted you? In most cases, the aspiration is precisely the same for both groups. Managers aspire to be great people leaders and employees aspire to have great managers.
Notwithstanding the convergence of aspirations, the reality, sadly, points out to a rather divergent outcome. Gallup’s research over the past 15 years shows the level of engagement among U.S. workers at 30%. This number has remained stubbornly unaltered over this period.
Some will argue that the main reason why employees leave is because “the money was just not good enough”. In reality, research shows – rather convincingly – that the main culprit is the poor quality of management.
According to Gallup, 50% of employees have quit at some point in their career because of bad managers. Managers are responsible for about 70% of the difference between engagement and non-engagement among employees. Even more alarmingly, only about 10% of working professionals have the ability to be great managers.
The aspiration is still the same. Managers want to be good at managing people and people want to feel good about their managers. This article offers a few pragmatic insights to minimize the aspirational gap.
Work at it
Effective people management is hard work and requires continuous capability enhancement. There is far more science than art in the task of managing people.
In my practice, I normally ask managers “what motivates you to manage people?.” Answers such as “I like people” or “I’m a natural leader” are not too infrequent and normally raise a few bells & whistles in my mind.
A fond disposition and/or natural aptitude to manage people are by all means important elements of effective people management. However, they are not, by any means, the only or even the most important elements.
If you are managing people, keep in mind these four continuous development practices:
- Study – make it a regular habit to read (books, research papers, blogs, articles, etc.), view (webcasts, YouTube) and listen (audiobooks, podcasts) to learn more about people management.
- Assess – acquire deeper insights into the basic preferences, behaviors and personality traits of your team (and yourself) and how you can use those insights to better understand, utilize, communicate, and positively influence your team. There are good assessment tools that will serve a meaningful purpose in this process (e.g., MBTI, StrengthsFinder, DISK, EQ-i, MSCEIT).
- Analyze – take a deep dive into the results of employee engagement or satisfaction surveys conducted by your organization. Involve your team in the analysis of the results and the development of an action plan. You don’t need to wait for Human Resources to do this for you. Take the lead.
- Reflect – take the time to reflect on the question, “how can I be a better manager?.” Reach out to other managers in your organization (or outside) and discuss the topic in order to gather insights, best practices, and support.
Be True to yourself
In my practice, I have coached managers who adopted the practice of creating different personas depending on the occasion – e.g., serious/reserved at the office vs. gregarious/talkative at lunch – who seemed oblivious to the fact that it was actually generating confusion, causing employees to interpret the contradicting behaviors as mood swings and, thus, unnecessarily spending time and energy trying to figure out how/what/when to approach the manager.
Please, do not do that.
It is very important that you interact with employees as your natural self. Let them know you for who you are. This does not mean that you should ignore your imperfections. Discourtesy, for example, is a destructive behavior that should be eliminated for your own sake and the sake of your team. Also, employees instinctively understand the temporary behavioral formality that a particular event may require. What cannot be lost – or befuddled – is your core identity. This is your responsibility.
Remember your role
You are a manager, not an individual contributor. Some managers, in their zeal to be perceived as the ones who “get under the hood”, run the risk of missing the forest for the trees.
The majority of your time ought not to be spent doing the things that your team does. Instead, it ought to be spent doing the things that will make your team more effective at what they do. In his book, Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders, William Gentry introduces the “Flip Your Script” concept, further illustrating this point.
As employees perceive a managerial approach more focused on enabling team effectiveness (vision, planning, resources, communication, delegation, empowerment, feedback, development, and recognition), their respect and trust in you as a manager will inevitably increase.
This is not to suggest that you should insulate yourself from tasks normally performed by your team. There will be times when you will be called upon to “get under the hood”. You should be prepared and willing to do so and your team will appreciate it. But this should be the exception, not the norm.
Pass the credit plate
In a managerial role, team promotion is far more valuable than self-promotion. Your success as a manager is perceived largely through the lenses of your team’s success. It boosts team morale, cohesion, and loyalty to you and to each other. Additionally, it positively impacts the credibility of the team, promotes greater visibility and attracts more meaningful projects and additional resources.
This gives rise to a virtuous cycle. As you credit your team for the accomplishments of your area, they will credit you as well. This will not go unnoticed by those above you as their positive impression will be focused both on the team as well as your leadership qualities.
Fred Machado is the founder and CEO of ExcelTrek.