- A good leader sets a positive example and knows how to use their strengths to help their team achieve goals.
- Successful managers get to know their employees and find ways to support them so they produce their best work.
- It’s important to consistently communicate clear goals, expectations and feedback to your team.
- This article is for small business owners and managers interested in adopting effective leadership skills.
There’s a difference between a manager and a leader. A manager’s responsibilities might include task delegation and timecard, but a leader focuses on the growth and well-being of your team members. The best managers know how to do both roles, and can strategically incorporate the strengths of each employee to build a successful organization. According to Deborah Sweeney, vice president and general manager of business acquisitions at Deluxe Corp., good managers use emotional intelligence and soft skills to achieve this.
“Traditionally, we have been taught to believe that the person with the highest IQ in the room is the smartest,” Sweeney said. “However, science is increasingly proving that individuals with emotional intelligence and its four core skills – which include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management – are actually the top performers within any company.”
Below, you’ll find what you need to do to be a good leader and how best to manage the most common types of employees.
How to be a good manager
1. Work with your team, not above them.
You might be accustomed to fully controlling your workload, but becoming a boss will force you to give up that control and delegate some responsibilities, said Ora Shtull, an executive coach credentialed by the International Coach Federation.
“If you don’t break the addiction to doing it all, you won’t have the capacity to step up and do more senior stuff,” she said. “Letting go involves delegating. But it’s important to note that delegating doesn’t mean deserting the team or sacrificing accountability.”
As a manager, you have a different set of responsibilities from your entry-level team members, but you should still get your hands dirty. Additionally, you should include your team in decision-making processes. According to Kimble’s Boss Barometer Report, 74% of American workers surveyed said they prefer a collaborative working culture to one where the boss makes most of the decisions. [Related article: If You Listen Up, Your Employees Step Up]
“By choosing to lead by example and demonstrating that [you] are an expert at what [you] are asking employees to do, it will often result in more respect and productivity,” said Sacha Ferrandi, founding partner of Source Capital Funding Inc. “It’s impossible to deny that the work ethic of a boss is contagious. If you work hard for them, they are more likely to return the favor and work hard for you.”
2. Get to know your employees.
Every employee has different strengths, weaknesses and ways of learning. As a manager, it’s your duty to really understand each person’s characteristics to effectively lead them, and to create a positive boss-employee relationship. This can be done by merely observing the work they produce, but asking simple questions periodically also provides details.
Harvard Business Review suggests using the question “what was the best day you’ve had at work in the last three months?” to get the employee thinking about the tasks and assignments they enjoy doing. According to their answers, you can then tailor how you delegate tasks to this employee to obtain the best possible outcome.
You could also ask the opposite: “What was the worst day you’ve had at work in the last three months?” Conversations like these help you to understand what is not working so that you can remedy the situation.
3. Create a positive and inclusive work environment.
The example you set for your office can greatly impact the success of your organization. It is important to create a positive, fun work environment that makes team members feel included and respected. A happy employee is a more productive employee. You can create a diverse and inclusive work culture by exemplifying good behavior on a daily basis, as well as implementing occasional team bonding activities.
You should frequently provide recognition for team successes (even small ones). Great leaders recognize their employees and express their gratitude whenever possible. Employees want to feel appreciated and have their work noticed. When you credit them for a job well done, it motivates them to keep working hard.
“Simply put, great bosses pause frequently to praise others and promote the positive, rather than harping on shortcomings and mistakes,” Shtull said.
Offering praise can boost team morale and build a positive work culture. If you fail to give positive feedback and recognition, employees may think their work is going unnoticed and start to care less. In addition to daily recognition, Leah de Souza, leadership communication coach and managing director of Trainmar Consulting, recommends motivating people through team bonding and celebration.
“Set aside time for team bonding – pure fun – and team celebration – reward for a milestone team achievement,” she said. “Each of these team events are important to the cohesiveness and element of fun in the team. What is fun can differ culturally and from team to team, so make sure to get feedback on ideas.”
Ask your team what types of recognition they prefer and how often they would like team events to occur. These occasions can be related to work, volunteering or just general fun, but take precautions to ensure that each event is inclusive and appropriate for your workplace.
4. Communicate goals, expectations and feedback.
One of the most important parts of being an effective manager is successfully creating goals and communicating expectations to team members. Managers should focus on creating SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) goals for their teams. De Souza said the objectives that are set at an organizational level should also be translated into departmental and individual goals.
“There must be a transparent link between all goals set throughout the organization,” she said. “Goals must be set in agreement with team members.”
After setting goals, good managers are transparent with team members about their expectations. De Souza recommends reviewing goals on a structured basis. You can regularly check in with team members to ensure they are happy and feel challenged in their roles. Communication is not one-sided, though; you must listen as much as you talk.
“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say, nothing to add,” Shtull said. “In addition to giving up control of all the work, as a boss, you’ll also have to break the addiction to being right all of the time. Don’t always promote your own view. If your own ideas sound set in stone, your team members won’t want to offer theirs.”
Xan Raskin, founder and CEO of Artixan Consulting Group LLC, added that great leaders don’t just listen; they listen to understand. “Making sure your employees know you not only heard them, but you understand – even if you disagree – goes a long way to building a long-term rapport with employees.”
Key takeaway: Be transparent and communicate expectations with your employees to make sure the team is on the same page and working toward a mutual goal. Project management software can aid in this by effectively managing workflow and keeping track of everyone’s tasks.
5. Coach your team members.
To create a valuable, dedicated team, you’ll have to advocate for them. Like good coaches, bosses should keep employees motivated and passionate about the work they do. This will help your team avoid burnout and enjoy delivering their best work.
“Effective managers coach by asking questions, empowering their team members to think deeply and generate solutions,” Shtull said. “In turn, team members gain confidence and grow, and ultimately become amazing bosses themselves.”
Let employees know you care about their futures and careers. Provide them with the training and knowledge they need to succeed in the workplace. Good managers are not threatened by the growth and success of their employees; instead, they embrace and encourage change.
“I believe a great manager knows how to tap into the strengths of their team members and turn their unique abilities into strong performances,” Sweeney said. “A good manager is not threatened by change in the workplace – whether it’s a change in how certain processes are done or new leadership – and embraces and encourages new ideas and ways of doing things.”
6. Practice self-awareness and grow your leadership skills.
Effective leaders know that managing others doesn’t mean they know everything. Managers should always be learning and growing alongside their team. There are several leadership skills that you can build upon, such as time management and delegation. Raskin said that managers can do this by learning how to conserve their energy for the most important tasks. [Related article: 3 Elements of Delegation All Managers Should Know]
“Figuring out exactly how much effort, time and attention an issue needs before moving on to the next is a critical skill to get you through a workday and also make sure you have enough left for your personal life,” she said.
As the leader of the pack, you should practice self-awareness and understand how you personally relate to people. Be mindful of your behavior and the message it sends to your employees. Raskin said that recognizing both the intentional and unintentional impacts you have on others is a critical part of being a good manager, since you set much of the tone and culture for the organization.
“It will definitely take time and energy to get it right, even something as simple as how a manager conducts themselves at a meeting,” she said. “Do they pull out their phone during a presentation and start reviewing emails? Knowing the message that it sends to employees is critical – e.g., ‘if the meeting isn’t important to the boss, why should it be important to me?’ Even these small things carry big meanings.”
Successful management of a team has many moving parts, and it takes consistent self-reflection and change. Learn something new each day to work toward being the best leader you can be.
“It’s OK not to know everything; that’s actually not your job,” de Souza said. “Show your team that you are a normal human being who can mess up sometimes and laugh at a silly joke. Being a manager is not about becoming a faraway figure. Your job is to engage and guide.”
Did you know?: You can find out which type of leader you are by taking a DiSC assessment to determine your own strengths and weaknesses.
Managing different types of employees
No matter the size of your team, your employees will have all sorts of personalities. As a leader, it’s important that you learn to work with each person individually. You should not employ a one-size-fits-all managerial style, but instead find ways that best support your different employees so they do their best work. Here are some common types of employees and how best to manage them.
Employees may be considered high-maintenance if they take up a majority of a manager’s time. High-maintenance behaviors include constantly seeking affirmation, asking questions incessantly or having a hard time accepting criticism.
To manage an employee who requires a lot of attention, it’s important to create a dialogue to try to address the issue. Use this time to find out which of their needs are not being met. Also use this discussion to address the employee’s specific behaviors that could be improved, and offer ways to mitigate any issues. Above all, make sure you are tailoring your interactions to each individual.
You may feel you’ve hit the holy grail of employees when you hire a self-managing employee – even better when your whole team can be described as independent people who can manage themselves. You do, however, still have to be an effective leader, no matter how little guidance they need to do their jobs.
Your job as a manager is to ensure these employees continuously feel motivated and enthusiastic about their work. Regularly check in to discuss ways you can better support them through feedback, resources and clear communication about your team’s goals.
Shy and introverted employees
Sometimes you get a shy or introverted employee who exhibits reserved or timid behaviors. They may not engage much with others around the office or speak up during staff meetings, but they still may be a hard worker. Everyone has a different approach to assignments and culture. As a manager, it is your job to understand these behaviors.
To ensure a shy or introverted employee feels safe and supported, give them space to work while letting them know that you’re available to help. You can also have regular one-on-one meetings that offer a more personal environment to comfortably discuss any issues. Find out which methods allow this employee to do their best work and minimize any day-to-day anxiety.
A team with different motivation levels
No two employees are alike, and you’ll often end up with a team that has varying motivation levels. Some employees consistently go above and beyond with little guidance, while others might need more encouragement when completing their tasks. One size does not fit all in management, and each type of person requires a different kind of leadership style.
For example, high performers may require less attention, but managers should continue to set measurable goals and offer opportunities for these employees to learn and grow in their careers. On the other hand, low performers may require clear instructions, goals and expectations. It’s often not about their motivations, but rather a lack of confidence, so it’s important to highlight “teachable moments” for them to learn from and build up their confidence.
It can be intimidating to be a young manager with older employees who report directly to you. While you are qualified, you may feel your employees might not respect your authority when addressing conflicts or delegating tasks. Rather than forcing respect from your employees, it’s important to know and understand their individual strengths. Additionally, these employees may have key institutional knowledge that can add context when changing systems or strategy.
An age gap may also present some resentments, so it’s imperative to be supportive of this employee, showing that you’re invested in their successes and asking for their help. You should also be communicating and providing feedback in a manner that works best for each employee. For example, an older employee may prefer direct, face-to-face communication, while a younger employee may respond better to an IM or email.
Remote work has become far more common within the last few years due to COVID-19, and there are challenges to effectively managing employees from a distance. Remote workers can often feel less enthusiastic or connected with the rest of their team, and that can have an effect on productivity. Find ways to engage remote workers, like continuing to make them feel heard and understanding them on a personal level.
It is especially important to ensure the employee has the technology and security they need to be productive. Think about the specific technology each employee requires for their respective job. For example, employees who rely on meetings should be outfitted with up-to-date tools for audio and video collaboration. Security should also be a major priority as employees take company laptops to public spaces such as coffee shops and airports with shared Wi-Fi connections. These places make it easy for their laptop to be compromised and your company’s sensitive data to be accessed. Invest in robust security measures to protect both your employee and your company.
Tip: Find the most effective video conferencing services for your remote team by checking out our best picks for video conferencing software.
A new team
You may find yourself managing a new team either within your existing company or when joining a new company. Start off right by making a good impression. One way to do this is by scheduling brief one-on-one meetings with your new employees to get to know them on an individual basis. This also allows you to introduce yourself on a more personal level.
During this time, establish open communication to discover how each employee prefers to give and receive feedback. You’ll want them to feel comfortable enough to voice their concerns or ideas. From there, you can also address any previous or ongoing issues and offer solutions to make their work more manageable.
Gen Z employees
Generation Z, or those born between 1996 and 2015, are beginning to enter the workforce, and, as the most diverse generation, they expect leadership to align with their values in terms of inclusion, the environment and social justice. This group brings distinct characteristics to the workplace, and it’s important to understand this in order to best manage them. For this tech-savvy group, career development is important, as is explicit instruction and goal clarification. Diversity is also a top priority. Generation Z is more likely to question everything, and they care deeply about their mental health.
Leading by example is key to managing and retaining Gen Z employees, so ensure you are adopting the ideals and managerial styles that best appeal to them. Create a supportive yet challenging environment for your young employees, and make sure to listen to their concerns. Learn more about managing Gen Z in the workplace.
Hannah Tayson, Sammi Caramela and Brittney Morgan contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.