Anyone can become a boss—all that takes is hiring someone. Becoming a manager that your employees respect and willingly follow is a bit more difficult. If you want to be a leader and not just a boss, you can learn how to lead people properly.
For some people, these priorities and traits come naturally, but for most people, you have to consciously set out to become a great manager. Use these suggestions to find out how to become a leader that employees really want to follow.
Recognize that You Need Employees
Years ago, a colleague worked for Wegmans, a company that is consistently on "Fortune Magazine's Top 100 Companies to Work For list. The then CEO, Robert Wegman, used to tell the employees, “I don't know what you know, but I need what you know.” This message rang loud and clear—Wegmans' employees were valued.
The reality is, even if you used to do the job that your employees are now doing, they know more about the day to day tasks than you know now. You need to respect that. Give them credit for what they do.
Your department would fall apart rapidly if all your employees quit. No matter how smart or how good you are, you need your employees. You need their knowledge, skills, and abilities. Let them know that you know that you need them. Then, you're all in it together.
Treat Employees Fairly
It's easy to play favorites. Oh, no new manager starts out saying, “I'm going to pick my favorite employee and shower her with praise and good projects.” No, instead, it just happens.
Why? Because you're human and you prefer and like some people more than others. It's easy to let personality get in the way of productivity. Don't do that.
Take a step back and look and see if you're making assignments based on actual skill sets or on who you like the most. Good managers are fair and reward good performance, not brown-nosing.
Give raises based on performance. Be fair when you approve vacation requests. If you allow Bob to work at home, but not Stephanie, make sure at your reasoning is well documented and will stand up in a court of law. Strive for fairness.
Nothing will make your employees more resentful than a lazy manager. Of course, you do work that they don't necessarily see. (Just what goes on in all those meetings?) But, you should make every effort to work hard and to help out when needed.
If there's a particularly unpleasant task that falls on your department, make sure you're heavily involved. Yes, the manager can clean toilets, stuff envelopes, or run a cash register when it's busy. The manager that hides in her office during times when employees are doing unpleasant tasks will rapidly lose the respect of her employees.
Don't expect your employees to come in before you and work after you leave. Don't expect them to do things you wouldn't do yourself. Managers get paid more because they do more. Make sure you're doing more. Employees respect this.
Sure, people like to think they are perfect, but in the business world, you don't progress if you don't fix your problems. A good manager gives feedback—positive and negative—and corrects problems as soon as possible.
Telling an employee that she's doing a task wrong is painful and sometimes managers want to give the employee just one more chance before saying anything. While for minor errors, that's probably okay, for big things—important things, it's not okay. You need to gather your personal, professional courage and speak up—no matter how painful or scary.
For instance, if you notice that one of your employees is short tempered with customers, you'll want to speak up now. Offer feedback and coaching as soon as you know there is a problem.
Letting the problem continue will set this employee up for disaster. Ignoring the problem also reinforces with the employee that the behavior is okay. It also ruins the morale of your other employees. Why should they try when you just ignore the problems?
Technical errors are generally non-emotional to fix. “Bob, 2+2 equals 4, not 6,” is easy to say. Personal issues are not. “Bob, you spend a good deal of time talking about your coworkers. It's my job to manage your coworkers, not yours. Please, don't talk about them. If you have a concern about their performance, let me know and I'll take care of it.”
It's a manager's job to shut down bullies, reward innovation, correct technical errors, and evaluate performance. Your employees expect it and will respect you when you do these things.
Support Your Team
Some managers like to grab the credit for all the good (“Yes, it was through my leadership that we managed to increase revenue by 10%,”) but blame the employees for anything bad, (“Jane and Steve made several errors that caused us to decrease our revenue by 10%.”)
Here's the thing: Your team won't follow you if you blame them—even when it is their fault. So, Jane and Steve made several errors—it's your job to correct that and to train them so they don't make them again.
Try not to blame and take responsibility when things go badly. Give credit when things go well. “Jane and Steve had an awesome year and that's why we increased our revenue by 10 percent,” will earn you the respect of Jane and Steve, as well, “We struggled this year in some areas. I'm going to introduce several organizational changes so that next year we'll meet our revenue targets.” You're the manager and the whole department's performance is on your head.
If there truly is a problem with an employee's performance, it is your job to either fix it or fire the employee. If the problem continues, it is your fault. Don't forget that.
Overall, Be Nice
The most basic management advice is to be nice. Yes, sometimes you have to say hard things, but do it in a compassionate way. When you offer correction your goal is the improvement of performance for everyone, not a justification that you are right and they are wrong.
Use that as your guiding principle and your employees will respect you and work harder, bringing your department success.
Characteristics of a Successful Leadership Style
Much is written about what makes successful leaders. This series will focus on the characteristics, traits, and actions that many leaders believe are key.
- Choose to lead and practice adaptive leadership
- Be the person others choose to follow.
- Provide a vision for the future.
- Provide inspiration.
- Make other people feel important and appreciated.
- Live your values. Behave ethically.
- Leaders set the pace by their expectations and example.
- Establish an environment of continuous improvement.
- Provide opportunities for people to grow, both personally and professionally.
- Care and act with compassion and communicate positive mental health.
Suzanne Lucas is a freelance writer who spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.