For all our talk about the value of leadership, too often, we focus on high-level, C-suite leaders. This leaves a valuable category outside consideration: the manager.
The role of a manager goes beyond managing the workforce’s day-to-day tasks. Managers are pivotal in driving the company culture, mission, and values. By leading the workforce, they become integral to driving the enterprise forward. They are also one of the main reasons employees stay with their company – we’ve all heard that “people don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad managers.”
Employees rely on and take cues from the attitudes and behaviors of their immediate manager – more so than those in the C-suite. Still, recent NTT DATA research shows that investment in leadership development is a relatively low priority for business leaders. Managers must cultivate a culture of support, transparency, growth, and collaboration to see positive team results.
So what makes a ‘manager for the people?’ I have found that it comes down to three key factors: authenticity, positive energy, and being present to grow together.
1. Lead with authenticity
I once had a boss whose personality seemed to change with the weather. Some days he was very patient and interested in working through difficult challenges with me. On other days he was abrupt, dismissive, and demanded immediate answers before I understood the questions. I never did grasp what was important to him – and I didn’t work for him for long.
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Authenticity is important in creating high-performing teams because it lays the groundwork for strong relationships and environments in which employees can bring their whole, best selves to work. Being authentic doesn’t mean bearing all your darkest secrets, but it does mean understanding your own personal style and drivers and helping your team understand those.
Humans are wired for consistency, so when you show up consistently and authentically, your employees know what to expect, how to approach you, and what’s important. Better still, they feel they have space to share who they are and what drives them.
This doesn’t mean everyone on your team needs to take the same approach and have the same style – quite the opposite. A team made up of individuals who are authentically themselves is more productive and more connected to each other as people and to the work and mission of the company. All boats rise.
2. Create a positive environment
Not everyone is naturally energetic and upbeat. You might be more of a Coach Beard or a Roy Kent than a Ted Lasso. But it’s not just the cheerleader types that create positive environments – sometimes, they are the worst at creating them.
A positive environment is one in which people focus on what they can do instead of what they can’t. Individuals – and, therefore, the group – take a growth mindset approach to their work and the world around them, recognizing failures as learning opportunities and committing deeply to continuous learning and curiosity. That positive energy creates and sustains momentum and will drive everyone forward together.
I am a natural, authentic cheerleader type (recently, a senior leader told me that there was nobody he’d rather talk to at 7:30 in the morning!). In contrast, one of my favorite colleagues has a style I might describe as Roy Kent. But the teams he leads are completely devoted to him and achieve amazing things together. His delivery and style might differ wildly from mine, but we share a growth mindset: Together, we can solve any challenge.
3. Grow with your team
We’ve all heard the fast facts about self-care: Focus more on yourself, avoid burnout from supporting others and putting yourself last, etc. But these facts are exactly right and are why we need to put our oxygen masks on before helping others – if you are not okay, you won’t be much good to others.
Taking the opposite approach won’t help you lead a successful team either. Instead, consider the needs and preferences of your team members as individuals. Some people want more time to engage and connect on things unrelated to work. Others are all business, all the time. Some might prefer regularly scheduled check-ins that could be weekly or monthly, and others like to connect when they want or need to.
Meeting your employees where they are gives them what they need when they need it, which helps them be successful. It requires you to be extra adaptable as a manager, and you can do this while maintaining your authentic style.
Perhaps the most important tip, though, is to be present when you are with your team. Shifting to all virtual work over the last couple of years has taken a toll on our ability to focus in the moment. We are constantly typing emails while listening to conference calls or responding to chats and texts while also trying to write articles or create solutions for clients. The pressure to multitask is great, but the benefits of focus and attention are even greater.
At the end of the day, how a manager behaves in the workplace has a ripple effect across the workforce. How you engage and connect with your team will define the group's short- and long-term performance.
And even as we enter an age of digital transformation and advanced technology, leadership isn’t just about the IT or operations teams you lead directly – it’s about everybody, and it always has been. Using that as your north star can transform your leadership and help others grow into great leaders.
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