Like most people, I've had good managers and I've had bad ones. But it wasn't until I started managing my own employees that I realized the challenges involved in keeping staff members motivated while leaving room for them to excel.
The good news is, managing workers effectively requires skills that you can develop over time, so you can learn to be a great manager no matter where you are in your career.
Whether you've been promoted to manager for the first time or are a seasoned manager looking to get even better at your job, here are some skills that are key to success.
1. Focus on the individual
As a manager, you'll likely have a diverse staff, with each person on your team having a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. The key, according to research that included surveys of more than 80,000 managers, is to identify and capitalize on the skills of everyone who works under you.
Great managers focus on finding each worker's key talents and harnessing those skills to turn every employee into a top performer.
Employees waste time when they struggle to do work that doesn't play to their talents, and you don't fully use the power of your human resources if you don't focus every staff member on the tasks they're best at.
To discover what each team member is most adept at, focus on their eccentricities. Observe how well they perform on specific assignments and pay attention to whether they do better with more focused instructions or when given the freedom to choose their own path. Then do more of what works.
2. Know when and how to delegate
As a manager, you have a team working under you for a reason: Each person should play a vital role within your organization. It's your job to assign staff members to tackle tasks and achieve business objectives.
Unfortunately, too many managers aren't good at delegating. Effective delegation means handing off tasks to staff members, providing clear guidance on what you consider a successful outcome, and giving workers freedom to achieve their objective in their own way.
By micromanaging or trying to handle everything yourself, you kill motivation and productivity. You might thwart creative processes that could lead to breakthroughs and increased efficiency. And you'll be left with too little time to do your own job if you aren't delegating.
3. Modeling the behavior you want to see
Managers not only assign work and monitor staff performance, but they also play an integral role in shaping company culture. That means it is up to you to be the type of employee you want your staff members to become.
There are some obvious ways to create a positive company culture, including treating everyone on the team with respect, promoting the free exchange of ideas, and fostering a culture of safety.
But you also want to model other positive behaviors as well. For example, if you want to encourage workers to focus on performance rather than face time, don't stay late at the office every single night.
4. Provide specific feedback, including public praise
It's imperative that staff members know exactly what your expectations are and how you define success. That means giving regular ongoing constructive feedback, not just overloading employees with information once a year in performance reviews.
If an employee does something really well, take the time to recognize this win -- publicly, if possible -- as this can encourage others to emulate the behavior. Don't just say the employee did a good job. Be detailed about what you're praising and how the employee's contributions helped your team excel.
Likewise, if there's an area where you think a staff member has room for improvement, you can privately provide specific and helpful guidance. It doesn't need to be a formal criticism (which can make employees feel defensive) but can be as simple as a suggestion to try approaching a task in a different way.
5. Communicate the big picture
Most people want to feel that their job is meaningful and that they're accomplishing something besides just earning a paycheck. While some jobs inherently seem like they're adding more value, the reality is that every employee contributes to the company's success.
If staff members understand how their jobs help provide a better product or service -- or help enhance business operations -- they're much more likely to be motivated to give it their all. That's why it's so important for good managers to let employees not only know what to do but also why they're doing it.
Providing insight into big goals -- and letting employees know their part in achieving them -- can also provide opportunities for your staff to contribute in new ways you may not have expected.
Being a great manager doesn't have to be hard
Ultimately, all these traits are talents you can develop over time. As you work with your staff, you'll learn what makes them tick and how to help them do the very best job they can. As you become a better manager, your team's performance will improve, and you'll discover what leadership style works best for you and your staff.