Posted by Adam Blanch on 09 September 2014
Not everyone is a natural-born leader. However, you don’t need it to come naturally to become a great manager – it’s more science than art.
A simple search on Amazon for the term “leadership” returns nearly 120,000 titles. At least 17 of the top sellers are written by John C. Maxwell, whose book The 5 Levels of Leadership provides a great overview of how a “learning” leader can grow and develop. Fortunately, you don’t need to read all of Maxwell’s, or Amazon’s, collection because a few basic tips will get you most of the way there.
Start with what a “people manager” does. Successful people managers are competent across four basic domains: they organise, they motivate, they support and they synthesise.
1. Organise and allocate
Managers should only ever manage – and never actually be doing the work. It’s their job to wrap their heads around the big picture for their team. They understand what the team needs to achieve, they break it down into attainable goals, they allocate tasks according to the team’s strengths and they lay out a timetable for their completion. Then they manage the team’s performance until the job is done.
Numerous theories on motivation exist, but for proven results it’s hard to go past Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We all have the same needs for security, belonging, autonomy, contribution to others, recognition and personal growth. However, we don’t have them to the same degree. The trick is to meet all of them to some extent, and to figure out what your individual team members really value – and give it to them.
One team member might be highly ambitious, for example, while another just needs people to like him. One might place a great deal of importance on helping others, while her colleague really takes pride in how she does her job. Once you figure out what their primary motivators are, it’s much easier to realise great performance from your team – and have them like you for it.
Good managers serve their teams – not the other way around. The idea of the servant leader has gone from strength to strength in the last two decades, led largely by James C. Hunter’s bestselling book The Servant. Servant leaders understand that the happier and more productive their team members are, the harder they work. Good managers make sure that their teams have the resources they need to work, the flexibility they need to manage their lives, the encouragement they need to keep up their morale and the confidence and recognition they need to take pride in their job. A leader who goes to work each day concerned primarily with his or her people will rapidly ascend the leadership ladder.
The other end of organising is reviewing, reflecting and synthesising information. Team members are like cogs in a machine, and their manager is the computer that keeps everything running by being aware of the whole operation and managing how all the various bits of information interact and communicate. The book The First-Time Manager provides a strong overview of what a manager has to do to survive and thrive.
There is just one more thing that a great manager needs: constant personal improvement and growth. Managers who inspire do so because they are always slightly ahead of others in terms of knowledge, maturity and confidence. They never stop growing, learning and developing their character. In the words of James C. Hunter, “Leadership is simply character in action. If you want to improve your leadership skills, you must improve your character skills.”
A great manager is part strategist, part coach, part counsellor and part tactician. Managing people takes a diverse range of skills, but aspiring leaders can acquire them – and these efforts will be richly rewarded. You may not have what it takes just yet, but you can get it.