There’s an old saying to the effect of “Employees don’t leave companies — they leave managers.”

Bad bosses exact a cost. In fact, they cost American businesses $360 billion annually in extra health care expenses alone, to say nothing of the costs in terms of morale and a higher staff turnover rate.

According to research from Gallup, only 10 percent of all workers have the necessary skills to be effective managers.

But even if you’re not in that ten percent, you can improve your performance as a manager. Target the following six areas and you’ll be a noticeably more effective and skilled manager in short order.

1. Know the qualities of an effective manager

Good managers tend to share the same five core characteristics:

  1. Patience: Especially when things go wrong or where multiple problems cause stress.
  2. Courage: The courage to avoid micromanaging and to hold employees accountable for fulfilling their job duties.
  3. Thoughtfulness: Good managers know that being stingy with praise and appreciation of workers will backfire. Being thoughtful and recognizing when employees do well will help motivate the entire team to do better.
  4. Fairness: They never play favorites. Even though some people will just naturally appeal to them more than others, they keep their emotional response in check. They strive to treat all workers fairly, knowing that doing so will increase worker respect and make life a lot easier to boot.
  5. Action: Know how to execute, and they know that coming up with a great idea means very little if you don’t actually follow through and implement.

2. Improve your communication skills

So much of effective management revolves around communication.

As a manager, you need to know how to express and clarify expectations, goals, and evaluation metrics in order to be able to give employees the information they need to meet those expectations.

Better communication skills also includes better listening skills. Good managers seek the input of their workers on a regular basis, and engage in brainstorming sessions on occasion. Do what you can to implement those ideas on occasion, and give them credit when you do.

In short, good managers are skilled at pointing out the common goal and helping their workers achieve it.

Finally, learn how to receive feedback appropriately. It’s a crucial part of management, and of being a better employee yourself.

Ask questions to clarify feedback, but don’t get defensive. Your job isn’t to defend yourself against the feedback but to first understand it, then to learn from it. And, of course, always thank the person giving the feedback.

3. Work on your relationship-building skills

When you think about it, all the major skills that make a good manager really boil down to one question: How easily and quickly can you make relationships with people who are in some cases much different than you?

For some people, this comes naturally. But it’s a skill that can be learned like any other. Here are some tips to help:

  • Don’t look at yourself as the one in charge. Yes, you’re in a position of authority, and sometimes you’ll have to demonstrate that to a worker. But if you’re doing your job as a manager, that should be a rare occurrence.
  • Be part of the team. Be willing to ask “what do you need from me?” Then roll up your sleeves, so to speak, and do it.
  • Manage your own energy levels. When you combine a position of authority and a tendency to “come on strong,” it feels forceful and overwhelming, even aggressive, to your workers. On the other hand, if your energy levels are low, it’s hard to show or generate enthusiasm in others.
  • Remain approachable. If your workers are afraid of or reluctant to bring problems to your attention, you’re not being an effective manager. You’re doing actual harm to your employer.
  • Show interest. Get to know your workers as individuals, not just as “worker bees.”
  • Cultivate empathy. Put yourself in your employees’ shoes so you can view the work experience from their perspective.
  • Praise openly. Do it publicly, and be specific. Nothing will go farther to help improve your team’s morale and mood at work.

4. Work on motivating and persuading workers

Good management is much more than simply telling people what to do and when to do it.

Successful managers know how to work with and encourage each member of the team, based on their individual strengths and weaknesses. These good managers help employees develop their skills and talents, and show them how what they do fits into the big picture for the organization as a whole.

The key to doing this successfully is the ability to persuade and motivate others.

Dr. John Ullmen, a management professor at UCLA, says “our passion to persuade often exceeds our ability to convince.”

In other words, we may want to be able to show workers how and why things need to be done a certain way, but we may not have the skills to do so effectively. The end result: We come across as mini-dictators. “Do it my way or else!” is not an effective persuasion tool.

New managers tend to gravitate naturally to what would convince them, but obviously that’s not the best approach for every employee. You need to expand your skills and persuasion toolbox.

For instance, there are several tactics you can use to persuade successfully, from informational tactics (analyzing situations rationally, citing credible sources) to the interpersonal (leading by example).

It’s equally important to figure out how to motivate each employee, since individuals respond positively to different rewards. Those motivators may include: achievement, recognition, financial compensation, added power/responsibilities, opportunities to be creative, travel, and titles or status.

5. Address potential problems promptly

Effective managers know that it’s in everyone’s best interests to address and resolve potential conflicts as early as possible.

In other words, you need to pay attention to and resolve employee conflicts at the first available opportunity. An example: a waiter in your restaurant cannot stand to work with a particular line cook. That can boil over quickly and affect the entire staff on that shift. Equally important, it will affect your customers’ dining experiences. Ultimately, it will negatively affect sales.

And addressing conflicts early means it’ll be much easier to resolve them. For example, you can address employee performance issues with a direct but casual statement. If a member of the wait staff shirked his side work on a few shifts, you can say something like the following:

“I’ve noticed you’ve been having some trouble getting your side work done lately. If there’s a problem, let’s talk about it but otherwise, I wanted to remind you that we’ve got a set checklist here that needs to be completed at the end of each shift.”

This approach prevents a small problem from becoming a big one without making it a huge issue, which can trigger an employee’s defensiveness. If that happens, no one will come away from the experience feeling good about it, and it may only reinforce the problem instead of solve it.

6. Tailor your approach to the individual employee

You may have noticed this already, reading this article up to this point: Effective managers know how to tailor their approach to the individual worker.

One part is about motivating them and persuading them. Another part is about resolving their conflicts. And third, it’s part of training and, when necessary, correcting them, too.

That’s why it’s so vital to improve your relationship-building skills (see no. 3, above). So, because it bears repeating: Get to know your workers, what motivates them, how they communicate best, and what their priorities and values are.

Before you initiate any interaction with an employee, figure out what outcome you want, then think about the style of management that would work best to secure that outcome.

Of course, every manager has a sense of their own management style, but it won’t be the right approach every time and in every situation. If you want all of your employees to be more engaged with their work, you’ll have to be able to switch styles to whatever works best for that individual.

Take Aways

To become a better manager, focus first on your people skills. Your ability to communicate and to listen, to empathize with others, and to create and build relationships with coworkers and employees.

See yourself as a member of the team first and foremost, and look for ways to praise your workers publicly. Do it as often as possible.

Finally, be willing to seek and act upon feedback. Let your employees see you striving to improve your own performance, and they’ll be more motivated to work on theirs.

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