It was only when I started reporting to a new boss that I realized I was a pretty terrible manager.
When my former boss resigned, my team and I were shifted under a new department in the company. And as my new boss tried to feel out this new team that she was leading, she started asking me questions: “Who on your team deserves a promotion?” “Who isn’t performing up to standards?” “How often do you have one-on-one meetings with your direct reports?”
And as I answered, “Um, I’m not sure,” “I think everyone’s doing OK,” and “Well, whenever I need to,” respectively, I realized that I really wasn’t doing my job as best I could. I really wanted to be a great manager—but it was easy to see that I had become a little apathetic and wasn’t putting 100% effort into leading my team.
Right then and there, I decided it was time to turn it around. I knew there wouldn’t be an immediate fix, but there were certainly some steps I could take toward becoming a more trusted, respected, and successful manager. So, if you ever find yourself in my shoes and realize you’re not quite fulfilling your job description, I encourage you to follow my lead with these tips for stepping up your managerial game.
1. Put One-on-Ones on the Calendar
Every boss I’ve had encouraged me to schedule regular one-on-one meetings with each of my direct reports. Yet, despite that advice, I always put it off, preferring to schedule a meeting only when it was really needed (i.e., when someone had really slipped up). I just didn’t think it was that important to my employees—I walked around and talked to them on a daily basis, so why make it awkward by limiting our conversation to the confines of an office?
But the truth is, private one-on-ones give you the chance to provide serious feedback (which is often not appropriate when you’re casually chatting on the floor), and gives your employees the opportunity to talk to you about things they may otherwise feel uncomfortable bringing up—like potential promotions, internal moves, or even something about your management style that’s making their job unnecessarily tough.
When I decided I needed a kick in the management pants, I sent a recurring Outlook invite to each of my reports, firmly locking in a one-on-one every two weeks. This way, they were prepared for the sit-down, and I had less of an opportunity to push it off, saying, “Oh, we can just meet next week”—which would happen if I continued to schedule them whenever I felt like “it was needed.”
There’s a good chance your employees won’t spill their deepest emotions in your first few meetings—and in fact, they’ll probably be a little awkward. But as you continue to meet on a regular basis and prove that you’re committed to constant communication, you’ll eventually form a bond that will help you and your team get on the same page. You’ll get to know your employees on both a personal and professional level and you’ll have a much better read on the “temperature” on the floor.
2. Stop Using Band-Aids
When I looked at my management style, I was forced to admit that I was often opting for the easy way out. Instead of identifying the root cause of a performance issue and helping the employee work through it, I put a Band-Aid on it—by taking the assignment he or she was struggling with and doling it out to someone with a better track record for those types of tasks. I wasn’t helping my employees grow; I was just ignoring problems and using quick fixes instead.
But if you’re looking to turn your management performance around, it’s time to face your employees and their issues (good and bad) head-on.
In my case, that meant providing individualized coaching and training if I found that an employee wasn’t completing a task correctly. Sure, it might have been more time-efficient to just delegate it to another team member—but by taking the time to sit down with an employee to provide specific coaching, I was able to strengthen the ability of the entire team. And that has helped us accomplish infinitely more.
Along the same lines, it’s not enough to rely on your employees’ paychecks to serve as a reward for a job well done. If individual recognition has taken a backseat (for me, I often gave a blanket “good job” at team meetings), start praising your team members. Whether you send your employees a complimentary email, pull them aside for a sincere face-to-face conversation, or recognize their work in front of others, it’s important that they feel appreciated. And if that hasn’t been a priority to you—it should become one.
3. Help Your Employees Trust You
As a manager, you have requests coming at you from all directions. Your boss is constantly throwing new goals at you, asking why you’re not meeting the forecasted numbers, and laying on the pressure to get your team motivated. From your employees, you’re getting requests for extra training, complaints about too much work, and, frankly, ideas that you just don’t have time for at the moment.
And when I was in this situation, I often let the executives’ pressure dictate my daily activities—pushing my employees’ requests aside. So, they didn’t get the training they wanted, their plates stayed overloaded (or boredom-inducingly empty), and their ideas went on a to-consider list that I never actually considered.
The truth is, it will never be easy to create a 50/50 balance between the amount of time and attention you give to your employees versus your management. But then again, should it be an equal split? In all honestly, I don’t know—but I do know that part of my job is to be an advocate for my team. And that means providing them with what they need to succeed, pushing their ideas through to completion (or at least thoroughly considering them), and helping them in any way I can.
The key? Follow-through, prioritization, and honesty. Whenever your employee makes a request or asks for help that you can’t provide immediately, write it down. Then, make time to sort through and follow up with these requests, whether that means getting extra training hours approved or presenting a new idea to your boss. Most importantly, whatever the outcome is, circle back to your employee and let him or her know what came of it—even if you have to let him or her know that the idea was tabled for the time being (or just isn’t going to be implemented, period).
As you start following through on your word, you’ll show your employees that not only are you on their side, but that they can trust you to help them in any way you can.
Be prepared: Your employees might be a little skeptical at your change of heart at first. If you haven’t been an attentive and team-centered manager in the past, they probably won’t have 100% confidence in you right away. The good news is, these steps will put you back on the right path—not only to improve your own management skills, but to help your entire team succeed.