How to be a good manager

     
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by Neil Narris

When you first get to be a manager it can be daunting. You move from being one of the team to the leader and suddenly the buck stops with you. Numerous books have been written and courses presented on how to do it well but most managers eventually develop their own style. When you see football managers on TV, some are dressed in kit, trying to be one of the team; others are in suits keeping a certain distance from their staff.

Whatever your style you have to establish your relationships. If these are built on mutual respect that will be a significant advantage for the development of your team. Knowing the strong and not so strong qualities of each person in your team in terms of personality, skills and knowledge allows you to play to their strengths and overcome weaknesses.

Dealing with now

The first essential part of a manager's role is to ensure that what should be done now is done effectively and efficiently within the constraints of budget and time. Dealing with the present can be stressful, especially when there are staff shortages, a lack of facilities, tight budgets and an excessive demand for the service or product that is to be provided. Training people to be multi-tasking can reduce the problems caused when a member of your team is absent. However, sooner or later you will need alternatives--a plan B, for example. Good negotiating skills and the ability to persuade more senior managers to provide the resources you require are a valuable asset. Always develop good working relationships with anyone who can assist your cause.

Planning

In addition to dealing with current problems it is essential to plan for the future. An ability to see the big picture; have a vision of where current thinking is moving to and how this will affect what you and your staff will do in one, two, five years time is important. ‘To do' lists help you to remember everything that needs to be addressed. Wall calendars that show key dates in a year help managers to see bottle necks and difficulties before they arise. Gant charts can be a useful tool in project planning, especially in helping to decide the sequence in which tasks must be completed.

Roles in your team

Belbin (www.belbin.com) defined a range of roles that different people prefer when working in a team:

  • Team workers create harmony but may be indecisive
  • Implementers get things done systematically but may be inflexible
  • Coordinators help others to work towards shared goals
  • Shapers are single minded people who want to achieve but may offend
  • Plants are the creative innovators in your team
  • Resource Investigators are those extroverts who assist communication within and outside your team
  • Monitor Evaluators are analytical people who critically reflect on what is being, or should be done
  • Completer Finishers- you always need someone to see that a job is completed.
  • Team workers support their colleagues with tact and diplomacy

Managers need all of these in their team and some members may have a mixture of these talents.

Motivating your team

Different people are motivated in different ways. Some like to be stretched and to increase their talents, others want their role to be safe and secure. A few may wish to develop novel ideas to change things dramatically, while others prefer to implement incremental improvements. Treating each person as an individual and showing some concerns, not only about their development but also with other issues they may reveal confidentially about their lives, is a good motivator. Some managers encourage social events which oil the wheels of their team and get people to work together more effectively. It is wise to give praise for achievement, and bad management to take all the praise yourself while continually blaming others for lack of progress.

While increases in salary, promotions and training go some way to motivating people their effects are generally short lived. A lack of them, however, will have a negative effect on morale.

Having favourites, not being inclusive and making some feel peripheral to your team usually leads to negative behaviours.

Communication

Good managers are good communicators. We've all heard about mushroom managers who keep their team in the dark but people don't respond to that kind of leadership. Meeting the team regularly on a one-to-one and team meeting basis, and ensuring that everyone knows their role and what is expected on them will improve the performance of your team. If everyone has a job description which is flexible enough to allow you to deal with unusual situations as they arise, this can be a valuable tool. Rigid conformity to strictly applied rules can eventually be a barrier to progress.

Listening carefully to what your team tell you not only avoids pitfalls but also engenders team spirit. Sending e-mails to all the team makes people feel included. Communicating with only one or a few members of the team leads to jealousy and disaffection. Hierarchical management systems suffer from messages passed down the line that change by the time they reach some recipients from what they were when they began their journey.

Unambiguous written communication and minutes of meetings is a useful tool to ensure that everyone knows what has been agreed. It decreases the scope for argument and dissent. Verbal communication can often be misinterpreted or conveniently forgotten.

Delegating

Once you know the strengths of your team you can decide which members will perform best in different roles. Then you can delegate responsibilities. When people accept ownership of specific responsibilities it is best if they can be allowed the freedom to get on with their task in their own way. The manager's role is to set timescales, budgets and deadlines, provide any facilities that are needed, and then offer support when required and monitor progress.

SMART is a useful yardstick when managers are delegating responsibilities. They should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable and agreed
  • Realistic and relevant
  • Time framed

Appraisal

It is important to monitor progress and valuable to have a regular frank appraisal of people's progress.

  • What has been achieved?
  • What could have been done better?
  • What training is required?
  • What do team members plan to achieve in the coming months?

If as a manager you are dissatisfied with something it is usually best to get it off your chest. Allowing problems to fester often gives them the opportunity to grow. Yet, if you know that a problem will disappear if left, doing nothing can sometimes the best strategy.

Conflict

Being a manager is not always comfortable. You cannot always be popular. It is good to look for win- win situations but impossible to please everyone all of the time. Hard decisions frequently have to be made and it is often helpful to talk through your disagreements and those between members of your staff. Being surrounded by ‘Yes men' is not the best way to make progress. Those who disagree may sometimes generate better ideas.

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