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Strengthen your management skills

01 Jun, 2020 Business management, PR management

What you need to be a good leader

Leadership is the process of directing and influencing the tasks of group members. Leadership must involve other people – staff or followers. It is the act of working with and through others to achieve objectives. As a communication leader, you need to consistently aim for continuous self-improvement to strengthen your management skills.

Self-confidence is not the real secret of leadership. The more essential ingredient is confidence in other people. Leadership involves motivating others to produce their best efforts and channeling those efforts in a coherent direction. As a leader you must believe you can count on other people to come through. If you think you can rely only on yourself while focusing on other people’s inadequacies, you undermine confidence and reinforce losing streaks. In contrast, when leaders believe in other people, the confidence of those people grows and winning becomes more attainable. The job of all leaders involves fostering straight talk, clearly communicating expectations, and making information transparent and accessible, according to Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School.

Define your leadership role to your team

In an effective group, members understand and support the role of the leader. Defining this role includes deciding what kinds of decisions you as leader are involved in and:

  • to what extent, what kinds of group tasks you as leader perform
  • how you as leader help the group obtain resources and manage the boundaries with the rest of the organization
  • how you help your team members manage conflict.

By their willingness to accept directions from you as leader, your team members help define your status and make the leadership process possible. Without direct reports, your leadership qualities would be irrelevant.

In addition to being legitimately able to give directions to your staff, you can also wield influence by telling your staff what to do and also can influence how they carry out their instructions. This means you need to strengthen your management skills along your career path so you know how to deal with all these varied situations.

Image: Bar chart from McKinsey article, “The boss factor – Making the world a better place through workplace relationships,” 2020.

As the above bar chart shows, employees in workplaces with good management relations are significantly more satisfied. Many studies show the link between employee satisfaction, customer loyalty, and profitability. You would help your career development by arranging professional development support to help you strengthen your management skills.

Gallup research came to similar conclusions. In its State of the American Manager report, Gallup found that “Managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units.” The research was conducted through multiple regression analysis across 11,781 work teams. Executive coach John Baldoni defines employee engagement as “People want to come to work, understand their jobs, and know how their work contributes to the success of the organization.”

It is logical that as a manager, you play a crucial role in your team’s engagement and satisfaction, and your team’s role in being integral to strong organizational performance. McKinsey consultants comment:

Many sources of data on what makes a good workplace highlight two aspects that line managers directly control: (1) good work organization – providing team members with the context, guidance, tools, and autonomy to minimize frustration and make their jobs meaningful – (2) psychological safety, which is the absence of interpersonal fear as a driver of employee behavior. With burnout on the rise, and stress and anxiety a leading cause of ill health and absenteeism, the emotional health of workers becomes particularly important.

Your role as an effective leader

Managers are more important than ever as employee satisfaction becomes even more important in retaining good staff, according to a McKinsey article in 2021. In recent times, there has been a strong trend around the world of employees quitting their jobs, and a top reason that employees have nominated as a reason for quitting their jobs, apart from COVID, has been because they haven’t felt valued by their manager, according to McKinsey.

Your leadership tasks

Your effectiveness as a leader depends largely on your aptitude for leadership and your willingness to fulfill and complete the leadership role. Your main leadership tasks are:

  • establishing focus for your team
  • making their jobs meaningful
  • developing and empowering team members
  • managing the performance of team members
  • using good interpersonal awareness
  • developing teamwork. 1

Each of the tasks requires you to develop open communication, effective listening skills and the ability to give and receive feedback. You need these qualities because your team members need to understand where they are going and what they can achieve individually and as a group. Overall, you need to strengthen your management skills so you can engage successfully with your team members.

Terms like ‘establishing focus’, ‘developing others’ and ‘empowering others’ sound fine in principle, but what do they mean in practice?

Establishing focus is the ability to develop and communicate goals in support of the organizational mission. As leader, you ensure your branch develops a strategy and goals to help fulfill the organizational mission; you act to align your branch’s goals with the organizational mission; you ensure your team members understand how their work relates to the organizational mission; and you ensure all team members understand and identify with your branch’s mission.

Developing others is the ability to delegate responsibility, and to work with others and coach them to develop their capabilities. As leader, you provide helpful feedback about each team members’ specific actions and behaviors; you give them assignments that will help develop their abilities; you regularly meet with them to review their development progress; you recognize and reinforce their developmental progress; and you express confidence in their ability to be successful.

Empowering others is the ability to convey confidence in your employees’ ability to be successful, especially at challenging new tasks; delegating significant responsibility and authority; and allowing employees freedom to decide how they will achieve their goals and resolve issues. By empowering them, you give people latitude to make decisions in their own area of work; you let others make decisions and take charge where appropriate; you encourage individuals and teams to set their own goals consistent with corporate goals; and you encourage teams to provide their own solutions to resolve problems.

Managing performance is the ability to take responsibility for your own performance or your employees’ performance by setting clear goals and expectations, tracking progress against the goals, ensuring feedback, and addressing performance problems and issues promptly. You are well advised to continuously strengthen your management skills through structured training. As leader:

  • you ensure all your staff have clear goals and responsibilities
  • you work with team members to set and communicate performance standards that are specific and measurable
  • you support them in their efforts to achieve job goals by providing resources, removing obstacles and acting as a buffer to impediments
  • you stay informed about individuals’ progress and performance through formal methods (eg progress reports) and informal methods (management by walking around); you provide specific performance feedback, both positive and corrective, as soon as possible after an event; and you deal firmly and promptly with performance problems, letting people know what is expected of them.

Developing teamwork is the ability to demonstrate interest, skill and success in getting the team to work together. As team leader, you provide opportunities for people to learn to work together as a team; you achieve the active participation of everyone; you promote cooperation with other teams, you ensure all team members are treated fairly; and you recognize and encourage the behaviors that contribute to teamwork.

Using good interpersonal awareness is the ability to notice, interpret and anticipate team members’ concerns and feelings, and to communicate this awareness empathetically to others. As leader, you understand the workplace interests and important concerns of others; you notice and accurately interpret the feelings of others; you anticipate how others will react to a situation; you listen attentively to people’s ideas and concerns; you understand the strengths and weaknesses of others; you understand the unspoken meaning in a situation; you say or do things to address others’ concerns; you find non-threatening ways to approach others about sensitive issues; and you make others feel comfortable by responding in ways that convey interest in what they have to say.

Each of the tasks requires you as leader to develop open communication, effective listening skills and the ability to give and receive feedback. You need these qualities to relate to your team because your team needs to understand where they are going and what they can achieve individually and as a group. You can best develop these qualities through arranging coaching to strengthen your management skills.

Vital to seek feedback

A US study in 2004 by highly respected management thinkers and coaches Marshall Goldsmith and Howard Morgan found that leaders who regularly ask for input are seen as increasing in effectiveness. Leaders who don’t follow up are not necessarily bad leaders; they are just not seen as getting better. The study of 11,480 managers who participated in leadership development activities found:

“Time and again one variable emerged as central to the achievement of positive long-term change: the participants’ ongoing interaction and follow-up with colleagues. Leaders who discussed their own improvement priorities with their co-workers, and then regularly followed up with these co-workers, showed striking improvement.” You will significantly strengthen your management skills if you engage in this type of continuous improvement for yourself.

A.G. Lafley, former CEO of P&G, called by Fortune magazine as one of the most lauded CEOs in history, was on the same wavelength in a 2021 Medium article, saying that as a leader, you should get constructive and productive feedback from the managers and employees you work with every day who know you best at work: “Sometimes, it’s as simple as having an informal conversation with one or two of your employees whom you respect and whose judgment you value.” [Just don’t be seen to be playing favorites with those people. Probably best to also speak regularly with other team members in turn, even though their views may not be as good. At least this will help your informal assessment of them over time.] Getting into the habit of asking for input and feedback on a regular weekly and even daily basis creates an atmosphere and culture that supports collaboration. It also provides the kind of informal constructive and productive feedback to help everyone perform better individually and the group perform better as a team:

Simple, clear questions can get the conversation going. What you and your employees as a team want to understand is: What individual and team capabilities are required for winning in your specific business with your most important customers [and stakeholders]? Which capabilities, which practices, give you competitive advantage [or best practice in government and NGOs]?

What are we doing that matters most? Are we doing what matters well enough? Are we doing it better than our best competitors? Are we sure? How do we know?

…In most businesses, two or three capabilities and strengths make the decisive difference with customers and ultimately the success of the business.

One incredibly important organizational strength for small for and not-for-profit businesses is…simple management and operating systems. Small organizations don’t have the manpower, time, money, or energy to deal with any complexity, confusion, or unnecessary bureaucracy, meetings, paperwork, and the like. The KISS approach to managing and operating is critical: Keep It Simple!

Effective communication skills

In nearly all job applications, the employer requires applicants to have good communication skills in the workplace. There is no doubt that communication is one of the main ingredients for a successful career, but what are actually good communication skills? The term is so overused that it is difficult to define what it actually means for a manager or supervisor. So, what are good communication skills? Firstly, we need to remember that communication occurs in many different ways and contexts. From writing and speaking to body language, we use a wide range of skills to communicate. Demonstrating strong communication skills is about being able to convey information and actively listen to others in a simple and unambiguous way, according to a 2021 article by WikiJob UK.

The article by the team specialists says that communication skills at work:

  • Your messages should be clear and concise, in a way that connects with your audience.
  • Understanding instructions, acquiring new skills, making requests, asking questions and relaying information with ease.
  • Good communication involves understanding requests, asking questions and relaying key information.
  • Good communication skills are perhaps the most basic skills that you can possess as an employee, yet they remain one of the most sought-after by employers.
  • Good communication skills are crucial in a leader, including a leader of groups and teams in any economic sector. Whether or not you are a professional communicator, you need to review your communication skills as you take action to strengthen your management skills overall.

Top 10 communication skills

WikiJob lists the top 10 communication skills as:

  1. Emotional intelligence – the ability to understand and manage your emotions so you can communicate effectively, avoid stress, overcome challenges and empathize with others. Four main components of emotional intelligence are (1) self awareness, (2), self-management, (3) social awareness, and (4) relationship management.
  2. Cohesion and clarity – communicating messages clearly and concisely. Always keep in mind the purpose of the communication and any information you want to obtain as a result.
  3. Friendliness – set the right tone. A friendly tone will encourage others to communicate with you.
  4. Confidence – demonstrating confidence will give others trust in your abilities to deliver that they need, and that you will follow through on what you have undertaken to do.
  5. Empathy – understand where the other person is coming from emotionally, and always respecting their views.
  6. Respect – empathy leads to respect for the other person – their ideas and opinions. They are more likely to respond positively to you.
  7. Listening – if you respect the ideas and opinions of others, they will be more receptive to you. Active listening is vital – focusing on what the person is saying, not thinking of your response while they are making their point.
  8. Open-mindedness – approaching a discussion with an open mind is more likely to result in a successful outcome.
  9. Tone of voice – verbally and in writing. The tone of your voice can set the whole mood of the conversation. So be mindful of your level of emotion, the volume you use, and the level communication the other person can relate to.
  10. Asking good questions. Good questions can help conversations flow and improve the outcome. Always aim to ask open-ended questions, which can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no” response, or with a defensive non-answer. Open-ended questions are phrased as a statement which requires a longer response. The response can be compared to information that is already known to the questioner.

What not to do

You are best to avoid the following three leadership behaviors that destroy trust, advises corporate coach Matthew Royse in a 2021 Medium article:

  1. Words don’t match actions. Leaders don’t need to be seen as best friends. Schedule consistent communication. Follow up and follow through on promises. Clearly state priorities and explain why things shift. The best leaders constantly match their words with their actions.
  2. A lack of consistency. Leaders must be consistent, so employees feel part of the team. Leaders should not be calling out employees in front of others. Leaders should not change job descriptions or responsibilities without warning. Consistency, or lack thereof, is the difference between success and failure. When leaders are not consistent, the team doesn’t know what to expect, how they need to work, and what behavior they need to meet a positive outcome. If a leader needs to rethink a decision, they must talk to the team about their concerns and the process for deciding. Leaders shouldn’t avoid conversations because they may be difficult.
  3. Not being emotionally intelligent. Emotionally intelligent leaders are aware of their emotions and the emotions of others. Through empathy, emotionally intelligent leaders bring emotions into the process when talking to people. Be intentional with communication. Leaders need to know when their emotions are bubbling up to the surface and they need to adjust their behavior. They don’t send an email they will regret later. They don’t have a conversation they will wish they didn’t have.

Further reading

If you have been newly promoted to a manager or supervisor position, you may find my article, “Becoming the boss,” helpful for establishing a sound foundation for your new role.

Reference

1. Dwyer, Judith. The Business Communication Handbook.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash.

About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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