The Fine Art of Being a Good Manager

The Modern Survival Guide #104

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels
  • Delegating tasks
  • Supporting your people
  • Practicing good communication strategies
  • Solving work process problems
  • Knowing what you don’t know
  • Knowing what kind of decision to make
  • Knowing when to back off
  • Knowing when to use your experience
  • Demonstrating leadership

Scale Oversight to People and Projects

Oversight means you’re checking to see what your people are doing and how well they’re doing it. Different people and projects require different levels of oversight, which should come as no surprise to anyone.

Delegate Non-Managerial Tasks

If you are a manager you should make every possible effort to avoid doing line work. If you don’t know what that means, read this. Delegate these tasks to trusted people as fast as you can, and then back away and let them get on with it.

Support Your People

I know, it’s a little ironic to lead into this after that last sentence, but here we go!

Practice Good Communications

A core truth of being a manager of any sort is that most of your work will consist of communication. Emails, meetings, and random stops at the job site or in the hallway will take up the bulk of your time. That’s because one of your chief duties as a manager is to be a routing node of information.

  • Establish approved modes of communication for your employees. Make sure people know how they are supposed to get information to you, and then make sure that they are doing so.
  • Use email for quick messaging, and meetings for in-depth discussions.
  • Keep control of meetings. Make sure people stay on topic and remain cordial. Make sure each meeting has a point and purpose.
  • Learn to listen with patience. Too many managers interrupt subordinates during presentations, for example, because they get bored. Sometimes boring things are important
  • Learn when it’s important to speak over someone. Sometimes you will need to cut off a rambler and get your point across. A rule of thumb is that if someone is talking for longer than five minutes in a meeting, they’ve probably expended their time (unless they are presenting).
  • Keep track of your stakeholders. Make lists, if you have to. But make sure you know all the people who need to know about every major issue that crosses your desk.
  • Make time to talk to your subordinates. If nothing else, practice management by walking around. People need to know they can have space to talk to you and raise issues.
  • DO NOT USE THE PHRASE “MY DOOR IS ALWAYS OPEN.” Everyone knows that’s a lie, and it’s disingenuous. I have never worked with a manager who was genuinely thrilled with the idea of random people popping into their office to occupy their time. A more accurate statement is “If you see something that needs changing, or if you have an idea you want to discuss, feel free to work with my secretary/assistant to get on my calendar.”
  • Don’t lie. Lies hurt credibility, which impacts trust. Your people should trust you.
  • Don’t always tell the whole truth. There are things your people don’t need to know. If you don’t know what they are, get a new job.
  • For every major issue, use multiple modes of communication. Never assume people read their email.
  • Address major issues head-on. Never beat around the bush or attempt to hide big changes for the business.
  • Always communicate resolutions to major issues, problems, or projects both up and down your chain of command. Always praise good work, and always address bad work. Make sure people know when their job is done and it’s time for new work, and make sure your boss knows that you deserve credit for completed work.

Solve Work Process Problems

Good managers identify problems with work processes: the office environment, business practices, employee relations, and paradigms used to complete work. Then they solve them. Part of the point of being a manager is that it’s your job to smooth the way for your employees to do work. If you aren’t doing this, you will encounter continual, annoying, wasteful speed bumps on the road to progress. If you aren’t solving problems, you’re not doing your job. If you think there aren’t any problems, you’re ignorant and that’s the first problem to solve.

Know What You Don’t Know

Ignorance is not bliss. It’s just the state of not knowing which rock is about to trip you.

Know What Kind of Decision to Make

Broadly speaking, there are two overarching categories of decisions: decisions where the most important thing is that they are made correctly, and decisions where the most important thing is that they are made.

Know When to Back Off

Sometimes the best thing you can do as a manager is to get out of the way. Micromanagement is almost never good. Your people need both the space and time to work. This translates to a couple of things you need to do.

Know When to Use Your Experience

Each manager comes to their job with some level of experience. Maybe it’s experience as a line worker. Maybe it’s experience from other managerial jobs. Maybe it’s technical experience with particular products or work processes. Whatever your experience is, it’s important to remember two things about it:

  1. It is almost certainly stale.

Demonstrate Leadership

Leadership is a nebulous concept, but there are a few aspects that must be kept in mind as a manager:

  • Always be the example — Never ask someone to do something you are unwilling to do yourself. If you want people to use one communications product over another, you’d better be using the chosen product. If you want people to work late hours, you’d better stay late. If you want people to talk to stakeholders a certain way, you’d better be doing it yourself. Be the example, not the exception.
  • Always communicate decisions — Never leave anyone in any doubt as to the chosen project direction or strategy. Never leave anyone in any doubt as to their mission or job purpose. Never leave anyone in any doubt as to what was said or not said. Over-communication is always better than no communication when it comes to making sure people understand that a decision has been made.
  • Always have a plan — Never leave anyone in any doubt as to whether you know what’s going on. Never leave anyone in any doubt as to whether you are capable of responding to a crisis. Always have a plan, and don’t leap into action until you do. This may require some forward planning and contingency planning.⁴
  • Always show respect — Never leave anyone that you value in any doubt that they matter. Never publicly disrespect an employee’s work or ambitions. Watch your tone of voice and the volume of your speech — these should be “polite” and “indoors,” respectively. Praise in public, criticize in private, and mind your p’s and q’s. Disrespectful managers inspire people to find new jobs.
  • Avoid friendships with employees — You are not in your job to be liked, and you’re not in your job to make friends. You are in your job to make sure that work gets done, missions get accomplished, processes are followed, and strategies come to fruition. Friendships with your employees should be avoided; they have too much potential for real or implied bias and favoritism, both of which are toxic to a good team. It’s advisable to be friendly as much as possible, not to be friends.
  • Always do your job — Last but not least, do your job. Do not put off employee reviews or personnel decisions. Do not flinch from making hard choices. Do not hesitate to get involved and straighten out problems. You make more money and have more authority than your employees because more is expected and required of you. Live up to it.

Wrapping Up: The Art of Management

The difference between art and science is that in art I know what I like when I see it, and in science an equation or natural law tells me what is correct. There is no perfect equation for management. I know a good manager when I see one, and a good manager in one environment may be a very poor manager in another.

Searching for truth in a world focused on belief.