How to be a good manager with sharp leadership skills

In the US, 77% of businesses report that the leadership at their company is lacking, with only 48% of companies viewing management as high-quality. Moreover, 69% of millennials feel there’s a noticeable lack of leadership development in the workforce. That’s a shame, as it takes effective leaders and managers for any business to succeed. However, it seems that great managers are increasingly hard to come by.

It’s not too hard to see why that is, as a lot goes into being a successful manager, and the role comes with its fair share of pressure. As a manager, you’re often held responsible for so many employees and projects at once that it can become overwhelming and lead to burnout. It can also be a thankless job, as you’ll take the brunt of the blame if the project fails, but the entire team gets credit if you succeed.

This stress leads many new managers to fall into the traps of micromanagement, the inability to delegate tasks due to a lack of trust, and other poor management habits. Yet, with a bit of self-awareness, that doesn’t have to be the case. Anyone can learn how to be a good manager if they’re willing to develop their emotional intelligence and leadership skills properly.

Effective managers also need to focus on the professional growth of their employees, as well as elicit a positive work environment to ensure their well-being.

If you’re an aspiring manager or are a seasoned manager eager to sharpen your skills, you’re in the right place. Read on to learn how to be a good manager, no matter the industry.

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5 bad management habits to avoid like the plague

Before I dive into the qualities of an effective manager, it’s also crucial to understand what NOT to do. As stated before, becoming a manager is a huge responsibility that can lead to significant amounts of stress if you don’t know how to handle it. Stress and burnout can cause bad habits to form, such as the tendency to only focus on your employee’s mistakes instead of their successes.

As a new manager, you won’t be able to behave the same you did as a regular employee. You’ll also need excellent communication skills and the ability to delegate tasks, which can be difficult for some.

Without further ado, here are 5 common mistakes to avoid as a manager.

#5: Micromanagement

As annoying as it is to be micromanaged, it’s an all too common problem. In fact, 79% of employees have experienced micromanagement during their professional careers, according to Forbes.

If you’ve ever experienced it firsthand, you know that it’s uncomfortable, insulting, and can be a violation of your privacy.

It’s no secret that nobody likes being micromanaged, so why do so managers do it? Is it a form of bullying?

While micromanaging can be a form of bullying, more often than not, it’s a trust issue.

Micromanagers don’t trust their employees, which is why they breathe down their necks and constantly ‘quiz’ them to see if they can provide the right answer. Micromanagers live in constant fear that their team members will make mistakes and get them in trouble as a result.

If you catch yourself starting to micromanage your employees, take a step back and ask yourself why you don’t trust them. Realize that your team doesn’t need babysitting and that they’ll be far more productive without your constant presence and supervision.

The proof?

This study by the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that micromanaged employees perform at a much lower level — as it causes them to ‘choke under pressure.’

#4: Always having a solution

The best managers embody the philosophy of the adage ‘teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.’

In other words, if you always have the answer for your team, you deprive them of being able to figure out a solution on their own. It can be difficult for new managers to give up control and let their employees take the wheel, but it’s often the best course of action.

As a manager, you should encourage the development (and discovery) of new skills and ways of doing things for your team.

That means stepping back and letting them experiment to find unique solutions to problems. Even if you know how to fix an issue right off the bat, it’s crucial to give your team some time to brainstorm a few ways of their own. After all, they may wind up teaching you a more efficient way of doing something.

In short, don’t be a helicopter parent when it comes to solving problems at your company. That’s because finding new solutions can be incredibly empowering for employees, and they’ll appreciate that you gave them the opportunity and the freedom to find them.

#3: Not setting clear team goals

Good communication skills are a must for any manager, no matter the industry. Beyond that, goal-setting is one of the most crucial managerial tasks to ensure the best work out of your team.

Why is that?

Without goals and priorities, you’ll lose track of your day-to-day workflows, and your employees won’t have a clue what they’re doing. They need to know which tasks to focus on, as well as their level of priority.

That means setting clear deadlines for each project and prioritizing each subtask. If you aren’t currently using project management software, it can be a real lifesaver in this area. Regardless, it’s still on you to set achievable goals and share them with your team. Holding regular team meetings is a great way to inform your team of new goals as well as check up on the progress of existing tasks.

#2: Not getting your hands dirty

While delegation is an integral part of being a manager, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do any work at all. Instead, great leaders aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and pull their fair share of the workload when the situation calls for it. Examples include covering shifts for employees that are sick or chipping in when things get a bit too hectic.

Your employees will appreciate that you’re fighting alongside them, and they’ll see that you’re no stranger to hard work, which can be very motivating.

As the manager, you should know how to perform the duties of every position that you supervise. That way, you’ll be able to jump in at a moment’s notice and start helping out your employees. This can also give your employees additional confidence, as they’ll know you can support them if they get in the weeds.

It’s also essential to be accessible to your team. Nothing is worse than having to run circles around the office looking for your manager so they can sign or authorize something time-sensitive.

If you need to step out during the day, check in with your employees first, so they’ll know where you are at all times. Also, it’s a good idea to keep your smartphone nearby in case your team needs you to fix an urgent issue.

#1: Being too egotistical

It’s imperative not to let your role go to your head. Good leaders recognize the value and talent in their team, and they seek to harvest it. Arrogant managers assume that since they’re in charge, they must be smarter and more capable than their team. That attitude will do nothing but alienate you from your team members, as they won’t appreciate your condescension.

It can also cause you to ignore wise decisions and more efficient ways of doing things, as you’ll assume that you know best. Being too arrogant and dismissive can also erode your employee’s confidence, which is not a good thing.

According to a poll by Monster, 76% of employees report having a toxic/arrogant boss at one time in their career, which often leads them to end up switching jobs. As such, toxic managers can cause an upturn in employee turnover, which isn’t good for the employees, the manager, or the business. That’s why it’s so crucial to keep your ego in check while acting as a leader for your team.

While it’s important to be confident in your vision, you also need to truly value the input and opinions of your team members if you want to learn how to be a good manager.

Embodying the characteristics of a successful manager

Now that you’ve learned critical mistakes to avoid, it’s time to learn how to be a good manager that your employees adore. Being a great manager will improve employee retention, efficiency, and profitability. While nobody forms elite-level management skills overnight, anyone is capable of becoming a better manager with the right mindset and goals.

Great managers need to have high emotional intelligence, excellent communication skills, excellent time management, and informed decision-making capabilities, among other things. They also need to exhibit a healthy amount of empathy and humility to avoid overinflating their egos.

Here are the top characteristics that most great managers tend to share.

Go with the flow (don’t work against your team)

As a manager, you should aim to swim with the current, not against it. That starts with learning how to delegate tasks properly. You might not be used to delegation if you’ve been recently promoted to a management position.

That leads many new managers to try still to do everything themselves, as they’re still accustomed to doing everything on their own.

Yet, learning how to be a good manager is all about having enough faith in your staff to delegate tasks to them without breathing down their necks. While it may be challenging to let go of your control initially, it’ll benefit you in the long run.

That’s why it’s critical to consider the big picture when forming your management style. Even if you’re the best at a particular task, your time is best spent steering the ship instead of focusing on busy work that your staff can handle.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t roll up your sleeves and help out when the going gets rough. Working alongside your employees will cause them to respect you more, and your work ethic will become contagious.

As mentioned previously, getting your hands dirty is a characteristic of a great manager — it’s just crucial not to take things too far. You don’t want to be assisting your staff with menial tasks when you should be monitoring the progress of an urgent project, for example.

Going with the flow also means not being a tyrant when it comes to decision-making. Encourage employee engagement whenever you’re planning a new project. Not only will they appreciate you listening to their ideas, but you may stumble upon some great new ideas.

According to this Barometer Report from Kimble’s Boss, 74% of US workers prefer a collaborative work environment over one where the boss makes all the decisions. As such, encouraging collaboration during decision-making will earn serious brownie points with your staff.

Get to know your team

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Every employee is unique, so it’s crucial to know their strengths, weaknesses, and preferred learning styles. For example, you may discover that most of your employees are visual learners, leading you to develop video training programs in the future.

Getting to know your employees will also show that you care about them beyond the work they provide. When a manager only monitors work and engages little beyond that, it can lead employees to feel underappreciated and undervalued, which is a leading reason why people leave companies.

In fact, nearly half of all workers in America (46%) have quit a job in the past due to feeling this way. So if you want to boost your employee retention rates, getting to know your employees is a good idea.

You should also make a point to congratulate your team on their successes and hard work. Too many managers make the mistake of only speaking up whenever an employee makes a mistake but are absent and silent whenever they do a great job.

Research shows that praising your employees yields numerous benefits, including:

  • It provides a palpable boost to employee morale and satisfaction.

  • It encourages employee engagement and productivity.

  • Provides a boost of dopamine which can help employees be more productive during the day.

  • Praise rewards employee effort and reinforces their positive behaviors in the future.

As you can see, you have every incentive to praise your employees whenever they do great work. So whenever you notice a staff member exceeding a deadline, landing a huge sale, or mitigating a significant issue, make sure to reward them with plenty of praise.

A quick way to get some insight

To uncover your staff’s strengths and weaknesses, try asking them a series of simple questions. To discover what they enjoy doing the most, ask them, “What was the best day of work you’ve had recently?”

That will clue you in on the tasks and assignments that they’re the most competent at and that they enjoy. That way, you’ll know where to place them in future projects to get the best performance out of them (while boosting their satisfaction, a true win-win).

Conversely, you also want to know where NOT to assign staff to avoid incidents and preserve your productivity. To discover employee weaknesses, try asking them, “Which tasks do you dread completing?”

By asking these two questions, you’ll quickly uncover your employee’s strengths and weaknesses, which is highly valuable information for a manager.

Elicit a positive work environment

Nobody wants to show up to a job that has a boring or negative work environment. As a manager, one of your duties is to create a pleasant company culture and work environment for your employees.

Is spending a full day in your office more boring than watching fresh paint dry?

If so, then your workplace needs some tweaking.

Your workspace should feel fun, inviting, and motivating. If you have the budget, try giving the office a fresh paint job with colors that encourage productivity. In particular, blue is considered one of the most productive colors, as it elicits relaxation and intellectual thought. If you work in a creative field, the color green has been linked to enhancing creative performance.

Spaces that are too cramped are also adverse to productivity. Do your best to implement a spacious layout that encourages lots of movement.

Beyond altering the visual appearance, there are many other ways to make your workplace more fun and upbeat. For example, try turning a basic breakroom into a game room where your staff can unwind with TV, games, and snacks.

You could also organize an office sports club or book club (depending on the interests of your staff). Encouraging weekly competitions or book readings will not only help employees blow off steam, but it will also build a strong sense of camaraderie.

Another aspect of a positive work environment is inclusivity. If you want your employees to feel appreciated, start an open-door policy with them. That way, if they have any issues or concerns, they can visit your office for a brief one-on-one chat. The more approachable you are, the more your employees will value you as a leader.

Lastly, don’t be adverse to receiving feedback from your employees on the company culture and work environment. That way, you’ll be able to tweak the fun activities you feature so they include and please everyone.

Be clear with goals and expectations

It’s not only crucial to set goals for your team, but they need to be realistic, actionable goals with appropriate timelines.

Even if you believe in your team’s abilities, setting impossible goals won’t do you (or your staff) any favors. To keep your goals feasible, use SMART goals.

What are those?

SMART stands for:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Realistic

  • Time-Bound

If a goal is specific (clear), measurable (through KPIs), achievable (within reach), realistic (not impossible), and time-bound — it’ll be far easier for your team to make it happen.

leadership-skills-450x400px-3Beyond the SMART acronym, you should set goals for departments, teams, and individual employees. You can also designate subtasks and milestones within each goal to keep track of your progress.

Goal-setting is one of your most important responsibilities as a manager, so it’s not something you should overlook or gloss over. The more transparent you are with your goals and deadlines, the easier it will be for your staff to share your vision.

You can even include individual employee goals in your performance reviews. Individual goals are a way to discover if an employee is meeting your standards, but you need to make doubly sure that they’re realistic. The last thing you want to do is lose quality employees over unrealistic goals, so be wary.

Beyond setting goals, you need to be open to receiving feedback about them. Listen to what your employees have to say about your goals, and regularly check in with them to see how they’re doing.

The last thing you want is for your employees to be too scared to go against anything you say. That will lead you to become surrounded by yes men, which is a surefire way to run the business into the ground.

Nobody is perfect, so listening to what your employees have to say about your decisions is essential.

Be mindful of your own behavior

Besides managing your employees, you should pay attention to yourself, too. That includes continuing your professional development through continued education and learning new leadership skills.

Practicing self-awareness is a huge component of learning how to be a good manager. It would be best if you always considered how you’re being perceived by others, including intentionally and unintentionally.

For instance, an employee may misinterpret your behavior and think you don’t care for them. If you’re self-aware enough, you’ll pick up on this, which can lead to you resolving the issue. Bear in mind that this isn’t something that will happen overnight. Developing self-awareness as a manager takes a lot of time and energy, and it can take years to perfect.

As a manager, everything you do sends a message to your employees (and executives), whether you realize it or not.

For example, even something as simple as briefly checking an email on your phone while an employee is speaking with you about an important issue can reflect poorly on your behalf – as it conveys that they aren’t important and you have better things to do. Even if that wasn’t your intention, that’s how it may come off, so practicing self-awareness is necessary for managers.

How to manage different types of employees

Now that you know most great managers’ characteristics, it’s time to learn how to manage different personality types effectively.

It takes different strokes for different folks, and company employees are no different. You’re bound to run into many different personality types, from workaholics to quiet quitters. Here’s an overview of the most common types of employees (and how to manage them).

Type a personality (workaholics)

These are your workhorses that live and breathe what they do. They’re always alert and ready to work, and missing a deadline is unheard of to them. Employees like this tend to manage themselves, which can lead to managers neglecting them. That can be a mistake.

While high performers do require less attention and assistance, you should still engage with them on a regular basis. Ask them how things are going, set clear goals for them, and ask for their feedback/input on decisions. These employees could be putting themselves at high risk of burnout, something managers should watch out for.

High-maintenance employees

These are the staff members that are always knocking on your door. They always have an endless list of questions, and they can’t seem to complete any tasks on their own. These are high-maintenance employees, and they can be a pain if you don’t know how to deal with them.

Sit down with them to address the issue, and ask them what you can do to help them handle things on their own better. At the same time, let them know what they can do to improve their performance.

Unmotivated employees

It’s not that low-performing employees are always unmotivated (of course, they sometimes are), but often it’s a matter of confidence.

As such, you should provide low performers with crystal clear instructions, goals, and expectations. Additional training may also be necessary to boost their confidence. With the proper support and encouragement, it’s possible to transform an unmotivated employee into one of your top performers.

Final thoughts: How to be a good manager

That’s what it takes to become a great manager at your company that’s liked, respected, and valued by executives. Being a manager is by no means an easy job, but it can be an enriching one that teaches you a lot.

Great managers know their employees’ strengths, and they play off them. They also lead by example, provide a positive work environment, and set clear goals and expectations straight from the get-go.

If you’re a new manager, this guide should help you build the necessary characteristics and skills to become a great leader.

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