What does it take to be an effective manager? It’s a question many in the management field have been asking, with increasing urgency, over the past few years. Once a clearly defined position with easily understood responsibilities, even among different industries, the challenges of the role have risen as the world of work evolves.
How should a manager connect with virtual employees? How does this change in hybrid situations? With less of a line between employees’ personal and professional lives, what’s the best way for a manager to balance productivity with respect? Issues like these are one reason why almost half of managers today are struggling with their ability to manage their reports. It’s also why it’s become so crucial to reconsider what we can do to set new managers up for success.
With this in mind, let’s look at some of the leadership skills and strategies most important for today’s managers-in-training to learn.
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The importance of training for new managers
Good managers are one of the best predictors of high-performing employees. Despite this, an astonishing 58 percent of managers report never even receiving any training. Instead, they were expected to learn the management role on the job. Although this may have once been effective, only 21 percent of employees now trust their managers. That means it’s become vital to take a more purposeful approach to productive management.
Here are some reasons why training first-time managers can make such a difference:
- It’s important for creating a foundation. New managers may have read some leadership books or watched how their own bosses manage teams, but they’ll otherwise have limited experience in this area. By giving them training, you can ensure they have the management skills and knowledge to take on their new responsibilities.
- They come with minimal baggage. Sometimes, not having experience can be a good thing. With no old managerial habits to break, new managers will be more receptive to new ideas and methods. And since the workplace is changing so rapidly, this can potentially be very beneficial.
- It helps prevent costly mistakes. With the right training and preparation, you can set up new managers for success while helping them avoid common pitfalls. This will help boost their confidence in the short-term, while helping your company in the long run by increasing retention and productivity.
- It can help reset the company culture. If your company has had a difficult time adjusting to new modes of working, proper training can help new managers come in and help cultivate a new ethos. This could involve anything from setting a new tone to fundamentally changing how tasks get delegated.
- It will help the company adapt to change. It can be hard to keep up with the constant evolution of today’s industries. But by training new managers on the latest trends, technologies, and methodologies (as well as offering continuous education to existing managers), you can help your company more effectively adapt.
7 skills every new manager must develop
So what are some of the most important skills new managers should focus on? While there is likely to be some variance according to each particular industry, organization, and person, the following should give you a good idea of what makes a successful manager today.
The ability to clearly communicate goals, expectations, responsibilities, updates, and any other important information is one of the most central skills of the manager. But contrary to what this skill might sound like on its surface, knowing how to effectively communicate is actually less about talking and more about listening.
The best communicators take the time to learn exactly what needs to be said before gathering the team or putting anything to paper. And they do this by making sure everyone gets heard. New managers should develop this ability by practicing their active listening skills. This involves paying careful attention – both to what is being said verbally and what is being said physically. Be present and put your employees at ease by showing them you care about what they’re saying. Then, when it’s time to respond, remember to be candid and open and respectful.
Cultivating an active listening habit like this will provide benefits for the rest of your communication efforts. For instance, it will make it easier to identify who may need more explicit instructions or which projects require a greater amount of explanation. It will also help make employees more receptive to guidance and feedback, which will make managing them much easier.
Knowing how to properly delegate tasks and responsibilities is another main skill a manager must have. The key to doing this successfully is to remain flexible about who does what, aware of everyone’s capabilities, and open to new opportunities for employee development.
In the past, delegation was a simpler process that was determined less by skill and more by job role or title. While this may still work at some organizations, new managers need to exercise more adaptability. They should start by conducting a thorough assessment of everyone’s skills and capabilities to learn who can do what. With this information in hand, they’ll be able to assign tasks based on who is best qualified to carry it out, rather than title. This will give them greater freedom in finding the right person to help out with each project.
New managers should also focus on helping their employees grow and develop new skills as they delegate tasks. They can do this by being purposeful about pairing more experienced workers with less experienced ones. Whether mentor or mentee, this will make everyone more intentional about their work – as well as produce a more skilled workplace in the long run.
Making decisions, both big and small, is a daily part of the manager’s job. However, although managers may have once relied on their own intuition and hard-earned experience to make the best decision for a situation, this is no longer adequate. Today’s managers need to instead think more holistically.
To be an effective leader of a team these days, it’s not enough to make what you think is the best decision. You have to also be aware of how each decision – including the process of making it – affects your employees. New managers can practice this by learning how to be as inclusive as possible when making decisions. This means gathering as much information as possible beforehand and ensuring they fully understand the context. Even more importantly, it means remaining open to the team’s input and opinions. This will not only make the decision more informed, but also increase employee buy-in and trust.
Knowing how to make good decisions also means being aware of and avoiding indecision. For example, it may be difficult to address a team member’s performance problems. But not doing so can make the problem worse, ultimately affecting the morale and productivity of the larger team.
4. Conflict resolution
Regardless of a manager’s skill set or experience, conflicts between employees are an unavoidable aspect of the job. But the solution isn’t to just outsource the issue to the HR department – or, worse, just ignore it with the hope it will go away. New managers instead need to learn effective strategies for resolution.
A good place to start is learning how to use active listening to identify and isolate the root cause. For example, oftentimes employees may think they’re having an interpersonal problem when in fact the actual source is situational. Perhaps one employee is upset that another is consistently late. However, a closer look may reveal that the real issue is a lack of adequate workload support across the entire team. By taking the time to uncover this, a new manager could avoid unfairly reprimanding one employee while making a more effective and systemic change.
In order to promote fairness and equity, it’s also important for new managers to know how to build a standardized method for resolving conflicts. Ideally, this should be something that they’ve previously outlined for their team. This way, they can work toward a resolution while maintaining an unbiased stance.
Prioritization is just another way of saying that a manager must know how to continually put the most important tasks in front of their employees. With so many items now competing for employees’ time and attention, as well as a constantly shifting landscape, honing this skill takes on a particular importance.
First and foremost, practicing effective prioritization involves knowing how to align a company’s overall mission and objectives with its more immediate tasks and projects. That means taking into account how resources are allocated, the amount of time the team has, and any budget. Once this is done, the manager will be able to not only prioritize tasks more effectively, but also clearly communicate to the team why different items need more or less attention. This kind of clarity will help reduce confusion and make it possible for employees to plan their days out more efficiently.
Learning how to prioritize should also involve knowing how to quickly adapt to changing circumstances. This is particularly crucial these days. By remaining ready to adjust priorities based on emerging challenges, new managers can keep their team and company more resilient in the face of change.
6. Feedback and coaching
The most effective managers are no longer just in charge of checking off tasks. They should now put equal weight on developing the employees they’re in charge of, whether that means giving them consistent and constructive feedback or providing them with proactive coaching to improve their performance.
Setting up a predictable cadence of reviews so that new managers can offer regular feedback is a great place for them to start. Once a quarter is a typical timeframe, although they could be done once a month or even annually, depending on the team’s particular needs. When giving feedback, it’s important for managers to be forthright and honest, but also patient. Managers should be willing to work with the employee to come up with plans that give them the support and empowerment they need for success.
In the same token, managers should remain vigilant for opportunities to help their employees take their skills to the next level. This could be in the form of continuous education, one-on-one mentorship programs, or access to conferences and other networking opportunities. By making this kind of effort, managers will be able to make a significant difference when it comes to job satisfaction and retention.
7. Emotional intelligence
Finally, new managers cannot neglect the importance of applying high emotional intelligence to their job. This is because many employees today expect leaders to not only oversee their work, but also motivate, inspire, and make them feel valued. Doing that requires the ability to recognize and validate the emotions of each employee.
Most obviously, this will mean cultivating empathy. Although this isn’t necessarily a trait that can be taught, new managers can work on their ability to empathize by trying to become more self-aware. They should learn to recognize their own emotions as they arise, as well as what triggers certain feelings. This way, they’ll become more adept at understanding why an employee might be frustrated with a certain situation, or what can be done about a lack of workplace motivation. In turn, the manager’s feedback can be tailored more effectively to individual employees and their particular sensitivities.
The result of all this will be a greater degree of trust and understanding between the team and the manager. And that may be the greatest predictor of a stronger, more productive working relationship.
New manager training tips to help develop these skills
Properly investing in new managers is one the most important elements of producing a successful team. With the right training, your organization will be better positioned to adapt to abrupt industry and technological changes, cultivate a culture of inclusivity and respect, and benefit from improved employee development and retention. Here are some management training tips you should not forget:
- Emphasize the value of listening over talking in order to produce managers who are more effective at communicating.
- Turn delegation into a fluid process that can change from project to project, as well as one that can help employees learn from each other.
- Teach them the art of decision-making as an inclusive and holistic process that involves gathering as much information as possible.
- Center conflict resolution around active listening skills and prioritize treating the root cause of issues, rather than simply its symptoms.
- Effective prioritization should align the company’s mission with the needs and resources of individual projects.
- Providing constructive feedback and continuous coaching should be just as important as task delegation and other traditional management tasks.
- Emotional intelligence will inform nearly every other aspect of the manager’s job, as well as help breed trust.