No one actually teaches you how to be a good people manager. When I first found myself in charge of people who reported to me and had to listen to what I say, I am pretty certain I did not do a good job. For most people, when you’re promoted into a leadership position, it isn’t because you demonstrated leadership skills. Usually, it’s a natural progression of your career, the next ladder up so to speak. You are given more tasks, more autonomy, more decision making, more seniority, more power and so on, but part of your responsibility now is the one where you’re likely to have had the least experience.
Connecting as much as you can with your team helps foster understanding, smoother communication and easier conflict resolution. I’m learning that being a good people manager essentially means being a good person with good relational skills.
As a manager of people, you’re now responsible for the professional care and wellbeing of actual human beings. I imagine it can be similar to how new parents feel. You can read all the books and blogs and listen to advice from other people who’ve done it before you, but you’re still fumbling around, uncertain if what you’re doing is the “right thing” and just hopeful that you’re not doing anything too damaging.
When I first began managing a team, I started from what I thought I “should” do. I had the instinct to not repeat what I saw previous poor managers do. But that didn’t mean I was doing a good job, rather I was just trying my best not to be overbearing, micromanaging or verbally abusive, which to be honest, is a low bar.
Creating my own values-based leadership style
I still haven’t figured it all out, but I’m trying. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
The best way for me to figure out how to be a “good” manager was to understand where my own values lie. What type of environment did I want to create (or not)? More importantly, how did I want my team to FEEL?
My own values are rooted in connection, curiosity and integrity. This can be interpreted a bunch of different ways, but translated to the workplace, I value fostering meaningful relationships, being able to ask questions and explore what’s needed, and staying true to my word. I want my team to feel safe, supported, empowered and satisfied with the work we were doing and the goals we were striving toward. Why? Because I wanted to feel that way as well.
It wasn’t what I just wanted, though. It was important for me to find out what my team wanted, too. What were they looking for from this job and from me? That was my first step—setting up meetings so I could ask questions and be curious. Figuring out what individual team members needed. Finding out what their aspirations and motivations are. I want to treat my team the way I want to be treated, not by how they contribute to the company’s bottom line.
Curiosity doesn’t start with your team, by the way. It actually starts within. Find resources about how to look within and manage yourself. Or better yet—go to therapy. I’m kind of joking, but not really. The self-awareness, emotional regulation and ability to navigate tough conversations are all therapy-learned skills that serve a leader well. If you don’t have the time or means to do that, digging deep about yourself and the members of your team can go a long way. A good way to do this would be through a DISC assessment, which looks at how various personalities interact, or really any tool that helps you understand communication styles. Connecting as much as you can with your team helps foster understanding, smoother communication and easier conflict resolution. I’m learning that being a good people manager essentially means being a good person with good relational skills.
As any newly minted manager will find out, there is a difference between telling people what to do and actually managing people. You also have to shift your own mindset from being told what to do to actually delegating, and doing it in a thoughtful, motivating, and empowering way. There’s an art to getting people to want to figure out and do the right thing for themselves and the greater good.
Ultimately, I’m still learning how to be a good manager. Perhaps that’s the best advice I can give and the best example I can set. Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep connecting. Keep being curious. Keep trying.
Ready to bring some new ideas to your marketing, communications—your whole gig? Start a conversation with the FATFREE team.