Shifting from individual contributor to manager can present many unique challenges for high performers who are used to delivering excellence in their individual roles. Managing a team of people who are tasked with delivering results is very different from delivering results to a boss and then moving to the next task.
How can these new managers successfully transition and continue to develop into high-performing leaders?
Here are seven skills for managers to hone that will help them deliver excellence in their leadership roles:
1. How to Decide
There are typically three types of decision-making: consensus, consultative, and directive. While there is a trend toward more consensus in decision-making, each management style will tend to favor one over the others.
Each type has a place in the manager’s world, and knowing when to use each is crucial to effective decision-making. When a decision calls for input and buy-in, leaders must include relevant stakeholders for a consensus or consultative decision. Although many managers may be reluctant to use a more directive style, there are times when this style is appropriate, such as when a decision must be made quickly or when the results of a decision are fairly low stakes and don’t require a lot of extra input.
2. How to Delegate and Prioritize
Moving into a management role means that “doers” must learn to be “delegators.” It may be tempting for managers to continue to try to manage their former workload and tasks while also taking on the duties of a manager, but this is a recipe for manager burnout. Managers need to trust their direct reports and assign tasks and items to the talent they have reporting to them. They must identify the right people for each job, set clear expectations, and provide support and resources.
In addition, managers need to learn effective prioritization. As a manager, prioritization can look different than it did as an individual contributor. Managers may be faced with overseeing multiple workflows, coordinating across functions and levels internally, and integrating requests from bosses into their team’s responsibilities. Using the Eisenhower Matrix can help new managers identify the urgent versus the important on their “to-do” lists.
3. How to Display Managerial Courage
Ambrose Redman said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Managerial courage is no different. Having managerial courage means making difficult decisions, taking calculated risks, and standing up for what is right, even in the face of opposition.
Displaying managerial courage may require calling on skills new managers haven’t ever practiced before. To develop this skill, consider how to solicit ideas, debate, dissent, and feedback. Ask questions that help uncover risks, concerns, and new approaches. Encourage an environment of psychological safety so that others feel secure when they challenge assumptions and contribute ideas.
4. How to Encourage Self-Accountability
Few words create as many thorny issues in a workplace as “accountability.” Managers may say they have limited ability to hold people accountable, whereas employees say that “effectively holding others accountable” is a top leadership development need at their company.
Creating a culture of accountability is essential for driving performance and achieving organizational goals. Managers must establish an environment of self-accountability, where individuals take ownership of their work and outcomes. Start with dignity, fairness, and a goal of restoration to encourage self-accountability. When leaders begin by acknowledging the humanity of their teams, self-accountability isn’t far behind.
5. How to Set Performance Expectations and Goals
One function of being a mid-level manager is establishing goals and expectations for both the team as a whole and individual members. These expectations and goals must translate into results for the business, which means that managers must first establish clear guidance from their own bosses about expectations for their teams.
Once these middle managers know what results their own bosses expect, they can, in turn, engage in conversation about expectations and goals for each position, project, or assignment. Setting these expectations and goals up front will give clear metrics to measure outcomes so no one is left guessing.
Mid-level managers must also navigate the tension between developing the individuals on their teams without sacrificing organizational performance or results. Performance management—"getting stuff done"—is one side of the coin, while development—the acquisition of skills, attitude, and knowledge to "get stuff done"—is the other side. With open conversation and clear expectations, managers and team members can work together to maximize development while delivering results.
6. How to Follow Up
Effective follow-up can help improve self-accountability. Managers should provide helpful and inspiring feedback, both formally and informally, to recognize achievements and address areas for improvement. Most managers expect to offer follow-up and feedback during regular performance reviews, but once per year is not enough to adequately manage performance. Team members need frequent, constructive feedback to encourage strong performance and development.
Managers who consistently and frequently follow up and give meaningful feedback will improve engagement, inspire excellence, and support team agility. In fact, one Gallup poll found that employees who received “meaningful feedback” within the previous week were almost four times more likely than other employees to be engaged.
7. How to Manage Performance Challenges
Inevitably, every manager will have to face a performance challenge that interferes with the team’s ability to deliver excellence. The challenge could result from a lack of knowledge or skills or an interpersonal conflict that disrupts the team’s performance.
When performance challenges hit, first take a step back and pinpoint the specific behaviors that must be addressed before engaging in tough conversations. If an employee simply doesn’t have the skills necessary for a position or role, try to find a way to improve those skills through education, training, or coaching. If team members struggle with interpersonal conflict, work with them one-on-one and as a team to establish ground rules and expectations for interactions.
Delivering excellence as a middle manager requires navigating the tensions between producing results for the organization and focusing internally on team performance and development. The Stewart Leadership LEAD NOW! Model can help demystify the middle manager role and empower this vital leadership level to produce both business and people results. To learn more, contact us.
- Which of these seven skills is most critical for our middle managers right now?
- Is there one way we can better encourage real-time feedback in our organization?
- Do we have a culture of self-accountability? Why or why not?