How To Be a Good Manager in 15 Tips or Less
A woman in a meditative post at a desk, representing how to be a good manager.
How To Be a Good Manager in 15 Tips or Less
A woman in a meditative post at a desk, representing how to be a good manager.

How To Be a Good Manager in 15 Tips or Less

Becoming a manager is a jungle of creeping scopes, tangled dependencies, and hidden pitfalls. Your teams scramble to push projects through this wild mess to the other side, but need capable managers who can guide them down the right path and keep them functioning as an effective unit. Unfortunately, not all managers are up to this task. Yes, managers inherently possess authority and influence, but these are tools, not privileges. Managers who wield them as blunt instruments are doomed to failure. So how can you be a good manager?

Good managers know how to wield their power with a light touch. They inspire and motivate instead of demand. They focus on the overall success and the team’s goal, not their own reputation. They survive and thrive as part of a team.

Becoming a manager might sound lofty and difficult, but it’s actually not. Anyone can learn good leadership with these tips.

How to be a good manager in 9 steps

Whether you’re starting your first management role or moving to a new team, these steps will ensure that you start things off

Define your Role

Before you embark on your journey of becoming a manager, you have to decide what kind of manager you want to be. What role will you play within your team? What specific tasks will be within your AOR (Area of Responsibility)? Which will you delegate?

Teams are like organisms that change based on the stimulus you provide. This means you have to carefully manage the team’s performance. Performance management is a cyclical process, in which your role is to set the employee’s expectation for their growth for a specific period, and help them stay on the path you set (through constructive feedback and reinforcing good behavior). As they progress, you’ll also assess this growth and review it with them. Then the process begins again.

You can also decide which leadership style best fits your team. Here are a few to consider:

  • Directive leadership gives clear direction and guidance, which is ideal for leading uncertain or inexperienced employees, but not for veterans who dislike being micromanaged.
  • Supportive leadership involves helping highly stressed or struggling employees deal with the demands of their position. This is done by removing obstacles or providing emotional support.
  • Participative leadership promotes teamwork by encouraging input from every member. It’s great for when your team is composed of experienced individuals who want to be involved in decision-making.
  • Achievement-oriented leadership focuses on growing individual contributions for the benefit of the larger whole. It works best with employees who can rise to the challenge of a competitive environment.

Build Structure for your Team

When you apply structure to your team’s operations, you introduce a predictable and repeatable process that can help you work more efficiently.  Structure does not necessarily mean rigid and inflexible: you can introduce virtually any kind of structure you want, as long as it makes sense within the context of the team and helps them maximize their capabilities.  Some examples include:

  • Team Generalist: Anyone can pick up any task at any time (best for extremely small companies)
  • Team Specialist: Everyone has a defined role that fits their strengths. Cross-training will help minimize downtime and cover for absences.
  • Team Relay: Usually seen in companies that are moving to an agile environment. This is a transitional approach, and in the long term it is ineffective.
  • Team Biathlon: Roles change in every sprint. This gives everyone a chance to cross-train, and can help make a team stronger (but you might not want to make it your default structure).
  • Team Handoff: Work is handed off from team to team, which works best when the entire company works in an agile environment.
  • It’s also important to make sure your deadlines stick. For that to happen, they need to be achievable and genuine. If they’re not, people may just blow them off and assume there is no consequence to missing them.

Align Everyone in the Same Direction

The whole point of having a team is so that each individual member can contribute to a larger effort. But if those contributions are scattered and go off in different directions, then the end result is even worse off than before.

Part of your journey of becoming a manager, will require you to align your team’s efforts toward the team’s collective goal. This can be effectively accomplished by:

  • Scrum meetings are daily or weekly standups that keep your team aligned by allowing everyone to share progress, delays, ideas, and issues. The frequency of your meetings can depend on the length of your sprint period, which can be daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. For example, a simple formula for a daily scrum is for each team member to report on “what I accomplished yesterday, and what I’m working on today.” Here at Unito, we prefer to do asynchronous daily scrums via a slack channel!
  • Clearly communicating objectives: Your team can’t work together if they don’t know what they’re working towards. Make sure your team understands the immediate goal and the larger objective.
  • Build trust: In order to effectively align your team, you’ll need to make sure they trust your judgement. Trust comes from being transparent about wins, fails, and progress. This boosts motivation and helps make your team more effective.

Scope out problems appropriately

Let’s get it out of the way right now: you will run into problems throughout your journey of becoming a manager. Without question. Your response to these problems will determine how good of a manager you are; not whether problems show up or not. Good leaders can get to the root of the problem quickly.

The Five Why’s method is a highly effective way of discovering the true cause of a problem. It involve digging into each problem by asking why it may have occurred, until the root cause is found. It’s a great way to break the issue down into manageable steps.  

Trust your Team to Tackle it

Once you’ve identified the problem, it’s time to step back and let your team handle it. Give guidance and provide feedback, but trust them to do their thing.

Part of this trust is letting your employees make mistakes. They will have their own ideas and find their own solutions. Not all of those solutions will work. A good manager doesn’t condemn the person, but addresses the mistake instead. They focus on the problem, and trust the employee to learn their lesson and find a better way the next time.

Measure the Results

How can you know how well your team is performing if you don’t have any baseline by which to measure them? Part of your job of becoming a manager is to discover and implement a measure by which you can gauge how your team has improved.

This metric could be hours spent on a project, adherence to deadlines, number of tasks done within a period of time, or something else. The metric (or metrics) you choose will depend on your particular business, and your particular goals. Whatever metric you choose, make sure it’s an accurate measure of team quality and performance, and that gathering the information doesn’t interfere with team operations (if they have to stop work to fill out a spreadsheet, it’s intrusive). Also remember that as your team grows, your standards–and even the metrics themselves–must adapt accordingly.

Review the work

So you successfully navigated the jungle and emerged out the other side! The project is done, but you can’t relax just yet. You’ve got to do a project post-mortem first.

Project post-mortems expose gaps in your process and weaknesses in your team. These need to be brought into the open and examined with absolute objectiveness. No blame-casting or covering up. Teams need to review the project with total honesty if you’re going to learn from previous experience.

Improve and start the next project

Next, take the lessons you learned from the post-mortem and see what needs to happen in order to fix it. Perhaps you add another QA task to the project timeline, or you hire a new person to make up for a gap in skill.

Once you have these solutions in hand, you can run them through the GUT matrix (Gravity, Urgency, Trend) to assess which problems should be prioritized. If the problem has multiple causes, you can use the Ishikawa diagram to home in on the closest possible root cause. This is what you should prioritize fixing before the onset of the next project.

Share the Knowledge Outside your Team

You’re not the only one in the organization affected by the project. Other departments have a stake in what you do as well, even if you’re the sole PMO. Cross-functional teams could benefit from your hard-won wisdom. So can management, who are responsible for policies that can make your job either easier or harder.

Share your wisdom with other teams by hosting lunch and learn sessions, one-on-one meetings, or even posting on a public forum or wiki.

If you’re passing the project (or team) off to another PM, conduct a hand-off meeting where you discuss all relevant issues and schedules with the incoming group. Be open and honest about this information, and don’t forget to inform any clients or stakeholders that a switchover is taking place. Make sure the project archives are in a location the new group can easily access and organize them for efficient browsing.

How to be a good manager: 5 extra tips

Having the right processes in place will help you be one of the best managers out there, but there are a ton of other areas where you can support your team effectively.

Have frequent one on one meetings

A one-on-one meeting is your best chance to dive deep into a specific team member’s work, find out how they’re doing, and learn how you can best support them. For new hires, you might want to have these meetings twice a month, or even every week. This will give you the chance to give them as much support as possible as they’re getting onboarded. With long-term team members, you can have these meetings on a monthly basis.

Figure out your management style

Not all managers lead the same way. One of the best ways you can become a better manager is by learning what your management style is, what its weaknesses are, and figuring out if it’s the right match for your team. Here’s a quick list of the most popular management styles.

  • Autocratic: This kind of manager controls all decisions, and doesn’t usually take input from their team. That means decisions can be made quickly, but discourages cooperation and initiative.
  • Democratic: With this management style, all decisions are made collaboratively. This creates strong bonds within the team, but decisions are made much more slowly.
  • Laissez-faire: Managers delegate most tasks and decisions to team members, only weighing in on the most important matters.
  • Servant leadership: Managers with this style are always looking for opportunities to serve the people on their team. It helps people grow, but works best for self-directed teams.
  • Visionary: With this hands-off style, managers focus on the big picture rather than individual initiatives. They’ll guide their team towards the business’ broader goals but will let them work independently in most cases.

Improve your conflict resolution skills

Being a good manager means you’ll often have to deal with conflict within the team. There are a number of skills that go into this, such as:

By working on these skills, you can keep a conflict from ballooning into something that causes an irreparable rift within the team.

Get better with feedback

Feedback is a two-way street. As a manager, your team will be looking to you for advice on how they can best deal with issues, close out difficult projects, and grow in their career. But you should be open to getting feedback from them, too.

When giving feedback, make sure it’s constructive. That means that every negative thing you say about someone on your team should also offer a path forward. If a team member has a problem with punctuality, you should dive into the issue with them to see how you can support them. There might be a deeper issue at play which will require your input — or it might be as simple as moving a few meetings around.

Celebrate your team’s wins

Team kudos are a great way to show your team that you see their successes and that they’re worth celebrating. You can dole out kudos in a few ways:

  • At an all-hands meeting, where you celebrate their wins with the whole company.
  • In a weekly team meeting.
  • Through your chat app, either publically or privately.

When writing up a kudo, make sure you include the challenge your team was facing and how a particular contributor rose up to meet it.

Becoming a manager doesn’t happen overnight, for anyone. Stay the course and your team will grow along with you. And remember, if it’s lonely at the top, you’re not doing it right.