12 Practical Tips to Be an Excellent People Manager
1. Be a Pillar to Lean On
As a manager, you need to be able to negotiate the management iceberg. The first part is everything you can consciously manage above the water, it’s what you can see, it’s tangible. The second part is all those things that lie beneath the surface and are more difficult to pinpoint. Here, you must learn to subconsciously manage and become more aware. The emotionally intelligent manager is able to navigate his or her way around it.
At a simple level, let members of your team know that you are there for them. Give them the confidence to reach out and ask for help. Indeed, this knowledge alone can boost your team. Even more, this encourages each team player to help another. However, be careful to not give the impression that you are the only one who can solve every problem that arises. Your goal is to empower, inspire and cultivate a team spirit.
With ever more challenging targets, customer demands and, of course, a group of people coming from different backgrounds, you can expect workplace conflict to arise. When that happens, the way to a swift resolution is having a conflict strategy. Take the time to understand the situation, gather tangible evidence, listen to the parties involved and where possible look for a mutually agreeable outcome. However, even when you take a position that isn’t neutral, don’t alienate the other party you rule against.
When you follow a simple strategy and act fairly, everyone is satisfied with the outcome.
Tip: Let your team members know how you prefer to discuss things; Catch up in a weekly 1-2-1? Email for non-urgent matters? A phone call if it is? Do not say, ‘I’m always available, just call me’, because they won’t.
2. Give Your Team Space
In the book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, he talks about how trust is the cornerstone of any successful team. For the people you manage to deliver results, you have to trust them. How to do that is one of the People Management skills you need. If you don’t trust the people you lead, you remove the confidence they need to reach their potential.
How to gain trust
It isn’t easy though. There is always a tendency to resort to unnecessary and even counterproductive micromanaging of your team. Stopping the habit starts with effective recruitment. In addition, it is necessary to provide training and establishing solid processes everyone can follow. It also involves treating your team members with respect; see them as partners, only together can you meet your goals.
Combine a lack of trust and micromanagement and you could be fostering some very negative conditions. In the worst case scenario, your team could actively rebel against you.
‘If you’re a business owner doing a lot of hovering, either you’ve got the wrong people, or you need an attitude adjustment.’ – Cynthia Kay
Tip: Once you hire through a thorough process and give the right training, keep off the back of the team members. Find out What to Do When You Don’t Trust Your Team.
3. Be a Good Listener
There are different facets to listening
Passive listening makes the people you lead feel unworthy and undeserving of your time. Other bad listening habits include rushing to conclusions, and, worst of all, completing the sentences of those talking to you. These poor habits not only make you miss valuable information and subtle signs but can lead to strained relationships. Lack of effective communication is one of the main obstacles to performance.
How do you fix this? You need to actively listen.
You need to be fully present, stop everything you are doing and focus on the person talking to you. Also, pause before replying and never hesitate to ask for clarification. Furthermore, rephrase what you hear in your own words, so that the speaker can gauge whether you’ve understood them well.
Many experts agree that effective listening motivates the people who work with you. Therefore, it is one of the People Management skills you should strive to acquire.
Tip: Create ample time and space to listen to your team’s concerns.
4. Share Success With the Team
One of the most valuable People Management skills is to encourage the mentality and language of ‘we’ rather than ‘I’. The ‘we’ perspective makes everyone feel that their effort in achieving team goals are appreciated. This is a key leadership and People Management skill that you should work on.
As the team leader, sharing the credit will earn you not only respect but also recognition.
Tip: If you want recognition share the credit.
5. Delegate Responsibly
The importance of delegating effectively can have a very motivating effect and lets you work on tasks that need your attention the most. Apart from making you more productive, delegating boosts team spirit as well as confidence. It also leverages the strengths of each team member. Remember to delegate to team members who are capable to carry out the task. This achieves two things at once. The person feels confident that they have the skills to do the job. Moreover, you as the delegator are reassured that the job will be done well because the overall responsibility remains with you.
Tip: Use the Eisenhower Principle of urgency versus importance to choose tasks to give to your team. Begin by letting your team handle tasks that are least urgent and least important. Also, don’t confuse abdicating responsibility with delegating!
6. Involve Your Team in Decision-Making
Being part of the decision-making process grows a sense of ownership. Ownership creates more passion, dedication, and loyalty.
Good team management involves the team members in decision-making which ensures that you use the skills and knowledge of the team. Past experience, expert knowledge and creative thinking can go a long way in contributing to sound business decisions.
Tip: Develop the good habit of asking for feedback from your team members.
How to give effective feedback
7. Be Confident
Confident people managers inspire those they lead to be creative and more productive. Confidence is one of the many People Management skills that enable you to make decisions, resolve conflict and command respect.
The first step to building your confidence is to accept that you are human, that you have strengths and weaknesses, and knowing yourself well enough to know what those are.
Exercising and demonstrating our strengths boosts confidence and gives us the energy that our people can feed off. Be mindful not to focus too much on any weaknesses you have. This can be draining and counterproductive. Knowing your weaknesses will help you to draw on your team members who have strengths in those areas. After all, your team is there to support you.
Confidence is being sure of what you know and who you are. Therefore, understanding more about yourself and new People Management skills and leadership skills should be part of your learning journey. Listen to what others have to say, read books and attend workshops that expand and deepen your expertise.
Confidence also goes beyond what’s inside, how we physically feel and look can affect us. Investing in a balanced, healthy lifestyle (with plenty of room for fun) is worthwhile. Also, work on your communication skills. Take a course, if you need to, on how to communicate with your body posture. While these might seem minor, they have an enormous impact on how people perceive you. This, in turn, influences how you feel about yourself.
Tip: Embrace the power of autosuggestion to grow your confidence. That means consciously programming your attitude.
8. Manage from the Front
Simply put, take an active role in what you are urging and directing others to do.
You are defined by your actions, not your words. Honesty, integrity and commitment are outstanding values, and when combined with the effective People Management skills we are talking about here, you can expect others to follow you and show the same behaviours.
Being in a position of authority means people will look up to you. Doing what you say you will and how you present yourself has a profound impact.
Exhibiting high standards earns respect. Uphold these and you’ll find your team doing the same. Be on time for 1-2-1’s and meetings, keep your word, reward a job well done, celebrate success. These gestures will plants seeds of trust and reliability within the team.
Invest time in living and breathing your values and standards, you will then see this mirrored in your team’s behaviour and performance.
Tip: Work to gain respect from your team.
9. Trust Your Gut
This is where your intuition should help you make decisions. Prominent business leaders like Warren Buffet, Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey are known to rely on their instincts.
In the absence of hard evidence, a well-reasoned hunch, validated where possible by data or the team, can be a leading light when nothing else seems illuminated!
‘Intuition is the natural intelligence that allows us to see ahead of the curve, to generate innovative ideas, to communicate powerfully, and to do so without having to study spreadsheets or gather piles of data.’ – Simone Wright
Tip: Read our Ultimate Guide to HBDI ® – Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument to help you understand how our brains work, especially in regard to problem-solving.
10. Be Compassionate
In his book, ‘Leaders Eat Last’, Simon Sinek states that good leaders and managers should show empathy. He explains why a good manager has to understand things from the other person’s perspective. Managing is more than just demonstrating good People Management skills; it’s also a responsibility to look out for others.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs highlights what motivates people in different ways; basic, psychological and fulfilment needs. Behaviour can change when one or more of these needs are not met. What this means for you is that sometimes you’ll have to dig deeper to understand a performance issue. People are more than just their job, a holistic approach to your team members well-being and a flexible give and take approach can show your team that you care about them as a whole person.
Take a look at our adapted Hierarchy of Needs for the modern workplace, below:
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Adapted to People Management
How it Works
Take, for example, that one of your best team members misses several deadlines. After the first discussion (and possibly a reprimand), you learn their workload is OK and they are happy at work. Using sensitivity you’ll need to probe to find the underlying reason. It could be a difficult family situation, money problems or health issues.
The point is, sometimes the cause is outside of your control and what you can directly influence. You will need to work together with the person to come up with a solution that meets the needs of both them and the organisation.
In his book, ‘Accelerate’, John P. Kotter, emphasises on the need for understanding when managing people. He points out that you must look at things from your employees’ viewpoints. That way you will understand their driving force and come up with effective strategies that will motivate them even more.
Tip: Always imagine yourself in the shoes of those you manage to understand their perspective to situations.
11. Set Clear Objectives
It’s number 11 on our list of People Management skills, but it’s one of the most important.
It’s good to have a clear set of organisational values, a great strategy and engaging vision. We’ve all seen the motivational posters on the wall telling us all about it. Let me tell you a secret, they don’t get the work done. Sure they help with how you go about the work, but getting it done well, on time and by the right person? Not so much.
You need to be smarter, very SMART in fact. Having goals clearly defined, documented and integrated with good processes will increase the chances of success greatly.
SMART Objectives have a higher chance of success
However, it does even more than that! It helps people focus, prioritise and know what is expected of them….it also creates a sense of purpose motivation and ownership…AND you get to measure tangible results which means you can do more reward and recognition that improves performance and team spirit.
Phew! See why it’s important?
Tip: Check out the useful ready reckoner (above) to assess if your objectives are truly SMART.
12. Be Ready to Change
Change is the only constant and it rolls at an ever-increasing pace. Being a good leader means staying ahead of the curve. Furthermore, being a good manager means being aware of what is on the horizon and keeping your team heading in the right direction.
Do nothing and you risk being overtaken by events, other people, or your own team. To stay ahead of the game, continually look to develop your People Management skills. Try to spare some time to learn every day. If you do that, your leadership skills will grow exponentially.
Tip: Use these 5 Steps to Overcome Resistance to Organisational Development and effect productive change.
How to Improve Your People Management Skills
The easiest way to develop your People Management skills is to attend a training session on the core skills and behaviours. This will help you understand the theoretical models in the classroom. This could be a People Management course, or a shorter course on one of the skills, for instance, feedback. It is then critical that you embed the skills by using them in your day to day role.
The suggestion for this would be to get someone to coach you. This could be an external professional or someone you trust in the business to push you. The main purpose of executive coaching is to help you think about your behaviours and skills differently. Moreover, to make sure that you are being held accountable for using the skills you have. You only become a better leader by pushing yourself to use new models and change your behaviours.
Further Reading and Resources
You can find further insight, detailed definitions and clarification of all the key People Management terms mentioned in this guide in our Glossary of Terms.
‘Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to go to work to deal with them.’ – Paul Hawken
‘Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person, not just as an employee, are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which lead to profitability.’ – Anne Mulcahy
‘The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.’ – Ralph Nader
‘Management is nothing more than motivating people.’ – Lee Lacocc
People Management Skills Books
recommended reading for people management
‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’ by Daniel Pink.
This book looks at how to be a good people manager by motivating people. Daniel compares extrinsic (from outside) and intrinsic (from inside) motivating factors. This just means the difference between rewards, such as, money or praise and being naturally satisfied from within.
He also looks at comparing two different approaches to tasks, one being a step following approach and the other a more creative approach to find out which is more motivating. Another concept it focuses on is flow. This has three parts: (1) having clear goals, (2) immediate feedback and (3) the difficulty level is set slightly higher than the capability of the person doing the task.
Extracting the Most from Your Team:
‘The One Thing You Need to Know: … About Great Managing, Great Leading and Sustained Individual Success’ by Marcus Buckingham.
This book focuses on making the most of your team members’ individuality and strengths. Using interviews with experts in the field means you get to hear from lots of managers that do this well and learn from them