May 16, 2017

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10 Secrets To Being A Better Manager

Management. Maybe you’re new to the role, maybe you’ve been there for most of your career. Maybe you’ve just been promoted and want some advice on what to do, and what not to do. A necessary action to take when trying to better yourself, is to learn. The University of Cape Town Foundations of Business Management online short course is the right place to upgrade your leadership toolkit.

It’s argued there are no natural-born leaders,1 which means effectively filling a position in business management requires preparation more often than not.

But where to start?

Your first port of call: hindsight. Take a look at where other managers have fallen short or gone wrong, and learn from their mistakes.

If you want to get ready to be a better manager, ensure you follow these 10 pieces of advice experienced leaders wished they knew before becoming managers:

1. Pick a career by industry, then by company, then by role

The initial step to becoming a better manager is to make sure you’re in the right job in the first place. Gaining experience in a certain role is great for your LinkedIn profile, but if you’re planning on migrating to another industry after a couple of years, you’re going to have to start from close to the bottom of the learning curve and corporate ladder all over again.

Henry Hsu, Vice President of Growth and New Markets at NerdWallet, has dealt with this mistaken focus extensively: “Many young professionals ask me for general career advice, and they incorrectly start their thought process by thinking about specific titles they want, then trying to find jobs with those titles.”2

better manager career priorities

His solution is to encourage people to think about their career path first by deciding which industry they want to work in, then by which company they want to work for, and lastly by the role they wish to fill.

Starting off in the industry you want to work in means that almost all of your experience and skills are transferable. Choosing a company with a good cultural fit, appropriate size, and plenty of growth opportunities is vital to making sure you can advance along your career path. Once those two are decided, find a role that has the potential to make the most impact, allowing you to prove yourself as worthy of a leadership role. Tackle your career with strategic insight to ensure you’re backed by competitive advantage.

2. Use research to inform proper decision making

Floods of new research projects are performed every year, with over $1.1 trillion spent globally in 2016 on research and development.3 While this speaks to the quantity of research being done, there’s no guarantee of the quality of information generated from these studies.

As a result, if you look hard enough, you will undoubtedly be able to find a conclusion somewhere that supports your view. But in order to be a better manager, you need to avoid confirmation bias as much as possible when making decisions.4

Avoid using information the wrong way in decision making in these ways:

  • Analyse the raw data yourself, rather than looking at someone else’s conclusions
  • Question everything, assume nothing unless you have a valid reason for believing it
  • Continually update your base of information and cull old research when needed

Bear in mind that, due to the plethora of research available out there, there is a high chance of your information being wrong. Flexibility in the face of challenge is important.

3. Who you hire matters more than the plans you make

Because of the relatively high chance of your information being wrong, the plans you make based on said information have a large chance of failure too. To combat this you need to make sure you hire the right kind of people to adeptly face the problems that arise along the way.

better manager right people

Better managers hire people that are able to make sound decisions in everything from day-to-day activities to crisis situations, and continue to coach and empower their teams to deal with problems when they materialise.

Recruit the most adaptable problem solvers you can, you’re going to need them on your side if you want to be an exceptional manager.

4. Talent is overrated – talent development is key

You’ve probably heard of the 10,000 Hour Rule, which has risen to popularity thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. This rule states that you can become world-class in a field if you dedicate 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to it, no matter your current level of expertise.5

better manager talent vs training

Gladwell claims “achievement is talent plus preparation”, but goes on to argue it is becoming more apparent that success is more about preparation than raw talent.6 You can always hire people who are already good at what they do, but if you don’t continue to help them develop their skills, they will plateau at some point. And the same goes for you as a manager.

Ensure you and the teams you manage continue to run at peak performance by encouraging skills development at all times.

5. Diverse teams are best

Being able to assemble highly productive teams is key to being a better manager. It may be tempting to hire people who are all quite similar, and therefore have a high chance of getting along well with each other, but Professor Scott E. Page of the University of Michigan argues otherwise.7

“Diverse groups of people bring to organisations more and different ways of seeing a problem and, thus, faster or better ways of solving it,” claims Page. People with different backgrounds will get stuck in different places, allowing for someone with another problem-solving outlooks to help them through, and so forth.

Let no problem go unsolved: construct diverse teams within your sphere of management to maximise productivity.

6. Don’t micromanage – your team doesn’t always need you

The dangers of micromanaging are numerous, and the repercussions can be rather costly. It’s argued that “people don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers.”8

When you micromanage, you severely limit your style of management, as well as overburden yourself. Focusing on controlling your team instead of letting them tackle problems themselves results in:

  • Loss of trust
  • Dependent employees
  • High turnover
  • Your own burnout

better manager micromanagement

The worst thing about micromanaging your employees is that your other management responsibilities fall to the wayside, bringing your own performance level down. Not only will your team members likely leave the team or company, but you may end up losing your job too if you micromanage too much.

Avoid the pitfalls of being too involved in your team’s activities and show them you trust them by allowing them to do their jobs while you do yours.

7. Don’t hold back tough feedback

It’s a common mistake to avoid giving out negative feedback because you don’t want to come across as being antagonistic or mean. But it’s also one of the worst managerial mistakes you could make. You might think you’re saving your employee from experiencing negative emotions, but all you’re doing is robbing them of valuable, constructive advice.

Handing out negative feedback in a constructive way is an art that’s hard to master. Harvard Business Review suggests there are key points to remember when delivering tough advice:9

  • Don’t sugar-coat your feedback by opening and closing with compliments
  • Schedule regular feedback meetings, allowing them to become a part of the normal routine
  • Try to only praise in public, but sometimes it helps to be critical in team settings
  • Give the person a warning that they’re about to receive some negative feedback

8. Make meetings matter

According to Atlassian, the average employee attends 62 hour-long meetings a month. And roughly half of the time spent in meetings is a waste of time.10

better manager meetings thin

Successfully minimise those hours wasted in meetings by making sure that meetings matter. Here are some tips for making more efficient meetings:11

  • Write a well thought-out, clearly-defined agenda, and stick to it
  • Ensure that you only invite attendees who absolutely need to be there
  • Schedule the meeting for half the amount of time you originally wanted to
  • Don’t start late, even by one second
  • Consider holding a stand-up meeting to encourage brevity

9. Everyone needs a different approach

Chances are you’re familiar with the old adage of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole when trying to resolve an issue. Essentially, there’s no one solution for every problem.

The sentiment applies to people as well as problems, and if you want to be a better manager you’ll need to know how to identify different types of people. And how to bring out the best in them.

Construct and manage the most productive teams possible by using tools like the DiSC Assessment or the Clifton StrengthsFinder by Gallup.

10. Pursue lifelong learning

As entrepreneur Darius Foroux believes, “Education is an investment in yourself. One that can pay you more dividends than anything you will ever invest in.”12

The most successful people in the world are claimed to read an average of two to three hours a day,13 but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Being able to learn from situations you encounter in the workplace is also vital to success and will help you become a better manager.

Mistakes and successes – both yours and others – are the perfect opportunities to gain valuable knowledge, and it’s up to you to extract as much knowledge as possible from them.

Ensure you are also continuously growing your hard skills and experience by earning certifiable expertise with online short courses, like the UCT Foundations of Business Management online short course.

Ready to prepare yourself for a successful career in management?

Find the online short courses you need to become an exceptional manager