How to Be a Better Manager (When Your Team Members Are All Different)
By Kat Boogard, The Muse
Whether you’re established and experienced or a total newbie, managing a team isn’t easy.
You have one team member who responds really well to constructive criticism, while another needs feedback phrased in a gentler way. You have one employee who prefers to communicate via email, while another thinks one-on-one chats are more productive. One of your direct reports is always jumping up to contribute to whatever conversation is at hand, while another is typically found hanging back and doing more listening than speaking.
Yes, your team is made up of a huge variety of personalities, preferences, and communication styles. But, you’re only one person, and you’re the one in charge of them all.
Needing to successfully oversee such an array of employees can easily have you spread a little thin. So, I connected with Andee Harris, Chief Engagement Officer at HighGround, to find out what managers can do to better lead a diverse team—without feeling like they’re being pulled in 18 different directions.
1. Develop Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence—put simply, your ability to recognize your own and other people’s emotions—is an important skill in your professional life. But, it’s increasingly crucial when you’re charged with managing a team.
“Emotional intelligence is so important for managers, but it hasn’t always been stressed as much,” explains Harris.
Think about it this way: Your employees might not always be forthcoming with their questions, concerns, and problems. Not everybody is a straightforward communicator, and needing to approach a boss can be intimidating—which inspires many people to just keep things to themselves.
As a manager, you’ll be a much stronger leader (and example for your other team members!) if you’re able to read between the lines and pick up on cues—rather than waiting for everything to be explicitly stated.
2. Seek to Understand Your Employees
On a similar note, it’s important that you work to understand your team members on a deeper level. Every single one of them has different skills, weaknesses, and things that motivate them. Knowing what those are and leveraging them will help you manage in a way that suits your direct reports best.
Alright, so how do you go about figuring this out? Dissecting and understanding your different employees can often feel like assembling IKEA furniture—complicated and overwhelming. However, Harris recommends utilizing a formal strengths finder assessment as part of your employee onboarding process.
“You get the opportunity to understand the strengths of your employees, as well as how to coach them better,” Harris says, “If they’re having trouble with a role, for example, knowing who they are and what’s important to them will help you lead them better.”
“You also need to understand what’s going to make them feel threatened,” she continues, “For example, I’d never make a more introverted employee present something in front of the team without adequate notice.”
“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all management style,” she adds, “Personalization is so important.”
3. Make Your Check-ins Holistic
You know that frequent one-on-one check-ins are an effective strategy for staying in the loop and keeping your direct reports engaged. They provide an opportunity to talk about current workloads, career goals, and any other professional-related matters that you should be in the loop on.
But, have you ever considered adding a personal element to these regular sit-downs? Our professional and personal lives are more integrated and entwined than ever, and knowing a little bit about your employees’ lives outside of the office can have a pretty major impact on how you manage and communicate with them during working hours.
“I manage a team of 11 people, and it’s really important for me to understand what’s going on with them,” Harris shares, “So, I always make sure to ask if there are any outside things that they want to make me aware of.”
Not only does that allow you to be more sensitive (or accommodating, when necessary) to your employees, but it will also give you some added context to why your team members might be behaving a certain way.
4. Be an Advocate
You’re responsible for successfully managing your team. But, you should also serve as their source of empowerment and encouragement. As their direct leader, it’s important that you recognize and reward their valuable contributions.
This is particularly important for your employees who are more reserved and might spend team meetings analyzing what’s being said—rather than continuously speaking up.
“That’s not disengagement,” says Harris, “But, when they’re soft-spoken, people de-value them and think they don’t have an opinion or they don’t care.”
So, if a more introverted employee comes to you following a meeting with an idea or suggestion, it’s important that you promote that as their contribution. It’s a way to give credit where credit is due, while also reminding the rest of your team that—just because someone isn’t vocal in a meeting—doesn’t mean that he or she is slacking.
Your team is chock full of different personalities and working styles, and figuring out how to effectively manage all of them can be challenging at best.
However, it’s not impossible. Ultimately, the key is to take the time to understand your employees. With that foundation in place, you’ll have a much easier time leading your different team members in a way that resonates best with them and their individual preferences.